Bring Nurturing Touch Back to Our Families

by JoAnn Lewis

Touch is our first language in life. It is the most developed sense at birth and the last to leave us when we die. We identify ourselves, each other and our world by touching.

Massage as positive touch with respect and permission is among the most powerful forms of communication. Historically, massage has been handed down from family to family in village cultures in some form of daily tradition. In many cultures, this was and remains a standard practice as normal as bathing, sleeping, eating and greeting each other with a handshake, hug or nose rub.

So why have we lost this traditional element to basic health and happiness? And what has this lack of connection done to our society? From old cultures of hourly, daily interaction to our industrialized go-to-a-job and don’t touch anyone culture, attitudes have changed. How do we bring positive interaction back to common sense? We all know we need it. We all know it means love, security and health. Often our fondest memories are of nurturing touches.

Imagine for a moment our children and grandchildren learning and playing in cooperative circle games on the playground. Or are they standing in line, pushing each other over? We can redo the beginnings of negative or even violent reactions by teaching how to touch carefully with gentle strength, permission and respect. Let’s see how we can do this to the best of our ability.

First, ask permission. Sounds simple, yes? When we put our own hands together and rub them to become warm, showing that warmth to each other and asking if we can do massage with someone, similar to shaking an outstretched hand in greeting, it starts the unspoken language of respect and care. Patiently, persistently, we find the way to be together in touch, especially at birth.

Research studies show us that massage for babies (and adults) will calm the nervous system, increasing the myelination (coating) on the nerves and increase IQ, motor skills, hand-eye and right-left coordination. As body-mind connections increase, so does bonding and attachment, social skills with trust and respect to lessen anxiety. As massage regulates digestion to relieve gas, constipation and waste elimination, it builds stronger, toned muscles and ligaments. It stimulates hormones for better growth and immunity, eliciting caring responses of soothing, nurturing behavior, reducing violence and negative reactions. Who wants a healthier, stronger, smarter baby?

Massage reduces pain, relieves aches and soreness, and is the fastest way to reduce inflammation, decrease blood pressure and tone the skin and muscles. To experience this pleasurable, one-to-one interaction of the highest quality of touch builds trust, self-esteem and confidence.

This is life at its best! This is what we can give with just our own two relaxed hands with proper body mechanics (no force) with ease and calm, gentle, playful communication.

Let’s pass massage on and build strong family and community bonds and traditions for generations to come. You and your family deserve massage, to learn it well, and to live truly well-adjusted, healthy, happy lives through the art and science of nurturing touch.

Holding infants—or not—can leave traces on their genes

The amount of close and comforting contact from caregivers changes children’s molecular profile

The amount of close and comforting contact between infants and their caregivers can affect children at the molecular level, an effect detectable four years later, according to new research from the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

The study showed that children who had been more distressed as infants and had received less physical contact had a molecular profile in their cells that was underdeveloped for their age—pointing to the possibility that they were lagging biologically.

“In children, we think slower epigenetic aging might indicate an inability to thrive,” said Michael Kobor, a Professor in the UBC Department of Medical Genetics who leads the “Healthy Starts” theme at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

Although the implications for childhood development and adult health have yet to be understood, this finding builds on similar work in rodents. This is the first study to show in humans that the simple act of touching, early in life, has deeply-rooted and potentially lifelong consequences on genetic expression.

The study, published last month in Development and Psychopathology, involved 94 healthy children in British Columbia. Researchers from UBC and BC Children’s Hospital asked parents of 5-week-old babies to keep a diary of their infants’ behavior (such as sleeping, fussing, crying or feeding) as well as the duration of caregiving that involved bodily contact. When the children were about 4 1/2 years old, their DNA was sampled by swabbing the inside of their cheeks.

The team examined a biochemical modification called DNA methylation, in which some parts of the chromosome are tagged with small molecules made of carbon and hydrogen. These molecules act as “dimmer switches” that help to control how active each gene is, and thus affect how cells function.

