During a baby’s first few months, he is utterly helpless and totally dependent. He obviously cannot talk or walk or feed or clean himself. He is completely incapable of meeting his own needs, but he has been given three gifts that greatly increase the likelihood that his needs will be met.
The first gift is his adorable baby-ness. A baby’s physical appearance, including a darling face, big eyes, precious lips, kissable cheeks, and a soft little body work together to make his mother desire to hold him in her arms. A baby is simply irresistible.
The second thing is his voice. Ranging from coos and grunts to cries and screams, a baby’s voice triggers a physical and emotional reaction in his mother to act on his behalf. The mother can choose to respond or she can learn to ignore this urge to tend to him. Babies have been created to make pre-cry sounds that mean different things. We just have to learn to listen.
Baby’s third gift is, of course, a mother. A healthy mother has the desire to love, protect, comfort, and nurture her child. She is “soft-wired” to feel his pain.
“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” Isaiah 66:13 NIV
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” Isaiah 49:15 KJV
What happens when a mother is persuaded to ignore her God-given instincts in order to “stay in charge” for her child’s “own good”?
“[This] mother is one who, after much thought, has decided to allow [her baby] access to her breast. For a few minutes a day, his longing is suspended and his terrible skin-crawling need to be touched, to be held and moved about, is relieved. She loves him with a tenderness she has never known before. At first, it is hard for her to put him down after his feeding, especially because he cries so desperately when she does. But she is convinced that she must, for her mother has told her (and she must know) that if she gives in to him now he will be spoiled and cause trouble later. She wants to do everything right; she feels for a moment that the little life she holds in her arms is more important than anything else on earth.”
“She sighs, and puts him gently in his crib, which is decorated with yellow ducklings and matches his whole room… She bends to kiss the infant’s silky cheek and moves toward the door as the first agonized shriek shakes his body.”
“Softly, she closes the door. She has declared war on him. Her will must prevail over his. Through the door she hears what sounds like someone being tortured… Nature does not make clear signals that someone is being tortured unless it is the case. It is precisely as serious as it sounds.”
“She hesitates, her heart pulled toward him, but resists and goes on her way. He has just been changed and fed. She is sure he does not really need anything, therefore, and she lets him weep until he [falls asleep] exhausted…”
“He awakens in a mindless terror of the silence, the motionlessness. He screams. He is afire from head to foot with want, with desire, with intolerable impatience. He gasps for breath and screams until his chest aches, until his throat is sore. He can bear the pain no more and his sobs weaken and subside. He listens. He opens and closes his fists. He rolls his head from side to side. Nothing helps. It is unbearable. He begins to cry again, but it is too much for his strained throat; he soon stops. He stiffens his desire-racked body and there is a shadow of relief. He waves his hands and kicks his feet. He stops, able to suffer, unable to think, unable to hope. He listens. Then he falls asleep again…”
“He awakens and cries again. His mother looks in at the door to ascertain that he is in place; softly, so as not to awaken in him any false hope of attention, she shuts the door again. She hurries to the kitchen, where she is working, and leaves that door open so that she can hear the baby, in case ‘anything happens to him.’”
“The infant’s screams fade to quavering wails. As no response is forthcoming, the motive power of the signal loses itself in the confusion of barren emptiness where the relief ought, long since, to have arrived. He looks about. There is a wall beyond the bars of the crib. The light is dim. He cannot turn himself over. He sees only the bars, immobile, and the wall. He hears meaningless sounds in a distant world. There is no sound near him. He looks at the wall until his eyes close.”(1)
Quotes from pages 60-64 of The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff
Some Christians insist it is wrong for the mother to “cater to her infant’s whims”. They believe it is the infant’s sinful nature that is trying to control and manipulate his parents by crying. Feeding-on-demand and not sleeping alone are cautioned against as being too child-centered. To the contrary, we see normal infant needy behavior, not as a sign of sin in the infant, but rather as an expression of genuine need. We believe God gave babies special gifts to get our attention so we would fulfill our responsibility of meeting their needs. A child crying for his mother is not manipulation. Expressing his need for his mother is a healthy sign of attachment. He is crying because he feels abandoned, and he is clearly expressing his feelings of fear and neglect.
Consider how our selfish, sinful nature desires to neglect our own children. We believe God knew we would get so preoccupied with other things – even so-called important things – that left to our own fallen nature, we would not give our babies the high level of nurturing that would help them develop to their fullest potential – physically, emotionally, mentally, and intellectually.
