The Myth of “Blowing Off Steam” - Woodmam

Crying is good for the lungs the way bleeding is good for the veins!

Lee Salk

Parents have long noticed that fussy infants eventually cry themselves to sleep. Some experts have guessed that these babies need to scream to exercise their lungs or unwind from the day’s thrills before they surrender to sleep.

I strongly disagree. The idea that screaming is good for babies is illogical from both a biological and evolutionary point of view. First, the lungs of calm babies are as healthy and strong as the lungs of colicky babies. Second, colicky prehistoric infants might well have put themselves in danger. Their screaming could have attracted enemies to their family’s hiding place. And it might have enraged their Neanderthal parents, leading to abandonment, abuse, and even infanticide.

Now, I freely admit …

Yes … babies can get wound up by a full day’s excitement.

Yes … some babies ignore their parents’ best attempts to calm them.

Yes … screaming babies eventually conk out from sheer exhaustion.

But your baby is not a little pressure cooker that needs to “blow off steam” before cooling down. Letting your baby cry it out makes as little sense as closing your ears to your screeching car alarm while you wait for the battery to die.

At this point, you may be thinking, “But I often feel better after I have a good cry.” Of course that’s true; however, while adults may sob for minutes, colicky babies can wail for hours!

I believe that most parents who let their babies shriek until they collapse do this only because they feel desperate and exhausted. It’s a last resort that goes against every parental instinct. Can it stop the crying? Yes. However, the real question is whether or not this climate of inconsistency—sometimes you answer her cry and sometimes you don’t—is what you want to teach your baby to expect from you. Most parents answer that question with a resounding no.

All baby experts agree that our children do best when we are consistent in our responses. You know how frustrating it can be when some days you can calm your baby yet other days nothing works. Well, that’s how your baby feels when her cry in the morning brings a prompt reward of touching and warm milk yet in the afternoon it’s ignored.

Is it ever okay to let your baby yell? I don’t believe it’s a tragedy if your little one cries for ten minutes while you are in the bathroom or preparing dinner. The loving and cuddling you’ve been giving her all day easily outweighs that short-lived frustration. But fussy infants are not like toddlers. If your two-year-old screams because she wants to yank your earrings, you may have to let her cry so she can learn that when you say, “No!” you mean it. The time will come when lessons of discipline will become important, even lifesaving. But you’re jumping the gun if you think you need to teach discipline to your two-month-old!

For the first few months, you should soothe your baby whenever she yells. Infants rarely cry unless they’re upset about something, and it’s our challenge and duty to figure out what they need and how to give it to them.
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