The extent of methylation, and where on the DNA it specifically happens, can be influenced by external conditions, especially in childhood. These epigenetic patterns also change in predictable ways as we age.

Scientists found consistent methylation differences between high-contact and low-contact children at five specific DNA sites. Two of these sites fall within genes: one plays a role in the immune system, and the other is involved in metabolism. However, the downstream effects of these epigenetic changes on child development and health aren’t known yet.

The children who experienced higher distress and received relatively little contact had an “epigenetic age” that was lower than would be expected, given their actual age. Such a discrepancy has been linked to poor health in several recent studies.

“We plan on following up to see whether the ‘biological immaturity’ we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development,” says lead author Sarah Moore, a postdoctoral fellow. “If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Sarah R. Moore, Lisa M. McEwen, Jill Quirt, Alex Morin, Sarah M. Mah, Ronald G. Barr, W. Thomas Boyce, Michael S. Kobor. Epigenetic correlates of neonatal contact in humans. Development and Psychopathology, 2017; 29 (05): 1517 DOI: 10.1017/S0954579417001213


Thank you for your friendship, your kindness, and the love that comes to me over this “invisible” thing called Facebook.

You may have noticed some change from me over the last year or so. Most of my FB friends are from other countries, so I’d like to explain the evolution of my life and work.

I have had a disease called Fibromyalgia for 30 years. I had a total remission from 2014 through October of 2018. Just guessing at why it re-appeared, a few months of intense stress — physical, mental, emotional, financial — may have contributed but I’m not sure. When it re-emerged, it surprised me and I had difficulty accepting it, thinking that I’d get “back to normal” in a few days. It never went away, and I had symptoms (intense and debilitating all over pain, migraines, exhaustion) for months. I finally accepted that it’s back, and started learning how to dance with it. There are days when I have to be in bed all day; there are times when the pain is so profound I cry in spite of medications that are supposed to help.

Then there are days, sometimes weeks, when it lifts, and though I’m in pain, I can function with joy. Recently I went through a period of having my blood tested for everything you can imagine, and the fear was that I was getting Rheumatoid Arthritis. I rejected the fear, and it turned out that I’m okay.

As the founder of the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), I’m still involved, basically posting blogs and articles about infant massage and babies in general. I’ll continue doing that. What I needed to accept is that I will never teach or train again. At first feeling grief, eventually I started to feel lighter, and stepped into my “eldership” feeling relief and peace.

Thinking about how to manage this pain disease, I looked back to when I first developed it. At that time, I was pursuing art professionally, and when I was making art, the pain calmed. I decided to try returning to that, and began exploring how I could sew again (my passion). I began hand sewing, doing embroidery, in April of this year. Now I’m making embroidered “landscapes” and have sold many of them. This week I opened a shop on Etsy (in May, I imagined I might do that sometime during the summer). You can see my work on my Facebook page “Vimala’s Textile Art,” on Instagram, and Etsy.

If you would like to support my work, you can go to and find my shop “Beaux Textiles” (French for beautiful textile art). There you’ll see all available pieces, and you can “favorite” the shop, and “favorite” any pieces that appeal to you. This will help get my shop noticed. No purchase necessary. I love doing this more than I thought I would. It’s a mindful practice, and most days I’m sewing all day long. I even have some commissioned pieces to finish. When I told my son about it, he said of course it would be successful — “Mom, you’re an artist; you always have been an artist, and whatever you make has been successful.” He was happy that I was getting back to art. I’m also learning Spanish and French — because I have so many friends and family members that speak these languages, and also for my brain!

Another change that you may have noticed is my political posts. I have always been pretty loud about things I see as threatening the poor, endangered species, racism, and cruelty. Unfortunately, in my country right now, some of our leaders are doing just that every single day, and I saw this coming years ago. I won’t be silenced. I’m not an angry person, but I cannot sit by and watch my fellow beings suffering.