Standing outside baby’s bedroom door, listening to his desperate pleas for comfort makes a mother feel terrible, both emotionally, and even physically. It is a self-imposed helplessness that results in discomfort and guilt feelings even though her mind is trying to convince her it is the “right thing to do”. Is that really God’s plan for mothers and babies?
“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me… I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” Jonah 2:2 NIV
“The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” Psalm 34:17-19 NIV
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” Psalm 103:13 NIV
“Weep with them who weep.” Romans 12:15 KJV
“Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” Psalm 55:17
Dr. Herbert Ratner, in his excellent essay entitled “The Nursing Couplet”, quoted some deeply moving verses from the Psalms and compared them to how a baby feels when he is crying for his mother. She is the one who lays the baby’s foundation for love.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? … thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. … Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help (Ps. 22:1, 9 & 11). For me the reward of virtue is to see your face, and, on waking, to gaze my fill on your likeness (Ps. 17:15). May God show kindness and bless us, and make his face smile on us! (Ps. 67:1) I put my trust in you. … My days are in your hand, rescue me from the hands of my enemies and persecutors; let your face smile on your servant, save me in your love (Ps. 31:14-16). As a doe longs for running streams, so longs my soul for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, the God of life; when shall I go to see the face of God? (Ps. 42:1-2) Yahweh, hear my voice as I cry! Pity me! Answer me! My heart has said of you, ‘Seek his face.’ Yahweh, I do seek your face; do not hide your face from me (Ps. 27:7-9). Save me. … I am wearied by my crying, my throat is parched; My eyes grow tired as I wait for my God. … For my part, I pray to you, Yahweh, at the time you wish; in your great love, answer me, God (Ps. 69:1, 3 & 13). How much longer will you hide your face from me? How much longer must I endure grief in my soul, and sorrow in my heart? … Look and answer me, Yahweh my God! (Ps. 13:1-2). In your loving kindness, answer me, Yahweh, in your great tenderness turn to me; do not hide your face from your servant, quick, I am in trouble, answer me (Ps. 69:16-17). Wake up Lord! Why are you asleep? Awake! Do not abandon us for good. Why do you hide your face, and forget we are wretched and exploited? (Ps. 44: 23-24). Be a sheltering rock for me. … You alone are my hope, Lord. … I have relied on you since I was born (Ps. 71:3, 5-6). Bring us back, let your face smile on us and we shall be safe (Ps. 80:19). Yahweh, show us your love, grant us your saving help (Ps. 85:7). I invoke you all day long; give your servant reason to rejoice (Ps. 86:3-4).”(2)
Dr. Ratner said that these words, borrowed from the Psalms, would be the declarations and implorations of the infant if he were able to talk:
“Wake up. Why are you asleep? Awake! I have no one to help me. When I call be quick to answer me. Hear my voice as I cry! Pity me! Answer me! Have pity on me. Do not stand aside. Rescue me from the hands of my enemies and persecutors. Do not hide your face from me. Why have you deserted me? Save me. I am wearied by my crying. My throat is parched. My eyes grow tired as I wait. Favor me now. How long will you turn your face from me? How long must I have doubts in my soul, creating grief in my heart. Quickly answer me, I am wretched and exploited. Do not be long in coming. I call to you all day long. Have mercy on me. Let your face shine on me. Save me in your love.”(3)
Often in our efforts to “do the right thing” or to meet our own needs, we forget to extend grace and mercy to our own beloved children. God has freely and lovingly blessed us with His gift of grace. Who are we to deny grace to our own children? When your child begs for your loving arms, extend mercy, and do not betray his trust.
“The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.” Psalm 145:17-19 NIV
In our family, our older children would be greatly disturbed and bewildered if we allowed our baby to cry-it-out. What would they learn from such an experience?
Well, our children would learn that babies are inconvenient, and we must prevent them from interfering with our lives by controlling and ignoring them. They would also have a different understanding of Bible verses like this one: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” Isaiah 66:13a NIV
~ But only after mother gets a good 4-hour stretch of sleep.
~ But only if baby sticks to the expected schedule.
~ But only after he stays in the crib for a long enough nap.
~ But only when mother decides baby should be hungry.
~ But only after mother gets something done.
