The Truth about Crying

  • It is difficult for anyone to ignore crying, especially as a mother, as this goes against our basic human instinct
  • Crying is a baby’s way of communicating but not all crying is from distress or pain (Dr Marc Weissbluth)
  • Ignoring a child’s cry for a short period of time does not mean you are being neglectful or insensitive
  • Allowing your child a little time to cry will not harm your child physically or emotionally, and this is nothing to feel guilty, ashamed or angry about
  • Try and interpret your baby’s cry; is it an emotional or distress cry? Is baby frustrated? Is baby hungry? Is your baby simply tired and needing to sleep?
  • There is limited scientific evidence to conclusively support or deny that there are any long lasting negative effects of crying

Stress: The Facts

Cortisol is a hormone produced naturally in the body and it is essential for survival, as it helps us cope with stress. Levels of cortisol fluctuate during the day as part of our circadian rhythm, and this pattern helps us to sleep at night and be more wakeful during the day. A surge in cortisol outside of this normal pattern can be an indication that your child is experiencing stress, but what is stress and how can it be defined in relation to our children?

The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) outlines a framework for defining stress in children:

1. Positive Stress Response: is ‘brief and mild to moderate in magnitude’ where a caring and responsible adult helps the child cope.These events are growth-promoting opportunities to observe, learn and adapt to adverse experiences. Examples include dealing with frustration, getting an immunisation, or the anxiety of attending daycare for the first time.

2. Tolerable Stress Response: occurs because of non-everyday events like a death in the family, divorce or natural disaster. What makes this stress tolerable is the child’s relationship with a supportive adult who can help the child adapt and cope with change.

3. Toxic Stress Response: caused by strong, frequent or prolonged activation of the body’s stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection of a supportive adult relationship.


Take home message

Using these definitions, sleep training falls somewhere in between a positive and tolerable stress response because it is short lived under the care of a supportive adult. A situation like sleep training will not harm your child physically or emotionally but conversely, it can have positive effects on your child’s overall health in the long term. If you’re thinking about helping your child sleep better with some sleep training, you should understand that encouraging healthy sleep habits with your child will involve some crying, but it will prevent a lot of crying in the long run, and the benefits of sleep are indisputable! Sleep training is not about abandoning your child and leaving your child to cry, as there are gentle methods of sleep training you can use that have you in the room as a physical and emotional support for your child. These methods involve things like touch, your voice, picking your child up for cuddles or feeding for comfort and you are always available to offer your love and support.