As you can see if you look at my page, and my other pages — The Tao of Motherhood (mostly posts about toddlers) and The Path of Parenting (mostly posts about older kids)— I’m still making my views about parenting known. The Tao of Motherhood page has more than 10,000 likes and counting. My personal page is mostly about babies, so maybe people whose babies grow relate to that page more.

In my heart, I am very much with Infant Massage, my life’s work and my legacy. I love hearing from instructors and parents, and I love to see what the chapters of IAIM around the world are doing.

If you have any questions, please message me; I’m happy to hear from anybody.

An Introduction to Infant Massage

The Benefits of Infant Massage

The benefits of massaging your baby are many: for your baby, for you as parents, for your family, and for society at large. I have always thought of them in those categories.

Massaging your baby promotes bonding; it contains every element of the bonding process. Infant massage promotes a secure attachment with your child over time. It promotes verbal and nonverbal communication between the two of you. Your baby receives undivided attention from you; he feels respected and loved. It is one of the only times that all of his senses are nourished.

Infant massage aids in the development of your baby’s circulatory, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. It aids in sensory integration, helping your baby learn how her body feels and what its limits are. Massaging your baby helps make connections between neurons in the brain, which helps develop her nervous system. It also aids the generation of muscular development and tone, and contributes to her mind/body awareness.

Regular infant massage improves sleep, increases flexibility, and regulates behavioral states. It reduces stress, levels of stress hormones, and hypersensitivity. Massaging your baby creates higher levels of anti- stress hormones and promotes and improved ability to self-calm. It teaches your baby to relax in the face of stress.


Infant massage helps with gas and colic, constipation and elimination, muscular tension, and teething discomfort. It also helps with “growing pains,” organizes the nervous system, relieves physical and psychological tension, and softens skin. It helps release physical and emotion tension, balances oxygen levels, and provides a sense of security.

Benefits for Parents
Massaging your baby releases bonding and relaxing hormones into your system. It helps you learn a type of mindfulness as you spend quality time with your infant. It can aid in lactation, self-esteem, and confidence in your parenting. The bonding and secure attachment help you be a better parent. It is a wonderful way for fathers to be intimately involved with the care of their babies, and helps both parents understand their baby’s “language.”

Benefits for the Family
Infant massage encourages the involvement of siblings and extended family in baby care. It promotes a relaxed environment in the home, communication, and respect.

Benefits for Society
Imagine a world where people are trained to be good parent; where newborns, older babies, toddlers, and children are routinely given healthy, loving massages every day; where the entire culture values positive, nurturing touch, respect, and empathy. There would be reduced infant health care costs, less child abuse, fewer behavioral problems in children, and less violence. When I founded the International Association of Infant Massage, this is what I imagined: changing the world, one baby at a time.


Pleasure is fantastic, powerful medicine. Our bodies are designed to renew when we feel joy, our bodies blossom and mend through the delights of earthly pleasures. In humans, nitric oxide (not nitrous oxide in the dentist’s office!) is a signaling molecule in our brains, blood, lungs, and gastrointestinal systems, dilating blood vessels, raising blood supply and helping to protect our tissues. It is also a neurotransmitter that is active on smooth muscle, and it is abundant in both the stomach and erectile tissues in the penis and clitoris. The experience of pleasure such as orgasm is due to a release of nitric oxide, as is laughter, deep meditation, exercise such as yoga, aerobic activities and pleasure in consuming delicious, healthy foods.

The feeling of the release of nitric oxide only lasts a few seconds, but it is sensational, setting off many feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. You feel an incredible shift in energy and relaxation. It is the physical manifestation of vital power, called prana or chi. It is even what lights up a firefly! Research at Stanford University showed that nitric oxide is released when the egg and sperm meet, in a peak moment of universal creativity. There is an MRI video showing the moment a human sperm meets an egg, and a beautiful flash of light signals the release of nitric oxide.

