Babies cry for many reasons, and it is important to learn your baby’s personality and his or her different cries so that you can respond to them. There are cries that mean, “I need affection,” “I’m hungry,” “I’m in pain,” “I’m uncomfortable,” “I’m tired and cranky and don’t know how to get to sleep,” and still others that are simply “venting” all the stress the baby takes in, adjusting to the world of non-stop stimulation.

Each cry can and should be responded to appropriately. Each baby will differ in his or her need for physical affection. Some need to be held nearly all the time for the first months before crawling. Others are curious and independent almost immediately. To force an infant one way or another is to disempower her and disrupt the flow of chi she needs to become strong, healthy, and independent.

Some people think that babies who cry always need to be calmed and shushed, or, conversely, should be left alone to cry it out. Neither is true. Infants should never be left alone to cry, unheeded, but sometimes they need to cry in the safety of a parent’s arms, without being shushed, to discharge stress. After a certain period, when they sense they are being attended to, they calm and usually sleep much more deeply.

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To be responsive to your baby, read up on the art of “Active Listening.” When you talk to your baby with a listening heart, he or she knows it and you can see the quality of their cries change. Locking with you eye-to-eye, you will see your baby moving her mouth as if trying to speak.

This is one of the most important reasons for pregnant women to massage their bellies, and to massage their infants regularly after birth. You learn, as nothing else can teach you, what your baby needs, and his cries and fusses don’t distress you so much as inform you of what you need to do to respond appropriately and thus allow your baby to grow and blossom like a well-tended flower in your garden.

My book, Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents, was the first, comprehensive book to introduce infant massage to the West. The nonprofit organization I founded in 1979, the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), has instructors in 71 countries. You can find an instructor and take a class — a great way to learn, have your questions answered, and be with other parents who value the crucial “fourth trimester” bonding process.


If you respond in the right way, you needn’t worry about when to wean, when to potty train, and all the other advice people want to give you. You will become an expert on your child, and you will naturally know and understand what she is ready to do and when. This gives you the confidence to listen to the experts and then go by your inner sense of what is right.

If you want to create a transition environment for your baby that imitates aspects of the in utero experience, you may want to get a baby pack that keeps your infant close to your body so he can hear your heartbeat and feel your warmth, your breathing, your rhythms.


Some pastel organza material, draped over the cradle, can soften the light. Putting a warm cap on her head when going outdoors will prevent heat from escaping from her head. A baby monitor can help alert you to your baby’s sounds when she is sleeping and you are in another room. Other aids include a heartbeat simulator for the baby’s cradle and setting the volume low on your stereo or television.


Some parents want to try family co-sleeping, which is a much debated practice, particularly in the U.S. We practiced family co-sleeping until my youngest was around five years old. After doing a lot of research on this subject, I have concluded that the tales of accidental suffocation by “overlying” are real, but seem to be related to parents who co-sleep for convenience, who don’t take the precaution of removing any fluffy items from the bed, and/or they smoke.

When and if obstetricians and pediatricians give any information to new parents, co-sleeping is roundly discouraged. Unless expecting and new parents take the time to research the subject and 1) prepare, 2) find out what is the very best way for families to sleep together with a newborn, parents will be frightened and reject the notion, not realizing that sleeping together can reduce parental sleep deprivation and infant fussiness, irritability, and crying.

Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Center for Behavioral Studies of Mother-Infant Sleep at Notre Dame University says, “It is a curious fact that in Western societies the practice of mothers, fathers, and infants sleeping together came to be thought of as strange, unhealthy, and dangerous. Western parents are taught that ‘co-sleeping’ will make the infant to dependent on them, or risk accidental suffocation. Such views are not supported by human experience worldwide.”


After having observed how families in India sleep together in a very small space, I wanted to do that with my family. This arrangement, in my experience, allowed me to breastfeed my babies without having to fully awaken. The warmth of my body, my heartbeat and odor, was just right for them. We could respond quickly to cries, chokes, or other needs. The babies could nurse frequently, giving them more antibodies to fight disease and helping them transition from womb to room.

Dr. McKenna goes on to say, “Human infants need constant attention and contact with other human beings because they are unable to look after themselves. Unlike other mammals, they cannot keep themselves warm, move about, or feed themselves until relatively late in life. It is their extreme neurological immaturity at birth and slow maturation that makes the mother-infant relationship so important.”

Dr. John Medina, in his book Brain Rules for Baby, says, “During the attachment process, a baby’s brain intensely monitors the caregiving it receives. It is essentially asking such things as “Am I being touched? Am I being fed? Am I safe?” If the baby’s requirements are being fulfilled, the brain develops one way; if not, genetic instructions trigger it to develop in another way. It may be a bit disconcerting to realize, but infants have their parents’ behaviors in their sights virtually from the moment they come into this world. It is in their evolutionary best interests to do so, of course, which is another way of saying that they can’t help it. Babies have nowhere else to turn.”

