There are a few too many ridiculous myths, false narratives, and straight-up lies about babies crying and how it affects them physically, emotionally, and developmentally. Thankfully, science and extensive research is starting to replace those myths and unnecessary opinions with factual evidence. In fact, and according to experts, picking up your kid when they're crying affects them later in life and in a number of beneficial ways. Who would have thought, right? Science, you guys. I'm telling you, it's amazing and definitely worth buying into.
The debate over whether to sleep train a baby for an extended period of time and/or until they learn to self-soothe, or pick up and comfort a baby as soon as they start crying and not a moment later, has been raging for a long, oh-so long time. According to self-proclaimed parenting guru Penelope Leach, however, neurobiologists believe babies who are regularly left to cry with no response from their parent or caregiver could suffer long-lasting damage to their brain development. Leach claims that by using saliva swab tests, scientists were able to measure higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in babies' bodies who were not comforted when they cried, than babies who are comforted immediately when they are upset. These elevated levels of cortisol can, according to scientists, lead to difficulties in brain development for years to come.
According to Kids Health, crying is a natural form of communication for babies, so the idea isn't to keep babies from crying ever, as that would be totally unrealistic. Instead, the idea is that when your baby cries, you or the baby's caregiver responds in a reasonable time frame in order to let the baby know that you have heard his or her cries, and are there to help meet his or her needs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reminds parents that it's important to respond to their baby's cries, especially when a baby is a newborn, so that their stress levels don't begin to affect the way their brain develops. According to Kids Health, "Babies cannot be spoiled with too much attention. Indeed, quick responses to babies' cries lets them know that they're important and worthy of attention."
If a baby's cries aren't met, excess cortisol can cause damage to the neurons growing in their developing brains, according to Psychology Today. Apparently, "disordered stress reactivity can be established as a pattern for life," leading to problems with digestion, like irritable bowel system, as well as poor memory and high social anxiety. Additionally, The Mayo Clinic states that elevated levels of cortisol can lead to problems with growth and learning. Obviously, leaving a baby to cry excessively can potentially lead to problematic issues much later in their lives, and in ways that aren't immediately apparent.
It's also important not to stress yourself if your baby cries when he or she is hungry, needs a changing, or is even overstimulated. If a baby cries for a little while here and there, but you are there to help try to meet their needs — even if you aren't able to fully calm them with shushing or rocking — then your baby will know they can rely on you when they're in distress. That, dear reader, is truly what parenting is all about.