Some women experience this moment, knowing they are pregnant at the time it happens. I experienced it with my second pregnancy. It is a bright, exquisite memory. It was late at night, and as my husband slept, I rose and walked to our second-floor window, gazing at the full moon. I smiled, touched my belly, and said, “Hello!” Researcher Herbert Benson, M.D., author of The Relaxation Response, said that nitric oxide is an essential element in “peak experiences of ecstatic flow. . . it is a biological mechanism that encompasses the dynamics of human belief, the creative process, the essence of physical and mental performance, and even spiritual experience.” The Universe uses this natural magic to enchant our earthly experiences and bring us toward endless happiness, or enlightenment.

Neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, the “bonding hormone” are produced and used in the brain and cells throughout your body. Oxytocin is released during orgasm, breastfeeding, and during loving contact with your baby and other loved ones. You experience a warm, happy, relaxed feeling when mood-enhancing neurotransmitters are released from the brain and gut as a result of positive events, thoughts, and emotions. You can increase the visceral joy in which your new baby floats by consciously being positive and having pleasurable experiences.

Fear and anger deplete nitric oxide, so it is helpful to cultivate your ability to feel joy and compassion and to release resentment. Actually, righteous indignation, such as when you stand up for the vulnerable or against exploitation, can release nitric oxide. Followed by actions that help you feel empowered and courageous, this kind of anger is right for you; it is only when passion makes you feel helpless, disempowered, and sad that it is not at all good for you.

There is another neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in how happy and calm we feel. It’s called anandamide. The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss.” Anandamide was discovered back in the 1990s by scientists trying to understand the effects of cannabis on the human body. They discovered that anandamide was part of the endocannabinoid system — a network of receptors and cannabis-like chemicals (endocannabinoids) found throughout our bodies. The endocannabinoid system regulates almost every biological activity including sleep, appetite, our immune system, pain, mood, reproduction, and memory.

Anandamide both reduces inflammation and is thought to have an anti-anxiety effect. The more anandamide we have, the happier we are. This direct link between anandamide and mental well-being got a further boost when scientists discovered that regions scoring highest for happiness, such as West Africa, South America, and Scandinavia, share a special genetic mutation. This means anandamide lasts longer in their systems before being used up. So in effect, thanks to their genetic abnormality, these countries are more resilient to stress and are generally happier.

High levels of anandamide in our bodies are linked to feelings of happiness and contentment, and a lack of them to depression and anxiety. Exercise is a great way to increase anandamide levels. Not only do we release endorphins, but scientists now know the infamous “runner’s high” is also attributed to a peak in anandamide and a release of nitric oxide. It has been shown that aerobic exercise causes an increase in anandamide levels, which is associated with mood-enhancing effects. Because anandamide is a euphoriant and aerobic exercise is associated with euphoric effects, it has been proposed that anandamide mediates the short-term mood-lifting effects of exercise by exercise-induced increases in its synthesis. It has been shown that an individual’s mood improves for the remainder of the day following physical exercise and that one’s mood is positively correlated with overall daily physical activity level.


Once on a television news spot, I was asked to demonstrate infant massage and talk about its benefits. As we hurried to the newsroom, the host said, “I hear you have a way to stop a baby’s screams in one second flat with massage. I hope you can show us that today!”

The baby, a sweet four-month-old with whom I’d had a lovely conversation in the “green room,” took one look at the newscaster and began to cry inconsolably. I did not demonstrate massage because I felt it would betray her feelings to use it as a trick to quiet her (even if it could have, which I doubt). The host concluded that the infant massage gimmick did not work. She was right. As a gimmick, it does not. Unfortunately, this was not the only time I was confronted with this “quick fix” mentality. Many people still think that babies should be seen and not heard.

Why do babies cry so much? Why does it bother adults so much? Why are people so confused about how to respond to a crying infant? As babies, we had few ways beyond crying to express negative feelings and release pent-up stress. Growing up, we learned how to deal with anger, fear, pain and excess energy in many ways; facial expressions, body language, and speech patterns now help us to convey how we feel. When the stresses of living pile up, we can go for a walk, take a vacation, or talk to a friend. Even when we are healthy, we cry from time to time; but we rarely cry in front of others.

