When Psychology Today ran an article titled "Dangers of 'Crying it Out'," my response was, perhaps predictably, jaded. I read the article, then clicked over to one of my "Birth Clubs" on BabyCenter to watch the ensuing fun while I nursed my seven-month-old. It took a while for the drama to start—when I landed on the page, everyone was up in arms about extended-rear-facing versus forward-facing car seats—but before my daughter had finished nursing, someone had linked to the Psychology Today article. And the insults and name-calling began.
In case anyone is curious, the Mommy Wars are alive and well.
"Dangers of 'Crying it Out'" didn't cover any earth-shattering territory. Written by Notre Dame psychologist Darcia Narvaez, the article described the psychological harm done by leaving an infant to cry to teach "self-soothing." Mommy War veterans will recognize many of Narvaez's points as reminiscent of Penelope Leach's headline-making arguments of 2010, and William Sears's headline-making arguments that date back a lot longer. Their conclusion: Leaving a baby to "cry it out" increases their stress hormone cortisol, which can be toxic to the developing neurons in baby's brain. "Crying it out" can also undermine trust, impair self-regulation, and threaten lifelong health.
Narvaez credits behaviorist John Watson with launching the "crusade against affection" in his 1928 book Psychological Care of Infant and Child. So far-reaching were Watson's anti-affection endeavors that a government pamphlet from that time instructed new mothers to "stop [holding the baby] immediately if her arms feel tired," as "the baby is never to inconvenience the adult."
(As the mother of four, I find the idea of a baby never inconveniencing an ...1
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