There is one dilemma all new parents face: should a baby be instantly comforted when she’s upset or left to cry for a few minutes? Mum of three Carol Dyce has a confession…
My position is: dilemma? What dilemma? I nearly trip over in my haste to get to the cot to snatch up my squalling baby for a cuddle. How do you – and really should you – deny that primal instinct to comfort your baby?
But after three babies and a million tears, there’s one thing I know for sure: the crying game divides mums into two camps. Never mind Corrie versus EastEnders viewers, the burning issue is whether it’s best to pick up your baby straight away or leave her to settle herself.
The childcare experts are equally divided. There’s Gina Ford with her Contented Little Babies and strict routines. No-nonsense Gina’s advice is leave your baby if she cries during ‘sleeping hours’ – but not indefinitely – until she’s settled herself. Now, I know thousands of mums think Gina’s a godsend and if it works for you, great. Trouble is, it can leave you feeling a failure when your offspring won’t neatly slot into baby boot camp. Sorry, Gina!
Having survived sleepless nights with Finn, 5, and Mark, 7, you’d think I’d have it sussed third time round with Molly, now 18 months. Think again.
When she cried, I’d pick her up immediately, gritting my teeth as my mum muttered, ‘Making a rod for your own back.’ or ‘Let her exercise her lungs,’ and a whole host of other clichés.
Worst of all though, is the accusation that you’re ‘spoiling’ your baby. Come off it, you can’t spoil a newborn baby. Crying is their only form of communication, because they need something or someone – you.
They’ve been in a safe warm cocoon in the womb for nine months. Now they’re in a bright, loud world where everything’s new and often scary. No wonder they cry. Blimey, wouldn’t you?
A 2006 study backs up the ‘hands-on’ rather than ‘hands-off’ approach. Led by Professor Ian St James Roberts from the University of London’s Institute of Education, it involved three groups of new parents.
One picked up and held their baby for 16 hours a day, one for 10 hours, and one for eight-and-a-half hours.
Researchers found that at two and five weeks, the babies held for eight-and-a-half hours a day cried and fussed 50% more than the others.
Ha! Lots of cuddles equals happy babies. There you go.
But I have to come clean here: my quick-fix pick-ups caused problems as Molly got older.
Her only prompts for going to sleep were nodding off on the boob or being cuddled. She simply didn’t know how to get herself off to sleep, and that was down to me.
You know how it is, you know exactly what you should be doing, but in the middle of the night when you’re exhausted and desperate for sleep, it’s easier to start ‘tomorrow’ isn’t it?
When my husband Keith mooted trying controlled crying, it sparked a few domestics. We’d discuss and bicker about how long to leave her crying. By then, Keith was feeling so tired, he’d have happily said a fortnight while I could barely stick to two minutes.
Yes, yes, I know it works, but I couldn’t bear the thought of it. I felt guilty as it was my fault, but I also realised we had to get it sorted.
Then, as often happens with babies, just when you think you really can’t hack this any more, things start to get better. I’d do my best to tire Molly out during the day, stick to her bedtime routine and eventually she started sleeping for longer stretches. When she let out a half-cry at night, Keith’s hand clamped my arm in a vice-like grip. ‘Leave her,’ he’d hiss. Sure enough, she was usually just stirring and went back to sleep again.
Okay, so maybe I got it a bit wrong, but I still believe it’s the most natural thing in the world to pick up a newborn baby straight away when they cry. It just feels right somehow.