We have learned that crying is antisocial and a sign of weakness. This was probably one of our earliest lessons. The idea of “spoiling” came into vogue in the early part of this century. People began to think that they should let babies “cry it out” alone. The rationale was that babies used crying to manipulate parents into gratifying babies’ desires, and that this was an unattractive character trait. Responding to it could only cultivate spoiled, boorish children leading their parents around by the nose. In order to teach babies that crying was unacceptable behavior and to train them for independence early on, they were left alone to cry until they grew hoarse and fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.

In the 1970s, a movement away from these earlier infant-rearing practices gained momentum. Many more women began breastfeeding, the front and backpacks were invented, and even baby experts like Dr. T. Berry Brazelton recanted earlier advice not to take a baby into parents’ bed. We finally realized that, like fruit, the only way to spoil a baby is through neglect. Other cultures influenced this change; global communication had become sophisticated enough for us to begin looking more closely at cultures on the other side of the world which had not yet been impaired by so-called modern thinking.

Unfortunately, we had. Mothers who previously might have left baby alone to cry while they felt guilty and tearful in the other room now jumped at baby’s smallest peep. But something remained. Getting the baby to stop crying, or not allowing the baby to cry at all, was still our obsession. There are times when we need to cry. It is a release, and crying in the loving arms of another is often much more so. I believe that babies’ feelings are as deep as ours, that their fears, their sorrows, and their frustrations are not less. From observing hundreds of babies in massage classes and in other cultures, I know that sometimes crying can be a relief for them, and that often after a good cry they are happier, their digestion improves, and they sleep more deeply. This “good cry,” however, is in a loving, supportive atmosphere, where the baby is neither ignored nor hushed. The parent recognizes a cry of hunger or physical pain, or a need for cuddling, and responds appropriately to it.

Many of us brought up in the age of “don’t spoil the baby” have mixed feelings about crying. We get anxious, tense up, want the crying to stop right away. It triggers fear and perhaps a reminder of the anguish (and anger) we may have felt, crying alone in a crib with no response. It can also engender guilt — am I a bad mother if my baby cries?

Our culture reinforces these feelings. Many people are extremely agitated by any noise a baby makes and assail its parent with dour looks at the slightest sound. The embarrassed parent often responds by punishing the baby with loud hisses, apologizing for the baby, and fleeing for the safety of home. Researchers have discovered that we have a built-in response to an infant’s cries. For example, in several experiments, one-day-old infants became distressed upon hearing another infant’s cries, but not upon hearing a synthesized, fake cry or the cry of an older child.

This suggests that the “distress response” is innate.1 How we act upon this distress, however, is determined by cultural factors. Western culture, as it has developed over the last hundreds of years, has systematically reduced our sensitivity to infants’ cues and placed an unnatural distance between parents and babies and between family and community members.2 This split between “nature” and “nurture” has created a vicious cycle of crying babies, sleepless nights, and sometimes, abuse.

Two types of infant rearing can be found in the animal kingdom: the caching, who leave their young for long periods while the mother gathers food, and the carrying species, who keep their young in continuous contact and closely space feedings. Behaviors which characterize the caching species are not found in humans. The babies must remain silent for long periods of time while the mother is absent, so as not to attract predators. They do not urinate or defecate unless stimulated by the mother, for the scent would attract predators in her absence. In addition, the young have internal mechanisms that control their body temperature. The mother’s milk is extremely high in protein and fat content due to the length of time between feedings, and the infants suckle at a very fast rate. Humans are in every way the opposite, much closer to the continuous-feeding, carrying mammals. Human milk, in fact, is identical in protein and fat content to that of the anthropoid apes, a carrying species. Human babies suckle slowly, and they cry when distressed or out of contact with the parent.3

