Crying is an inescapable (and stress-inducing) part of babyhood, but I'm solidly in the "just pick up your baby" camp. Newborn tears have a purpose, and there's a biological reason why you feel guilty for not attending to them. You're supposed to pick up your baby. Motherhood is exhausting, though, which is why I think it's helpful to look at this from your little one's perspective. In other words, imagine what your baby is thinking when you pick them up. Sure, us sleep-deprived parents can't know for sure (because science is cool, but not that cool yet), but I have some theories that are worth exploring.
It might surprise you to know that I'm a cry it out mom, but I don't think cry it out and picking up a wailing newborn are mutually exclusive. That's because you don't sleep train a young baby. Contrary to popular belief, I did not ignore the cries of my 8-week-old daughter in need of nourishment, a diaper change, or cuddle time. (My toddler refusing to go "night night," however, is another story.) Rather, I listened to and observed my baby carefully and did everything in my power to make her feel safe, cared for, and loved. Honestly, I can't imagine doing otherwise.
Babies are spectacular and amazing little creatures. They know what they're doing when they ask to be picked up, and I imagine their inner monologue sounds a little like this:
"We Need To Work On Your Response Time"
I know you can't always respond immediately when your baby cries. I mean, you have to get a shower and maybe inhale a string cheese at some point and OMG pee, right? But research suggests that a quick response time is beneficial. According to Psychology Today, babies who are picked up faster cry less and grow up to be more independent toddlers.
"Now Where Is That Boob And/Or Bottle?"
Babies are designed to cry when they need us. After all, they have no other way to communicate. They cry to express their basic needs, and that includes being fed. When you pick up a crying baby, there's a good chance you're picking up a hungry baby.
I know a lot of people worry that they're spoiling their child by picking them up, but the fact is, newborns aren't capable of manipulation (toddlers are another story). For a new baby, there's no difference between a want and a need. They're one and the same. You can't spoil a child at this stage, but you can actually damage the bond you have with your baby if you don't answer their cries.
"The View Is Great From Here"
Being held provides baby with a perspective they didn't get from the swing or the infant seat. It's a hell of a lot more stimulating and interesting to see what's going on at an adult's level.
"Don't Even Think About Putting Me Down"
"Help! My baby won't let me put them down!" It's practically the battle cry of every single new mom on the planet. Especially if stranger anxiety has set in, it can be difficult to extricate your little baby sloth from your own personal self. If they really want to be held all the time, babywearing can be a life (and arm) saver.
When I reached for my squalling baby, she went from full-on banshee to "sup-supping" to heavy sighs in 30 seconds flat. According to a recent study out of Japan, infants have a instinctual calming response to maternal carrying. That palpable relief isn't just emotional — it's physical, too.
"I Feel Safe Now"
When you pick up your baby, you are reassuring them that the world is a safe place. What To Expect reminds parents that babies need to know that they can count on you to meet their needs. When they feel loved, secure, and bonded, they have a foundation from which to later explore their environment and beyond.
The previously mentioned study by the RIKEN Brain Science Institute found that babies have an immediate physical reaction to being held. It involves a lowering of the heart rate, normalization of breathing, and deep relaxation. This set of nervous, motor, and cardiac regulations could give Warren G a run for his money.
"Evolution Is Awesome"
My mom always said there's a reason babies are so cute. I mean, how would humanity have carried on? It turns out "cry and be picked up" is an evolutionary mechanism to ensure the survival of the baby. When you hold your baby their body calms them down and the parent is "rewarded." Your response "works," which makes it easier to bear the burden of schlepping your kid around (and the cute helps, too).
"I Love You So Much"
Picking up your baby is all about love. It's you expressing to your baby the steadfastness of your affection for them, but it's also a nice way for the nonverbal set to show you how special you are to them. Until they can actually say those three little words, you can rest assured they're thinking them.