To cry or not to cry? That is the baby question.

What to do with a crying baby?

I firmly believe that picking up a crying baby tends to stop it crying, which means it is a GOOD thing. Therefore I was permanently attached to my own son for what seemed like years. For me the alternative of letting let him cry would have caused me to suffer such grief and stress that my brain would have leaked out of my ears before he stopped himself and was returned to some state of contentment.

There are contrcrying babyasting views today on whether to let babies cry or not, but this is more a feature of ‘modern’ parents’ lives for it is a debate that only arose in the twentieth century when the ‘experts’ decided that it was best for babies to sleep alone and controlling their crying was introduced as part-and-parcel of a new technical approach to rearing infants.

So here are some of the methods used to instruct parents on how to win over their instinct to pick up their babies and stop them crying:

Don’t pick it up!

According to Lena and William Sadler in their The Mother and Her Child (1916):

Handle the baby as little as possible. Turn it occasionally from side to side, feed it, change it, keep it warm, and let it alone; crying is absolutely essential to the development of good strong lungs. A baby should cry vigorously several times each day.

Mary Read, Truby King’s adopted daughter, published The Mothercraft Manual in 1916 – and clearly influenced by her father who in Christina Hardyment’s words aimed to bring up baby as if it was ‘the independent “puppy playing in the yard”’ – declared (Dream Babies, p. 169):

Babies often cry at first, when laid in bed, merely to be taken up, rocked, or played with. To humor them in this way is to cultivate in them self-indulgence, irritable temper, and tyranny. If let alone they may cry themselves to sleep for a few nights, but this will do them no physical harm; they will have learned their lesson, and the family will be spared further trouble.

Ignore them and get a life:

Mrs Sydney Frankenburg pointed out on behalf of mothers in her Common Sense in the Nursery (1922)

Knowing that a little crying will do good … by feeding him four hourly by day and not at all by night, a woman is able to lead a human life.

We still haven’t quite sorted out this question despite the replacement of this kind of sentiment by books such as Babies are Human Beings (1938) which along with Dr Spock didn’t expect parents to treat their babies like dogs. Rapidly moving on 90-odd years – let’s leave the final word to Gina Ford, the inheritor of the Truby King dogma, in her The New Contented Little Baby Book (2006 edition):

‘Crying to sleep’ is actually a method that I recommend to use with older babies who have reached six months or a year and are waking several times a night because they have learned the wrong sleep associations, brought on by demand feelings or being rocked or cuddled to sleep.

All this guidance is concerned with making a safe environment for the baby, but I’m always unsettled by the way the writers conceptualise the baby as a tyrant at worst, and naughty at best. Is making the baby the mother’s enemy the only way to persuade mothers to ‘step away from that baby’?

Image credit: Evan Amos, Wikimedia Commons


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