Thursday, August 12, 2010

No, babies DON'T need to cry

Most people don't realize that leaving baby to "Cry it out" is doing more harm than the good that the extra bit of sleep it gives the parents could ever do. First, parents are adults--they understand why they aren't having their needs met (typically, sleep in this case), but infants are incapable of understanding complex concepts like this until 2-3 YEARS of age (at least)! A newborn is truthfully a 'blank slate' right down to their smooth, unformed brain.
People believe they're even doing GOOD for their child by forcing them to cry, alone in a crib, unknowing why they have been left. It's not human nature to leave our babies behind--before industrialized nations, we never would have done so. To do so would have meant death, very quickly, for the baby. So, a baby, when left alone, does not know what is going on. Instinctively, it cries to get attention from its parents, desperate not to be left to die.
"My baby doesn't feel abandoned!" cries the mother who uses CIO. Um, really? You're telepathic? You can experience your baby's emotions and hear his/her thoughts? Because unless all of that is true, you have no idea what it's doing to your baby. You have no idea what your baby is feeling, except by what your baby.
If YOU were left in a place that was frightening, huge, unfamiliar (it can take months for familiarity to set in, even in an adult, but particularly in a baby, who has little to no memory or ability to form memories and no ability to form permanent memory) place where you were unable to move and everything you had ever known (loud, warm, soft, close quarters where you could constantly smell your mother, were never hungry or unhappy) was suddenly ripped away and you were hungry, but unable to feed yourself or tell anyone that you're hungry in terms they can understand, or cold or scared or lying in your own filth because, since you can't move, you cannot clean the waste coming out of your body--imagine being in a hospital bed in a foreign country where everyone speaks with clicks.
How would you feel? Especially if, for the entirety of your life before, your every need was met and you had never experienced discomfort before? You knew you could rely on your mother to keep it that way and suddenly, she's gone. Maybe she reappears, but she's speaking that strange clicking language and you don't know how to get her to understand that you have needs. What's more, she doesn't seem to care! She left while you were still crying for help!
Abandonment, frustration, fear (what if they don't remember to feed you? After all, you're hungry and you have no concept of time at all--you don't know what that is!), and they don't seem to understand, because they just fed you, that you had to stop because you were tired or thought you were full, but it was just a gas bubble or the food digested just that quickly and you need more), loneliness... just a few of the feelings you might have.
That's a peek into the life of the baby left to CIO. Their first view of the world... how can that possibly be okay? If you were introduced to a country in that way, would you trust anyone there? No, you wouldn't and to say otherwise is to lie to yourself.
Science Says: Excessive Crying Could Be Harmful to Babies
Science tells us that when babies cry alone and unattended, they experience panic and anxiety. Their bodies and brains are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol stress hormones. Science has also found that when developing brain tissue is exposed to these hormones for prolonged periods these nerves won’t form connections to other nerves and will degenerate. Is it therefore possible that infants who endure many nights or weeks of crying-it-out alone are actually suffering harmful neurologic effects that may have permanent implications on the development of sections of their brain? Here is how science answers this alarming question:
Chemical and hormonal imbalances in the brain
Research has shown that infants who are routinely separated from parents in a stressful way have abnormally high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as lower growth hormone levels. These imbalances inhibit the development of nerve tissue in the brain, suppress growth, and depress the immune system.
Researchers at Yale University and Harvard Medical School found that intense stress early in life can alter the brain’s neurotransmitter systems and cause structural and functional changes in regions of the brain similar to those seen in adults with depression.
One study showed infants who experienced persistent crying episodes were 10 times more likely to have ADHD as a child, along with poor school performance and antisocial behavior. The researchers concluded these findings may be due to the lack of responsive attitude of the parents toward their babies.
Dr. Bruce Perry’s research at Baylor University may explain this finding. He found when chronic stress over-stimulates an infant’s brain stem (the part of the brain that controls adrenaline release), and the portions of the brain that thrive on physical and emotional input are neglected (such as when a baby is repeatedly left to cry alone), the child will grow up with an over-active adrenaline system. Such a child will display increased aggression, impulsivity, and violence later in life because the brainstem floods the body with adrenaline and other stress hormones at inappropriate and frequent times.
Dr. Allan Schore of the UCLA School of Medicine has demonstrated that the stress hormone cortisol (which floods the brain during intense crying and other stressful events) actually destroys nerve connections in critical portions of an infant’s developing brain. In addition, when the portions of the brain responsible for attachment and emotional control are not stimulated during infancy (as may occur when a baby is repeatedly neglected) these sections of the brain will not develop. The result – a violent, impulsive, emotionally unattached child. He concludes that the sensitivity and responsiveness of a parent stimulates and shapes the nerve connections in key sections of the brain responsible for attachment and emotional well-being.
