Updated: Jun 10, 2018

Written By:Amber Hollingsworth,LPC

Should You Let Your Baby “Cry-It-Out” or Pick Them Up?

I’ve often heard people give advice to new parents about “letting them cry it out”.  The thinking behind this advice is usually something like…

If you pick them up every time they cry then you’ll be training them to cry for attention.


Yes, babies cry because they want to be held, and it’s okay to pick them up!  In fact, YOU SHOULD PICK THEM UP!!!!!

I’m a mom myself, so I understand that it’s not possible to be 100% available all the time. I realize that babies are going to cry and sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do! I also know, you can’t hold your baby 24/7!   I just want to tell all the new parents (and grandparents) out there, it’s okay to hold your baby.  You’re not going to damage your baby by taking a shower and letting them cry for a few minutes, but you can damage an infant by consistently and purposefully ignoring their need to be comforted.

Many new parents are made to feel guilty for comforting the cries of their children.

When babies are born the major parts of their brain are already formed, but as the baby grows it develops many important neuro-pathways. The pathways that are reinforced will become stronger and other unused neuro-connections will be lost.

(Did you know that we develop most of our emotional coping mechanisms before the age of 5?!?!)

The emotional center of the brain is called the Limbic System.  Babies are born with the limbic system but it’s not programmed until afterward. This programming happens through the love and nurturing of a caregiver (usually the mother, but it can come from any source). The important thing here is that this nurturing needs to be consistent.

Basically, the limbic system of the newborn “syncs” up with the limbic system of the parent(s).  Sorta like how your iPhone automatically syncs up to the iCloud.  For babies, this happens when you hold them (skin to skin contact is helpful here), and when you talk to a baby and look them in their eyes.

Essentially, the baby’s emotional state will depend (almost entirely) on the emotional state of the caregiver.  Babies have to be held, loved, and nurtured for their brains to develop properly! They can only learn to self-sooth from consistent bonding with a caregiver who has a healthy emotional regulation system.   If the mother/caregiver is depressed, highly anxious, highly stressed, neglectful of the child, or inconsistent in their nurturing, THIS WILL HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT ON THE DEVELOPING BRAIN OF THE CHILD.

Furthermore, babies don’t have the ability to form conscience thoughts. Which means, they can’t consciously manipulate you.  Translation, the baby isn’t thinking “if I cry, then I know I’ll get what I want”. This superpower doesn’t develop until later on! They do, however, instinctually manipulate their environment with their cries and smiles.

(***Don’t think of the word “manipulate” as a bad thing!  Babies need to manipulate their environment to get their needs met.  It’s suppose to work this way! )

Basically, what I am trying to say is…

By consistently and lovingly comforting your baby, you’re helping to wire their brains.  This wiring process is VERY, VERY, VERY important, and is unbelievably difficult to “undo”.  When this doesn’t happen properly in very young children, they will likely have attachment and mental health problems for their whole lives.

The idea that you can teach babies to self-sooth by letting them “cry it out”, is a MYTH.   This actually creates the opposite affect.  The baby subconsciously learns that they can’t trust their environment to meet their needs which can result in a more anxious, agitated, or hyperactive adult.

The only way to teach a young child to regulate their emotions is through consistent contact with an emotionally healthy caregiver.


Every new parent knows, it’s almost impossible to ignore the cries of their baby!  This is because babies instinctually cry so that we respond to them, and we are wired to respond to their cries.

Our culture places such a high value on “independence” that we have somehow come to the conclusion that we’re suppose to ignore these cries.  We think that if we don’t ignore these cries, then we’ll make the baby dependent on us. When in actuality, ignoring a babies emotional needs is a sure-fire way to make them grow up into adults that have to depend on some outside source to regulate their emotions (i.e.: drugs/alcohol, sex, relationships, etc….)

Comforting a crying infant is VERY different than giving in to a teenage tantrum!

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