Looking Back: When Baby Cries

Jan Wojcik, Plantation, Florida

Originally published in January/February 1970 issue of La Leche League News

Editor’s Note: The first issue of La Leche League News, the bimonthly publication for members, was published in 1958. The name changed to New Beginnings in 1985. New Beginnings continued to be published until 2014 when it transitioned to its current blog format at www.lllusa.org/blog/.

shutterstock_214228564-2We League Leaders try so very hard not to color motherhood with only shades of rosy pink. And yet—somehow—new mothers are a little surprised to discover that babies do cry and get upset and can create some very real pandemonium.

The picture of a little baby being always, and instantly, soothed by its mother’s breast is a lovely portrait indeed. “Don’t let your tiny baby cry,” we say, and we mean it. And then we get a phone call. “My baby cries a lot, no matter what I do!” There is a feeling of failing at motherhood if a mother can’t keep her baby happy.

Why does a baby get so upset that nothing (nursing, rocking, walking, music—nothing) calms him and restores serenity to the household? Immature nervous system? Immature digestive system? Tenseness in the home? Only occasionally can we pinpoint the cause. Most often we just have to accept the fact that the baby is upset, and work from there.

Naturally, a mother becomes upset when her baby cannot be comforted. She feels rejected. She feels angry, at the baby because he isn’t cooperating, and at herself because she cannot find the cause and eliminate it. She feels she has failed her baby and herself.

How many times have you heard a friend say, “That baby just cried and cried. I did everything a mother could do, and he still was not comforted. So I just put him in the crib to cry it out.” This is the temptation. What difference does it make whether the baby cries in mother’s arms or in the crib?

A lot.

shutterstock_214229536-2Think how overwhelmed the baby must feel. Something is wrong. Probably the baby doesn’t even know what it is. All of us would be frightened if we were crying uncontrollably and didn’t even know why! Wouldn’t we feel better if someone were around to reassure us? To care that we were upset? Wouldn’t we feel rejected if our partner were to say, “Go in the bedroom. I don’t want to be around you until you regain control of yourself.” Don’t we want to be loved in times of stress as well as in times of happiness?

Perhaps our suggestion should be changed to, “Don’t let your tiny baby cry—alone. Comfort him. Speak quietly to him. He needs your presence more when he’s upset.” What better way to demonstrate your love than by comforting him in times of stress?

It’s hard on the mother. We know that. And we sympathize. But the peace of mind that comes from meeting all of a baby’s needs more than compensates. And that includes the need for consistent love—even when the baby’s not being particularly loveable.

Editor’s note: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (7th edition) excerpts this article on page 94 in a section titled “Should baby cry it out?” The Womanly Art continues: “Our suggestion to the mother of a fussy baby is: Don’t let your baby cry alone. The comfort and security extended by your loving arms is never wasted. Love begets love. Then, too, the next thing you try may be just the right thing to ease baby’s discomfort and restore peace and serenity to the house.”

While La Leche League encourages mothers and fathers to be with their baby when they’re crying, we also understand that sometimes we may need to gently place baby down in a safe area, step away for a minute to breathe deeply and calm ourselves, and return to comforting our baby after a short break.