Here’s What Happens When You Ignore a Crying Baby

Crying is exhausting. We’re talking about those long, hard cries that wear you out physically and make you almost forget what you were crying about. There’s a special group of us humans who seem to be immune to cry exhaustion: babies.

With lungs of steel, they bawl for what seems like endless hours – until you pick them up. But should you? It’s an old question that has divided households, generations, and childcare relationships. Each parent, grandparent, and babysitter has their own philosophy on whether you should console a crying a baby.

There are three camps: picker-uppers, self-soothing advocates, and the “it depends” crowd. Today, we’re going to look at the reasons why you may want to ignore the crying and why you may want to heed the sound.

Why Consoling Baby Works

You rock your precious little one to sleep, go to lay her down, and she wakes up alert and crying. You’re tired but feel guilty. You also want to cry because your baby won’t stop crying, but you pick her up to comfort her. Sometimes it works right away, sometimes not.

Some experts say that the stress of crying without any comfort can cause neurological damage to the child as well as lead to emotional issues in the future. There are also psychology experts who say that picking them up right away will also lead children to become independent toddlers faster. And yet another new study in 2017 says picking babies up does not spoil them.

Parents who are used to holding crying babies do so because they want to nurture trust and attachment with their child. They are also trying to figure out what the baby needs, even if it is only sleep. Mom or Dad’s heartbeat is soothing to a baby when she’s wrapped up and laying against their chest.

Rocking or cuddling can help the baby to fall back asleep and provide some relief to parents if they find this method works best. A non-crying baby also won’t wake up the other sleeping children in the house.

Why Crying It Out Works

Parents who like to try this method (aka The Ferber Method) are aiming to train their babies to sleep. It can be rough on the emotions and ears, but proponents assert that this will help your baby to fall asleep without constant intervention. But again, it is rough for parents and many fight to hold back their own tears.

Most pediatricians recommend waiting until your baby is at least 4 months old before trying this, as younger babies are not yet developed enough to self-soothe. The idea is to put your baby down to sleep, and if he screams, check on him every few minutes. Don’t run to pick him up at the first cry note.

An Australian study conducted by Flinders University made waves when it was found that babies were not experiencing spikes in stress levels (cortisol) when left to cry it out. They used two different methods for the experiment –  graduated extinction and bedtime fading – and learned babies fell asleep 15 minutes faster than the ones who didn’t cry it out.

Bedtime fading involves keeping the baby awake as long as you can before putting her down to bed. That should tire her out. Graduated extinction had higher results, and entails mom or dad ignoring the crying for a few minutes in the beginning, and then gradually working up to longer sets of minutes.

They still woke up at short periods during the night, but parents seemed less stressed too. Cry-It-Out fans may also think they will spoil their baby by picking him up.

Parenting is a hands-on learning experience, and dealing with fussy babies isn’t easy. You may have already traveled down the crying baby road and discovered which method worked best for your child. Take a look at each of these videos and decide for yourself!

Are you a parent on the fence about crying it out? Have you tried either of these methods? Which one do you prefer or did it depend on the child?


Psychology Today