Saturday, October 15, 2011

Babies Don't Cry

I recently just read an incredible article on called Why African Babies Don’t Cry. If you haven’t read it, you should, but in summery, it’s about a woman who leaves the UK to return to Kenya to have her children. In the UK, it was widely accepted that babies cried, but in Kenya, there was a completely different expectation, therefore the expectation of how she should respond were different.

This article got me thinking, what if we changed our expectations? What if we no longer expected babies to cry? How would we, as a culture, react differently?
Imagine, it is common knowledge that babies don’t cry unless they have a need. Here’s what you might expect to see in a world where that is accepted as fact…
At birth, baby is given to mom immediately and not whisked away needlessly for unnecessary bathing and procedures. Two week old babies are held and rocked for long hours while mom looks lovingly on her tiny baby asleep in her arms. Her baby is not put on a schedule and forced to stay awake when tired or wait to eat because it’s only been twenty minutes. Instead, they are fed on demand when their little bodies tell them they are hungry and allowed to cat nap while waking just long enough to see that they are still safe in their mother’s arms.

Items like swings, bouncy seats and pack-n-plays are reserved for short periods of time while baby spends most of the day in a sling or baby carrier while their parents tend to their responsibilities. Babies watch their parents’ faces and the world around them instead of staring at mobiles and dangling toys while getting moved from container to container.

Babies will be gently parented to sleep with rocking, bouncing, singing, back rubs, and anything else it takes to keep baby from crying. They will sleep in the same room as their parents and mothers will often wake and feed their babies at the first signs of waking, long before their baby would actually need to cry to communicate their hunger.

Shopping gets done while mom talks and sings happily to her baby in the shopping cart. She makes eye contact and smiles letting her baby know that she is still right there. When her baby starts crying to eat, she stops and takes a seat in one of the many available so she can hold her baby while she feeds them. People will walk by and smile and the only odd looks will be for the mother who leaves her baby in the shopping cart with a bottle propped in their mouth while she goes about her shopping.

New moms will hear advice like “he’ll be so much happier if you hold him” and words of support like “I think she might be hungry again, you should nurse her”. Mothers will learn to trust their instincts and respond to their baby’s needs because it will feel right. Babies will know their attempts at communication will work. They will learn to trust their parents to meet their needs, not be taught that their needs aren’t important. They will grow and thrive knowing they are safe and loved.
Imagine that world. Chances are that is not the world you live in, I know it’s not the world I live in. But it is the world my baby lives in and I know many other babies that are being raised in a world where babies don’t cry. Your baby can grow up in that world too! It’s amazing what can happen when you just change your thoughts. If you stop assuming that all babies cry, stop accepting that as fact, then your response to that tiny cry is very different. You would respond immediately when it happened and do things differently to avoid it happening to start with.

I believe this change in belief is what we are seeing today. Thirty years ago, it was widely accepted that babies cried. Mothers that nursed on demand or held their babies were “spoiling” them. You can still hear a lot of this thinking today and it’s still all too common to hear people talk about leaving their babies to cry because they need to learn to self sooth. But more and more parents are refusing to accept this type of thinking and are finding a new way to parent. Attachment Parenting and other gentle parenting styles encourage parents to respond to their baby and teach them that a baby’s cries mean something.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “What a good baby! He never cries!” only to have that same person question if he was really hungry again or shouldn’t I put him down now that he was asleep? It was amazing to me how I always felt like I had to defend my parenting all the while everyone seemed so impressed with how happy my baby was. They really didn’t get it. But I knew there was no reason for my baby to cry and I did what I could to make sure I didn’t give him one!

That being said, my second child was colicky. That was one of the most difficult times of my parenting life. I cannot tell you how much I felt like a failure. Luckily I was able to realize she was intolerant to cow dairy and once I stopped eating it (I was nursing and passing it to her through my milk), my baby became much happier. But my point is that sometimes some babies do cry. There may be a hidden reason, like with my daughter or some kind of medical reason, but there are some babies that do cry more than others despite what you do. Please know that you are not a failure. Just love and hug them and hold them while they cry and be glad that you are their parent and not one of those people that believes a baby should self sooth and suffer alone. Also, your baby is not going to be scarred for life if they have to cry for a minute while you use the bathroom, brush your teeth, or shove some much needed food in your mouth, though hearing your tiny baby’s cries when you are post partum may hurt worse than giving birth! I’ll also add that at least two of the above can be done while babywearing and some of us have done all three!

So welcome to the world where babies don’t cry and enjoy it…
they don’t stay babies for long!

For more reading and resources, check out these posts:

Maniulation or Communication?

Letters from Baby: Please don't let me cry

Why I co-sleep

Gift of Babywearing