Konner’s, Brazelton’s, and Mead’s observations and studies of several non-industrialized cultures showed virtually continuous contact between mother and baby. Cultural patterns characterized by close mother-infant contact and prolonged breastfeeding also fostered a highly developed sensitivity to baby signals and subtle cues, such as body movements and facial expressions, that precede crying. This does not mean, however, that babies in these cultures
never cry. While they rarely cried during the day, it was quite common for infants to cry for long periods in the evening.4 Adults knew this was release crying and allowed it. As Sandy Jones says in Crying Babies, Sleepless Nights, “There’s a difference between not responding and responding and allowing, in which you’ve used your judgment about what your baby seems to need.” People in these cultures, because of their own experience of responsive parenting and a strong social support system, are quite able to automatically and naturally discriminate between a baby’s distressed crying out for help and other kinds of communication. The baby’s cry rarely pushes the parent into egoistic impulses.

Egoism and Altruism
Researchers have found that people respond to babies’ cries in either an egoistic or an altruistic manner. Egoistic responses are characterized by agitation and concern with self; one wants to stop the baby’s crying because it is aggravating. Altruistic responses are characterized by empathic discomfort; one wants to alleviate the baby’s suffering. Egoism and altruism are fostered by both biology and culture. Maternal hormones, such as prolactin, have been shown to be a factor in an altruistic response to infant crying; these hormones are elevated by extended contact and breastfeeding.5 Our culture, in many ways, encourages and cultivates egoism. We have isolated people more and more over the last several generations. Thus, the social support network for most new parents is nonexistent. The demands of our economy and our social values motivate both parents to provide financial income, often at the cost of increased stress for parents and infants.

Social Support Crucial to the Parent-Infant Bond
Studies reveal that the social support network is very closely related to the security of the parent infant bond. A lack of external support can distance parents from their babies and thus threaten the baby’s healthy development. Babies who are “high need” — colicky, hypersensitive criers — are especially vulnerable to abuse and neglect in situations where parents are suffering marital or financial difficulties. A good social support system can mitigate problems between baby and parent. Unresponsive mothers, who are given a lot of support, help, encouragement and physical affection can become responsive to their babies, and babies who have a lot of contact with loving friends, grandparents, and caregivers are not as affected by difficulties in the mother-infant attachment6 The philosophies of the behaviorists in the early part of the last century spawned several generations of people who lacked the basic security of a strong parental bond. We, and many of our parents and grandparents, grew up concerned with our own security above all; the anxious attachment created by the anti-spoiling atmosphere of infancy could only bring about self-concern.

Responsiveness Reduces Crying
The result of this culturally promoted egoism is an overall lack of responsiveness to babies, which fosters more crying. Bell and Ainsworth’s studies showed that not responding properly to babies’ cries in the first six months actually increases the frequency of crying and distress in the next six months and later.8 Battering is an egoistic response. According to Steele and Pollack’s work, abusing parents (often the victims of abuse themselves) frequently have extreme views about spoiling and independence training — views handed down and culturally reinforced — which contribute to their baby’s distress, thus further agitating the already stressed parent.9 In addition, these views inhibit close contact, carrying, and breastfeeding, thus lowering the chances of hormonal support fro sympathetic responses.

It does little good to recoil in shock at the statistics on battered children when our entire cultural set-up actually creates this behavior. Battering is an extreme example; almost all of us are caught in this cycle in one way or another. Most new parents in our culture periodically experience high levels of stress, regardless of their philosophies. Who has not had thoughts of “throwing the baby out the window” or fears of losing control and shaking or screaming at a crying baby?