One of my fondest memories is when we were sleeping with our little ones in a family bed. Once, in the middle of the night, my 18-month-old daughter awakened to nurse. She looked up into my face and patted my cheek. “I like you, Mommy, I like you,” she said, then closed her eyes to sleep with a sweet smile on her face. Every time I remember that moment my heart fills with love, joy, and gratitude that this child has come into my life. Now that she is an adult with her own little girl, I share these memories with her and it still has the effect of bringing us close.

Dr. McKenna agrees that this types of interaction is beneficial for both parents and infants. He says, “Studies have shown that separation of the mother and infant has adverse consequences. Anthropological considerations also suggest that separation between mother and infant should be minimal. Western societies must consider carefully how far and under what circumstances they want to push infants away from the loving and protective co-sleeping environment. Infants’ nutritional, emotional, and social needs as well as maternal responses to them have evolved in this environment for millennia.”

Often a baby’s crying can lead to and respond to marital discord. Dr. Medina goes on to say, “If the infant is marinated in safety— an emotionally stable home— the system will cook up beautifully. If not, normal stress-coping processes fail. The child is transformed into a state of high alert or a state of complete collapse. If the baby regularly experiences an angry, emotionally violent social environment, his vulnerable little stress responders turn hyper-reactive, a condition known as hyper-cortosolism. If the baby is exposed to severe neglect, like the Romanian orphans, the system becomes under-reactive, a condition known as hypo-cortisolism (hence, the blank stares). Life, to quote Bruce Springsteen, can seem like one long emergency.”

“Infants younger than 6 months old can usually detect that something is wrong. They can experience physiological changes— such as increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones— just like adults. Some researchers claim they can assess the amount of fighting in a marriage simply by taking a 24-hour urine sample of the baby. Babies and small children don’t always understand the content of a fight, but they are very aware that something is wrong.”

Some parents reject co-sleeping because they are concerned about its impact on their sex lives. We found other rooms in the house suited quite nicely. This may not be an option everyone chooses, but I encourage you to read up on it before deciding. It can contribute immensely to the well-being of your whole family. My favorite book on the subject is The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin. I very much recommend Dr. Medina’s book, Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five.

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Children Who Experience Early Childhood Trauma Do Not ‘Just Get Over It’

Children Who Experience Early Childhood Trauma Do Not ‘Just Get Over It’.

“If a baby is repeatedly scared and emotionally overwhelmed and they do not get their survival brain soothed, so they can cope, they begin to develop a brain and bodily system which is on hyper alert and the World seems to be a scary place. Sadly, this not something they can ‘just grow out of’. Far from it as what neuroscience is showing us from all the recent findings. An early experience has a profound effect on the way in which a child’s brain forms and operates as the survival brain is on over drive and senses threat everywhere so works too hard, too often, for too long.”

Blokes, Babies and Bonding

Blokes, Babies and Bonding.

Great post by a dad in Australia: “Sadly, my experience as a new dad is not unique. Several men who wrote for my book, ‘Men at Birth’, expressed similar sentiments that they had difficulty bonding with their baby. In most cases, the bonding difficulty appeared to arise owing to some medical intervention — in my case the prescribing of preventative antibiotics to my partner for premature breaking of her membranes, while for other men it was seeing the trauma of a caesarean section or an episiotomy. For others it was the shattering of domestic routine and harmony.”

Meditation for Caregivers Who are Concerned about Their Crying Babies

Caring for a Crying Baby Can Elicit Stress

Babies feel what their mothers feel, both in and out of the womb. Caring for a crying baby can elicit stress in the baby’s parent or caregiver. What if these trying moments are actually an invitation? An invitation for you to ground yourself by using a simple meditation technique; bringing attention to this moment, focusing  deeply into your body, letting yourself feel like a tree that is deeply rooted in the ground, and consciously relaxing your body.

Tension and Fear

When your baby cries and doesn’t respond to your efforts to quiet him, you begin to feel stress and frustration. Our brains are programmed to hear that high-pitched squealing and respond. For parents and for babies, where there is pain, there is tension, and that tension creates more pain. Underneath tension is its root — fear.


Fears and worries assail us at every point along the path of parenting. Fear hardens us as we try to hold on to the familiar. If we are fearful, we want to stop the flow of time and change. But the cessation of change is death. Acting out of fear, our inner “juice” slowly dries up and, like a dead tree, we are easily broken; we are more likely to lose control. Relaxation — yielding to the flow of change — is essential for life. If we wish to continue to be full of life, we must learn to relax and yield, to flow. Like the young tree, we will be flexible and strong, ever growing, with abundant youthful energy. If we cannot relax, we cannot listen to and truly hear our babies, and we miss their messages to us, misinterpret their needs and wants, and lose touch with who they are.

Grounding Meditation

Grounding meditation can help you calm yourself so you can listen more deeply to the crying and sense whether it is due to needs not being met or a need for emotional release. For 37 years, this has been a part of my organization’s (International Association of Infant Massage — IAIM)  parent-baby classes and our instructor training; learning to ground yourself and truly listen to your baby. We teach parents how to allow their babies to cry in arms to release stress. One parent educator says, “Some babies may need to cry to release stress. Holding a crying baby in loving arms is totally different from leaving a baby alone to cry.”

Cry it Out?

