Should You Let Your Baby Cry?

Crying baby. Credit:

I know I still have 2 more months to go before I hear my baby’s cry but I have heard my friend’s baby’s cry. The 4 month old girl was crying in the stroller and the mother said that if she picks her up she will stop crying and demonstrated it to me. She picked her daughter up and the baby immediately stopped crying. So I asked: “why do you let her cry if you know picking her up will make her happy?” She told me it was not to spoil her. That got me wondering. Would picking the baby up really spoil her? Or would it comfort her and assure her that her mother is always there for her when she needs her.

I researched a few forums and the opinions were all over the place. Some parents agreed that picking up crying babies would spoil them, others were terrorized by this point of view claiming that picking babies up comforts them and sends a message that they have parents they can count on.

Even more research led me to Penelope Leach, a British developmental child psychologist and author of Your Baby and Child, who states:

“The more we know about brain development, the more we know that when a mother is not responsive, it’s linked to [poor] cognitive development and social behavior, the hazard is of a child with too little conviction that he is really loved, as in unconditional love. If you don’t respond to him when he cries, he comes to distrust the validity of his own feelings and your willingness to respond to them.”

Parents who are likely to let a baby cry it out typically do so because they are afraid of spoiling a baby, something William Sears, author of The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two (Revised and Updated Edition) calls “nonsense,” or as a way to get on a schedule, thinking that if the baby “learns” that this is not feeding time, for instance, eventually he’ll stop crying. “That’s management, not mothering.”

“Here’s what I tell parents,” says Sears, a pediatrician in San Clemente, Calif., who is known as the father of attachment parenting, a practice based on a high degree of responsiveness.

“When in doubt, put yourself behind the eyes of your baby and ask yourself, `If I were my baby, what would I want my mother or father to do?’ “

Finally I asked my own mom. I’m a very independent person, I went to university away from home at the age of 18 and haven’t lived with my parents since. I’ve traveled all over the world, lived in several different countries and had extended periods of not seeing my parents. I live in a different country now. Yet I know that they are always there for me. They are present even if I don’t see them or hear from them for a while. I asked my mom what she would do when I was crying. She would always pick me up.

Update: Here’s another article confirming that babies left to cry stay unhappy afterwards.

(Crying baby photo: credit to


After posting this on facebook I got an excellent link from another mommy. This article explains what your baby does to convey that it’s:

  • hungry
  • wants to play
  • wants a break
  • is sleepy
And the book Baby Sign Language Basics: Early Communication for Hearing Babies and Toddlers, New & Expanded Edition PLUS DVD! teaches how to communicate with newborns via baby sign language.

Thank you!

UPDATE: Now that I am a mother of a 7 month old I can confirm that I NEVER let my baby cry. As soon as she opens her mouth I give her what she wants – and it’s usually my breast. She is such a happy and delightful creature and I am sure that is thanks to my gentle parenting.

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Categories: Baby Manual

Author:Alinka Rutkowska

Alinka is a best-selling and award-winning Children's Author.


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7 Comments on “Should You Let Your Baby Cry?”

  1. May 20, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    Hi Alinka,

    I do think that it is important to let your baby know you’re there as a mum. I do think it has an effect on your later life how you’ve been treated in the first year of your live. My mum was not there for me (other people were but not my mum) and I’m not independent at all.. it’s not that I wan’t my mum all the time but I do feel like I need people (like my husband now) and I intend to almost sufficate him be demanding his presence tooo much. I cry really easy and even now all I mostly want is a hug to make me feel better! So I don’t think I’ll let my little baby cry. On the other hand it depends on how old they are cause I do think that from a certain age they do test you and it’s not soo bad to let them cry for a short time.

    • May 20, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

      Thanks for sharing this Monia! It’s really interesting to see real life examples of the attachment theory. Your example (the opposite of mine) confirms what the quoted experts claim.

  2. Amber
    June 2, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    I agree with Alinka. My mom would always pick me up when I cried and I grew up to be quite an independent lady. I checked with a friend of mine’s mom and she said she would leave her daughter crying not wanting to spoil her and guess what – she is one of the clingiest, neediest people I know!

  3. June 2, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    Amber, thank you for sharing! It’s great to hear real people’s stories on top of expert opinions 🙂

  4. August 21, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    I always picked up my son. He’s a very independent four year old now.

  5. November 5, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Hi Alinka, I just went back to this article as I’ve been struggling lately whether to leave Lucas crying or to always pick him up when he starts. Certain people tell me I should leave him as he is becoming too much of a ‘mummy’s boy’ but if I leave him he works himself up into such a state that it takes much longer to calm him when I finally do pick him up.

    I am going to ask my Mum if she picked me up every time I cried as I also left home at 18 to go away to university, have travelled the world and live in a different country. My guess is that she did and therefore I will continue to cuddle my little man on demand 🙂

    Think I have already answered my own question…thank you for your blog space!!

    • November 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      Glad I could help without doing anything, Catherine! I wouldn’t be able to let my 3 month old cry for any reason. Stay strong and please share what you decided and how it’s working!

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