How Can We Heal the Split?
Like all of us, babies have many different reasons for crying. Unfortunately, we have lost much of our capacity to intuit their thoughts and feelings. Most people are able to recognize a sharp cry of pain, but our interpretation of other cries and fusses are filtered through the veil of our own insecurities and projections.10 It may be easier to adopt a mechanistic philosophy, whereby one always responds in the same way — either ignoring or hushing. But babies are not interested in philosophy and are unable to attend to their parent’s (or anyone else’s) comfort. To begin to get a more centered awareness, observe yourself when your baby (or someone else’s) cries. When you understand your reactions, you will be able to begin to understand the baby. Notice what a crying baby stimulates for you. Breathe deeply, relax your body, perhaps think of an affirmation such as “I release fear and tension, and go with love to comfort my baby.” If it is someone else’s baby crying, imagine that it is you and picture yourself, as an adult, soothing yourself as an infant. In my seminars, I use an exercise that helps people (not only parents) identify the feelings and reactions:

The next time you hear a baby cry, jot down the images and feelings that come into your mind. Circle each word or phrase, and connect it with others. Each word will suggest another, then another. Continue doing this until it feels complete. Now, using this “map,” compose a short poem or paragraph. What does your poem tell you about yourself? Sometimes people find that the anguish they hear in a baby’s cry is really their own. When you let go of this fear, you can hear what the baby is really saying.

It is not necessary to overanalyze yourself or your baby. Just take some time to think about how you respond to your baby’s cues. Eventually you will find the intuitive bond growing between you and your baby, and your confidence in understanding his or her needs increasing day by day. Dr. William Sears, author of The Fussy Baby, advises parents to picture several response buttons on their “internal computer.” “If your baby cries and you push the right response button,” he says, “there is an inner feeling of rightness about your response.” Daily massage can be an aid in this process, because it helps you to literally keep in touch with your baby’s body language and nonverbal signals. Changing our society begins at home. Even so, there are opportunities to influence the culture beyond our own doorstep. We can help grandparents, friends, and prospective parents gain an awareness of babies’ needs. We can make an effort to provide support and encouragement to friends with new babies. We can also model consideration of babies at social functions and in public.

I was standing in line at a department store, and a baby in a stroller began to cry. Several people nearby became uncomfortable, some scowled and whispered. The baby’s mother picked him up and turned with a warm smile to the others standing in line. “He has a lot to say!” she shouted. Instantly, everyone smiled and relaxed. One woman reached over and patted the baby. Forcing babies to “cry it out,” hushing babies’ cries by stopping up their mouths, and letting babies cry “cathartically” can all be excuses for not taking the time to listen to what they have to say. There is no quick fix. A good parent — a good culture — must go through the sometimes difficult process of responding to babies’ cues individually, with compassion and with common sense.


  1. A. Sagi and M. Hoffman, “Empathic Distress in the Newborn,” Developmental Psychology 12 (1976): 175-176; and M. Simner, “Newborn’s
    Response to the Cry of Another Infant,” Developmental Psychology 5 *1971): 135-150.
  2. A. Murray, “Infant Crying as an Elicitor of Parental Behavior,” Psychological Bulletin 86 (`979): 200- 201, 211.
  3. N. Burton-Jones, “Comparative Aspects of Mother-Child Contract.” In Ethological Studies of child Behavior (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1972).
  4. T. Brazelton, “Crying in Infancy,” Pediatrics 29 (1962): 579-588; I. Devore and M. Konner, “Infancy in a Hunter-Gatherer Life: An Ethological Perspective,” in Ethology and Psychiatry (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1974) ; M. Konner, “Aspects of a Developmental Ethology of Foraging People,” in Ethological Studies of Child Behavior (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1972); and M. Mead and N. Newton, “Cultural Patterning of Perinatal Behavior,” in Childbearing; Its Social and Psychological Aspect (Baltimore, MD: Williams and Williams, 1967).
  5. A. Murray, “Infant Crying as an Elicitor of Parental Behavior,” Psychological bulletin 86 (1979): 204-208.
  6. S. Crockenberg, “Infant Irritability, Mother Responsiveness, and social Support Influences in the Security of Infant Mother Attachment,” Child Development 52 (1981): 855-865.
  7. A. Lieberman, “Preschooler’s Competence with a Peer: Relations with Attachment and Peer Experience,” Child Development 48 (1977): 1277-1287: and L. Matas, R. Arend, and L. Stroufe, “Continuity in Adaptation: quality of Attachment and Later Competence,” Child Development 49 (1978): 547-556.
  8. S. Bell and M. Ainsworth, “Infant Crying and Maternal Responsiveness,” Child Development 43 (1972): 1171-1190.
  9. B. Steele and C. Pollock, “A Psychiatric Study of Parents Who Abuse Infants and Small Children.” In The Battered Child (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1968).
  10. M. Sherman, “Differentiation of Emotional Responses in Infant: The Ability of Observers to Judge the Emotional Characteristics of Crying in Infants,” Journal of comparative Psychology 7 (1927): 335-351.

