Is Crying Harmful For Babies

In this blog, we continue our miniseries on crying, and I’m going to be answering the question, is crying harmful? 

The first thing I’m going to do is try and answer this question, is crying harmful? In a word, no. 

Crying in and of itself as an act of a thing that we do, crying itself is not harmful. It can actually be helpful. It causes a release of feel-good hormones, which can actually help, which is why we sometimes say, “Oh, just have a good cry and let it out.” We also have a whole movie genre dedicated to crying, the tearjerker! There’s a reason why. Crying can actually be helpful in many ways. But rest assured, when your little one cries, when your baby cries, the crying itself isn’t harmful to your child. It’s actually communication, really in infancy, that’s what crying is used for. In adulthood, it’s more of an emotional thing. But in childhood, for babies especially, they use it to communicate. They don’t have words. And so they cry to tell you that they want or need something. And that’s pretty much the main use of crying in babies. Of course, they will also cry because they have pain. Pain causes crying.

They will also cry if they are scared. They might also cry if they’re cross or angry. That it’s always going to be an emotion and there will be something triggering that. That they want or need something. And the cry is to tell you about it. So we can feel all those things without crying, but a baby needs to tell you about it because they don’t know how to fix it. They don’t know how to make the pain go away, so they cry. You have a pinprick, you stub your finger on a rose thorn, and you don’t cry because you don’t need to tell someone about it, or you could say with words that you are okay. When a toddler pricks their finger on a rose thorn, they’re going to cry because they don’t know how to make that pain go away and they need someone else to do it for them because it’s all too much for them and they don’t understand. So they cry to tell you about it. It’s all communication in some form or another.

the other things I really want to share, and there are lots of studies and there are lots of inconclusive elements to this. So I’ll share what I can share with you to date. Studies have actually shown that crying does not release toxins. Crying itself does not release toxins. Toxins and stresses come from other emotions, sure, and they can come with or without crying, but crying itself is not a cause of toxins to be released. There’s not an adverse stress response. It’s just because of crying. And there’s no long-term effects have been found on attachment or bond with parents or on a child’s emotions or behaviour just because they have done a lot of crying. 

So it’s not the crying itself. Now, some of those things can come about because of other factors. They can be stresses involved. A child who’s been through a really traumatic experience, perhaps had certain levels of abandonment go on in their life. All kinds of situations can cause stresses and cortisol levels to rise and reactions that can last, but not crying standalone, just crying. Crying is not the harmful thing in this mix. 

The thing that I really want to share to help you is to understand why. If you know why the cry, then you’ve got the key. So we’ve talked about different reasons babies cry. Communication is the main encompassing one, but you do have pain, hunger, tiredness, anger, frustration, just sheer dissatisfaction, fear. And sometimes these cries will show up differently. For instance, angry cry, you often see narrow eyes and disengagement. Pain cries often have scrunched up eyes like a real pain. Fear often has wide eyes, can sometimes it can come on suddenly if it’s like a sudden fear like, I don’t know, big, loud noise. A big loud noise scares the little one. You’ll see, there’s almost like a “Huh.” There’s almost a pause. There’s a shock. And then there’s an outburst. That could be a fear cry. They’re different, right? And you’ll get to know them. And this is the beauty of being a parent is getting familiar with what your little ones cries mean. 

If you can crack that code, then you’re going to have a much better way to respond to the cry. 

Responding is the third thing I wanted to share, responding is parenting. That is actually what it is. We talk all the time about sleep training and a responsive approach, meaning as long as you are responding, it’s safe and it’s fine. The only area of sleep training, which I don’t even think is sleep training, because it’s just ignorance and abandonment is ignorance and abandonment. And if you’re going to just ignore and do nothing, then yes, you are treading on the territories of abandonment and leaving a little one to feel that kind of sense of fear or abandonment. That could have long-term effects, sure, but just crying alone isn’t going to have those kinds of effects.

And responding, as long as you are responding aka parenting, then your little one’s going to be fine. What that looks like is unique to everybody. And I think it is so unique that you cannot judge from one person’s choice of response to another because you don’t know all the ins and outs, you don’t know what the best response is for that child, the backstory, the history, the why, or for the parent. So the right response for the right child is going to be completely unique. If one parent finds that actually I need to dash in quickly because, and it works for them. That’s them. That’s fine. If another parent says, “Oh, my child does so much better if I just give them a minute, let them have a little chance to soothe. And then I go to them and I reassure, but then I give them a bit of space.” For some children, that is more effective. It’s how their personality is. And unless you understand all the components of that entire family and that entire child and that entire situation, then who is anybody to judge?

So responding is parenting. Parenting is what we do to lovingly bring up our children in the most safe and healthy way. I hope this blog post has been helpful in trying to kind of thrash out some of those myths, misconceptions, misunderstandings about crying and understand it a little bit better so that we can do our very best as parents to bring up healthy, happy children.

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