There is a chapter on this in my book, Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents. When I began talking about this, it was a foreign concept; parents knew of the “cry it out” philosophy. Many of us received that type of care, and the first thing we want to do when we hear our babies cry is to hush that baby — the infant self that carries memories of crying-it-out. What I discovered has nothing to do with “crying it out.” Babies are subject to a lot of stress — physical pain from an underdeveloped gastrointestinal system — or being uncomfortable from many sources: frustration with feeding, diaper changing, bath time, being too hot or cold (all of these things are new experiences).

CRYING INFANT 2_mlWhen Your Baby Cries:

First: Breathe deeply and relax each part of your body. Let your baby cry for a minute, sit down, close your eyes, breathe, ground into the earth, and relax.

Second: Find out if there is an immediate problem; hunger, a diaper needs changing, etc.

Third: Respond; go to your baby with a relaxed state of mind and body and respond lovingly, listening empathically and talking to your baby. Make eye contact if you can. Try to reflect what you sense is causing distress. For example, “Oh, I’m so sorry you are feeling sad. Tell me about it. . . not sad? Mad? It’s so hard sometimes, isn’t it? . . .”

When it becomes clear that the baby is releasing pent-up emotional stress, grounding meditation, slow, rhythmic bouncing and patting, singing, and even crying WITH your baby helps your baby to know you care and then your baby doesn’t feel alone. A relaxed response helps your baby release. If the crying continues, a warm bath followed by a massage will bring your baby back into alignment and help her relax and go to sleep.

Massage Your Baby

Because infants grow so rapidly, there is often a lot of tension in their little bodies. They work so hard to develop muscle coordination that occasionally they may ache and feel out of sorts. When your body aches, a massage feels both good and uncomfortable at the same time. Your muscles are sore, and even a gentle touch can bring some discomfort. Still, being massaged is so relaxing, and getting blood circulating through your sore muscles is so healing, that your grunts and grimaces may mean either pain or pleasure. Often a massage can remind you of aches you never knew you had, but afterward the feelings of relief and release you experience are well worth it. Think about a baby’s perspective — everything is new and thus stressful.  The only way to communicate and “talk about” these feelings is to cry.


A Negative Reaction?

Babies who had a difficult or traumatic birth, who had difficulties afterward for which they needed medical intervention, or who have just come from foster homes or orphanages, tend to have more negative reactions to being massaged at first. For example, babies who have received routine heel sticks for blood testing often cry when their feet are massaged, even several months later. If your baby seems to be reacting negatively to particular parts of the massage, you can use Touch Relaxation techniques first, gradually introducing massage strokes as they are accepted.

Touch Relaxation

If you attended childbirth preparation classes, you may remember how you consciously rehearsed relaxing each part of your body, often accompanied by touch from your partner. You will use a similar routine with your baby, calling her attention to an area, showing her how to relax it, then giving her positive feedback as she learns. For example, let’s say you are beginning to massage your baby’s leg, and it appears stiff and tense. Take the leg gently in your hands, encompassing and molding your hand to your baby’s leg. Feel a heavy relaxation in your hand as it conforms to your baby’s skin. Gently bounce the leg, repeating in a soft voice, “Reeee-laaaaax.” As soon as you feel any relaxation in the muscles, give the baby some feedback, saying, “Wonderful! You relaxed your leg.” Make eye contact, give a kiss.


Controlled Belly Breathing

1. Sit in a chair and place your hands over your navel. Relax your body as much as possible.

2. Blow out as much of the air in your lungs as possible, and imagine your tension going with it.

3. Slowly breathe in through your nose, counting 1-and-2-and-3-and-4, feeling your belly rise as air goes to the very depth of your lungs, expanding your diaphragm.

4. Slowly breathe out through your mouth, again counting 1-and-2-and-3-and-4. Let your whole body relax; imagine expelling tension.

I suggest you use Controlled Belly Breathing every day, upon waking and right before going to sleep. Then you can practice under duress: during a traffic jam, a long elevator ride, waiting in the dentist’s office, on the subway, when your baby begins to cry.

After you have mastered and assimilated the technique, begin using it when you feel your emotional temperature rising. You can excuse yourself (I like to go into the bathroom) or do it right there. You will feel Plan A turning to Plan B; you’ll calm down, center and focus your energies, and automatically use better parenting and partnering skills.

When faced with a child who is testing your resolve, relax and yield in the manner of water. Absorb the child’s energy without moving. Sink your strength into the earth with the relaxing breath. Allow the child to bounce off your energy, discovering without harm that nature of your power.

Let everything you have — mind and body, thoughts and reactions, plans and avoidance of plans — sink with gravity into your feet to beneath the earth. Relax your intention. Put everything underground where it can support you. Strewn anxiously through your body, it can only distract you.

The Ancient Taoist Master Liao said:

“The only condition for allowing your internal energy to develop, grow, and become  strong is that you must relax yourself and yield to the universe. When you become soft and pliable, your internal energy will gradually begin to develop and accumulate. Eventually you will have the ability to become extremely hard and strong

when it is necessary to do so.”

© 2014 Vimala McClure