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Child & Teen Health

New study says that it’s okay to let babies cry at night

May 31, 2016

About the Author

photo of Claire McCarthy, MD

Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Claire McCarthy, MD, is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition to being a senior faculty editor for Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. McCarthy … See Full Bio
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Alexandru Stanciu
July 21, 2016

I was so saddened by this post but then I’ve read the comments here.

Your baby will probably be fine, Claire McCarthy MD, but the babies of the moms and dads commenting here are going to be much better.

June 3, 2016

There is a reason that intuitively mothers (perhaps less-so fathers) are pulled by the cries of their young. They are responding to a call. They can’t use words. This is their only form of communication. As someone who has experienced the ‘isolation’ of social rejection as an adult in mid-life, during my darkest hours of depression and anxiety, when all I needed was reassurance that the significant people in my life were there for me, it wasn’t forthcoming, and I spiralled downwards, relying instead of personal inner resources (poetry) to make sense of the alienation and turmoil and social connection, with others who cared and were willing to be there for me. Attachment is not an issue just for babies…The fallout from feeling emotionally insecure, may not surface until much later in life, teens and beyond. I felt the article, while trying to reassure harried and sleep-deprived parents that they can let go of some guilt associated with letting their baby cry, I also felt uncomfortable with the grand statement that ‘there’s nothing to worry about’…Actually, any communication from another human being that is not responded to is part of the crisis of loneliness that is the epidemic of our times…and it starts at birth…

Lorraine Cannuli
June 3, 2016

Using ‘attachment’ to the parent as a criterion for supporting this study is ridiculous. The more you reject a baby (or anyone who us dependent on you), the more they will cling to you. It is certainly no indication of mental health. The relationship you sow with your newborn and baby, the way you let them know you care if they cry, comes to fruition much later, especially in the teen years. This study proves nothing and will cause great harm.

Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D.
June 1, 2016

As a child psychotherapist and parenting author (Smart Love: The Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Regulating, and Enjoying Your Child) I am appalled by the damage this study will do. There is no scientific long term study that can show that letting babies cry themselves to sleep is not harmful. In fact, child development research would indicate the exact opposite. Imitation is the most powerful engine of learning for infants and young children. When babies are left to cry they give up and go to sleep because they feel hopeless that their cries will be responded to. This is a cruel and harmful lesson. Babies learn that no matter how unhappy they are, their beloved parents will not come to their aid. Babies will imitate this lack of response and learn to turn a deaf ear to their own suffering and that of others. Infants who are responded to and soothed become very good at soothing themselves and putting themselves back to sleep. Plus they learn compassion and caring.

Claire McCarthy MD
June 1, 2016

There is an important difference between graduated extinction and letting babies cry it out. In the study, they did not let babies cry it out–and while you are absolutely right that there are no long term studies, 12 months in the life of a baby is reasonably long and the babies–and their attachment to their parents–were fine. As a pediatrician, I don’t tell families that their babies need to sleep through the night; I help them find their own, safe way. Yet I meet many families who are so worn by sleep deprivation that it is impacting not just their ability to function but their parenting–and yet they feel so guilty letting their child cry that they don’t even want to try graduated extinction. For those families, this study is very useful.

June 2, 2016

Beautiful reply Mam. loving and soothing a child has never harmed him. My mom told me that babies get scared at night, they might have trouble breathing U never know. It develops trust. So go and hug your baby. Before my mom’s visit after childbirth, I had read some stupid article like the above and had let my baby cry easily for 1 hour. My mom asked me – how would you feel if you screamed and no one looked at you. Please came in your room and passed by? Imagine if you were to cry for 30 mins – what will happen to your lungs?
then I lifted my baby and patted her. She burped and was Okay. I realized my mistake. Please don’t go by these articles. Do what is natural . Even animals take care of their babies- so should you

June 1, 2016

Thanks for sharing this informative post.. This is very useful..

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