~ But not when baby has fussed all day and mother has had enough.
Rather, we want our children to learn empathy, compassion, how to nurture, how to comfort, and selflessness.
According to Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D., “Children cry because they are hungry, or lonely, or tired, or wet, or in pain. Compassionate people do not withhold comfort from adults who are crying, for whatever reasons. Why in heaven’s name should a loving parent withhold comfort from a little child? If your child cries, don’t let it continue. Pick him up and find out why. If he cries at night because he is lonely or afraid, take him into your bed.”(4)
Dr. Bob Sears briefly explains why crying it out is physically harmful. “The blood pressure goes up. The pressure gets so high, new blood with oxygen can’t flow into the brain. So the brain can be deprived of oxygen… And that’s not all. It gets worse. The brain can be flooded with stress hormones, and we know that stress hormones can damage sensitive developing nerve tissue. So, night after night, weeks and weeks of crying can actually harm a baby’s brain.”(5)
Ignore those who insist that babies should learn to sleep alone, and that it is important for them to eat and sleep according to a certain schedule.
Imagine you have a family dog with 2-week old puppies. You read a book and decide that it is wrong for the mother dog to allow her puppies to determine her daily schedule. Puppies shouldn’t have the right to decide when they should eat and sleep, after all, the mother is in charge. With this belief, you take each of her puppies and put them in separate beds in separate rooms. You bring them to her for scheduled feedings every 3 hours. What would happen?
First of all, your dog would become very anxious and stressed. She has God-given instincts to protect and nurture her young. She would frantically try to locate her puppies with all her senses. Her puppies would cry out in distress. The feeding schedule may even lead to slow starvation, and the puppies would feel they have no one to trust to meet their needs.
A mother who resorts to Ferberizing for reasons other than religious may have childhood issues of abandonment, or she may be lacking certain nutrients in her diet. Endocrine system support or supplements may help balance hormones and stress levels, keeping one free from postpartum depression and related problems that are common among new mothers.
If you have been influenced by Ezzo or Ferber or any other parenting “expert”, please reexamine what you have been taught. There is a better way.
Pick up your baby. Hold your baby. Nurse your baby. Rock your baby. Love your baby. Be in awe of your God-given ability to instantly stop your child’s cries just by holding him in your arms and nursing him at your breasts. It is utter relief to him, and what could be more rewarding and satisfying to a mother’s heart than to know she has been created to meet her baby’s needs?
The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
for children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
Rather than ignoring your baby’s cries, learn to listen and recognize early communication skills. Babies make pre-cry sounds that tells us what they NEED. It is really amazing to consider the way God created babies with identical, recognizable communication sounds, regardless of nationality or language.
The website, http://www.dunstanbaby.com, lists five of the sounds that babies make to communicate their needs. They may look very similar, but the sounds are quite distinct. It just takes a little practice. It helps to listen closely for the first letter.
neh = hungry
owh = sleepy
heh = discomfort
eair = lower gas
eh = burp(6)
Learn how to respond to your baby’s cries, especially before he gets worked up into a desperate plea for help. Learn to LISTEN and respond with empathy and mercy.
© 2001-2012 This website and its contents are copyright and intended for educational purposes only. The information, research, experiences, and links contained herein have not been compiled by a physician and should not be considered as medical advice. Opinions expressed in the reference books and links may not in all cases reflect the beliefs of Carol at parentingfreedom.com.
1. Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept, pages 60-64.
2. King James Version compiled by Herbert Ratner, M.D., The Nursing Couplet, Child and Family, 1988.
3. Herbert Ratner, M.D., The Nursing Couplet, Child and Family, 1988.
4. Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D., How to Raise A Healthy Child…In Spite of Your Doctor, (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1984).
5. Dr. Bob Sears.
6. Priscilla Dunstan.
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Sears, William, M.D. Growing Together – A Parent’s Guide to Baby’s First Year. Franklin Park, Illinois: La Leche League International Inc., 1987.
Sears, William, M.D. Nighttime Parenting – How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep, revised edition, Schaumburg, Illinois: La Leche League International, 1999.
Sears, William, M.D. “Train Up A Child in the Way He Should Go,” Mothering, March-April, 1999.
Sears, William, M.D. SIDS A Parent’s Guide to Understanding and Preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 1995.
Small, Meredith F. Our Babies, Ourselves – How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1998.