For More Information
Jones, Sandy. Crying Babies, Sleepless Nights. New York: Warner Books, 1983.
McClure, Vimala. Infant Massage, A Handbook for Loving Parents. New York: Random House/Bantam Books, 1979, 1982, 1989. 2000, 2017.
Sears, William, MD. The Fussy Baby: How to Bring Out the Best in Your High Need Child. Franklin Park, IL: La Leche League International, 1985.


We all think our autobiographies are terribly interesting, and most of the time we are right. But children live now. They will be interested in your story later, when they become fascinated by their own, as adults. Observe your tendency to project your own experience onto your children. When you do that, you respond not to them but to a long-gone you. It doesn’t help them. If that long-gone you needs attention, get it in the therapist’s office. Try to see your child without that filter.

For example, when you hear your baby cry, do you analyze its meaning through your own autobiography? Perhaps you were left to cry for hours alone in a crib because a pediatrician told your mother to “let her cry it out” or not to “spoil the baby.” So when you hear a baby cry, especially your own, it triggers those feelings of abandonment and fear in you. The unthinking response would be to get the baby quiet at all costs so you don’t have to re-experience that pain. You may empathize with a feeling that is yours, not your baby’s, and so your response doesn’t fit your baby’s need. True listening begins in your child’s infancy when you begin to practice removing your autobiography in order to understand your baby’s language and to mirror appropriately what he tries to tell you. This requires getting into present time with your whole being.

Early childhood experts, doctors Eileen and Tom Paris say it well:
“Learning the developmental themes of bonding, mirroring, and separating and the skills that support them from early on will give your baby the best possible start. These themes are ongoing and lifelong. We all need to be attached and bonded. We all need to feel understood, and we all need to be respected as individuals with experiences and feelings of our own”

Sometimes your baby may need to cry, in the warmth and safety of your presence. Your practice is to be present with her, mirror with your expression and speech what you hear, and check yourself for autobiographical projection, until you are sure your baby feels heard and can be comforted. Breathing deeply and relaxing can get you through this. Each time you do it, you will find it is less stressful and more interesting. You will find yourself engaged in the process of learning from your baby. You learn to accept your baby’s pain in the same way you feel his pleasure, without the attachment of craving, but with the compassionate love that is true non-attachment. Practicing in this way affects the way you love everyone else in your life as well. It teaches you how to be more truly compassionate, not only with the suffering of others but with yourself. This sets the foundation for your relationships and your child’s for the rest of your life.

Being present with your children requires that their well being is your top priority. After you have decided to be present, you will revisit that decision often and begin to find ways to do it that fit your lifestyle. You will design your lifestyle to fit this decision. Rather than just another “should,” being present for your little ones will become a fun, creative, and exciting endeavor that will teach you valuable lessons and bring joy to the most mundane of your everyday experiences. One dad said, When my wife goes away on business and I’m at home with the baby, I don’t expect to get a lot done. I have learned to take a deep breath, shut off the computer, and give my baby my undivided attention. A great thing about this approach is that it gives me a rewarding break from things that only seem important, and I get back in touch with what really is important.”

Cultivate a deep curiosity about your child, or each child if you have more than one. This curiosity opens you to the moment and allows you to discover all the things that make him unique. Your interest, in turn, invites your child to show you how unique and beautiful she is because a child who has not been judged and beaten down knows he is special and wants to share himself with you. Your delight feeds her joy, like an ever nourishing figure eight of love between you.