Every parent faces the decision of whether to tend to their baby immediately or to let her cry in her crib. There are differing opinions on which is better for babies in the long run and proponents of those opinions often tout their view zealously. A reasonable look at the evidence shows that babies can and do grow up to be healthy children and adults regardless of the position their parents take on how long a baby should be left crying in the crib before they tend to her.
Experts agree that newborn babies (birth to four months) should be tended to fairly quickly when they cry. Newborns spend most of their time sleeping. If a newborn is screaming, she is generally hungry, wet or otherwise uncomfortable. Try feeding, changing and rocking her. Even after you've done all those things, your newborn might still cry, and that's normal. But if a baby who is otherwise fine -- she's not wet, too warm, too cold, hungry, gassy or overstimulated -- cries for several hours several times a week, she may have colic. Talk to your pediatrician, but the good news is, babies outgrow colic, it isn't going to harm her, and the Mayo Clinic's website advises "sometimes the only way to stop a crying spell is to let it run its course."
As babies get older, they are able to sleep for longer periods of time, in part because they are able to go longer periods between feedings. However, as babies grow, they also figure out that someone will come tend to them if they cry. Whether you continue to come immediately when your baby cries or let them cry for a while is a matter of choice and parenting style. If you choose to let your baby cry it out, check your baby periodically to make sure that she's not hungry, wet or uncomfortable.
Some parenting experts suggest that you should never leave a baby crying, but should always tend to your baby right away when she cries. This style of parenting is known as attachment parenting. Dr. Bill Sears is one of the leading proponents of attachment parenting. His website suggests that responding immediately to your baby's crying helps to build trust between you and leads to the baby viewing sleep as a pleasant experience.
Cry It Out
Other experts, such as Dr. Richard Ferber, suggest that it's actually better for your baby to cry themselves to sleep than for you to tend to them immediately every time they cry because this helps them build coping mechanisms. Most experts suggest that you start by letting your baby cry for short periods -- usually two or three minutes -- before tending to them and gradually increase the amount of time you allow them to cry until you have reached half an hour. Most experts don't suggest leaving your baby to cry in the crib longer than half an hour.
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