Decreased intellectual, emotional, and social development
Infant developmental specialist Dr. Michael Lewis presented research findings at an American Academy of Pediatrics meeting, concluding that “the single most important influence of a child’s intellectual development is the responsiveness of the mother to the cues of her baby.”
Researchers have found babies whose cries are usually ignored will not develop healthy intellectual and social skills.
Dr. Rao and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health showed that infants with prolonged crying (but not due to colic) in the first 3 months of life had an average IQ 9 points lower at 5 years of age. They also showed poor fine motor development.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State and Arizona State Universities found that infants with excessive crying during the early months showed more difficulty controlling their emotions and became even fussier when parents tried to consol them at 10 months.
Other research has shown that these babies have a more annoying quality to their cry, are more clingy during the day, and take longer to become independent as children.
Harmful physiologic changes
Animal and human research has shown when separated from parents, infants and children show unstable temperatures, heart arrhythmias, and decreased REM sleep (the stage of sleep that promotes brain development).1
There is a four-year period of "potential" growth, which is the most critical period of human development. This time is from conception until about the third birthday. During this time, all things are possible - learning to walk, learning to talk, learning how to "fit in" to society. There is a need for many experiences in order to master skills. (Families and Work Institute, 1996). Maria Montessori, years ago, called this time that of the ABSORBENT MIND (La Mente del Bambino). Her conclusions were similar to what scientists are finding today. (Montessori, 1953).2
We live in an age where we can know that the baby is safe in another room, despite the loudness of his cries. Does this mean we should leave babies to cry on their own? CIO proponents often advise that babies left to cry will eventually stop, and the duration of future crying bouts will decrease. What are the emotional consequences of crying for the infant when she is left unattended? Bowlby and colleagues initiated a series of studies where children between the ages of one and two who had good relationships with their mothers were separated from them and left to cry it out. Results showed a predictable sequence of behaviours: The first phase, labeled “protest”, consists of loud crying and extreme restlessness. The second phase, labeled “despair”, consists of monotonous crying, inactivity, and steady withdrawal. The third phase, labeled “detachment”, consists of a renewed interest in surroundings, albeit a remote, distant kind of interest. Thus, it appears that while leaving babies to cry it out can lead to the eventual dissipation of those cries, it also appears that this occurs due to the gradual development of apathy in the child. The child stops crying because she learns that she can no longer hope for the caregiver to provide comfort, not because her distress has been alleviated.
Do babies cry more when they are attended to? A 1986 study concluded just the opposite: the more a mother holds and carries her baby, the less the baby will cry and fuss. Cross-cultural studies also show that parents in non-Western societies are quicker than parents in Western societies to respond to their crying babies, and babies in non-Western societies cry for shorter spans of time. Caregivers in 78% of the world’s cultures respond quickly to an infant’s cries.3
Similar social learning opportunities occur when an infant attempts to communicate through its cries. Crying may be spurred because the infant is hungry, in pain, uncomfortable or frightened. Often upon waking, an infant will begin to signal to its caregiver with soft whimpering, which eventually accelerates into frantic crying if it receives no response.
Sometimes crying is misconstrued as an idealized expression of anger or manipulation. Yet, such distressed crying in a young infant might better be described as a fear response. A fear invoked by the uncomfortable feeling of being soiled, the rumbling of stomach pains, or the vulnerableness of being alone in the dark.
Fear of predators and death is an emotion deeply seated within our evolutionary biological makeup. In our earliest days, families and tribes huddled closely together in the dark to help soothe this fear. The idea of "safety in numbers" held true, because a larger group of humans would fair better warding off predators as a small group or sole individual would.
Today, we as parents may know that an infant is safe alone in its crib. However, the biology of an infant's brain is initially encoded with innate fear responses, which are easily prompted often in early life.
When the infant is in a state of helpless fear and panic the amygdala kicks in and sends messages to the brain to prepare the body for "flight or fight." An infant can neither fight nor flee. If the panic isn't subdued by intervention from a nurturing adult, the flood of chemicals and hormones may rage through the brain, specifically targeting the amygdala and hippocamus, for an unhealthy length of time.
Crying infants who are unattended have been known to cry desperately for an hour or more until the amygdala eventually shuts down. The infant in turn, learns after repeated episodes that it can not expect comfort and response to its cries, and it may decide its needs are unworthy of attention and nurturing--a decision which may ultimately affect the infant's development of self-worth and connectedness to the world.
Even though the brain may eventually determine it is not in any danger on its own, vital opportunities to develop and reinforce social lessons in trust, security and empathy may be missed if no attempt is made by a nurturing caregiver to calm that state of emotional turmoil.4
Originally Published Feb 13, 2008 at 3:04 PM

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