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article imageLetting babies 'cry it out' may be dangerous for their health

By JohnThomas Didymus     Dec 18, 2011 in Health
A psychologist has said that new developments in neuroscience show that letting babies "cry it out" is dangerous for their longterm health. Caregivers who respond promptly to a baby's need are more likely to have children who are independent.
According to the Psychologist Darcia Narvaez, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Collaborative for Ethical Education at the University of Notre Dame, writing on Psychology Today, studies on rats with high and low nurturing mothers show there is a critical period of development in which genes for controlling anxiety are turned on for lifelong use. If in the first 10 days of life (equivalent to six months in a human being) a rat is exposed to a low nurturing mother, the genes controlling anxiety never get turned on and the rat lives the rest of its life anxious in new situations unless drugs are administered to alleviate anxiety. The researchers say similar genes exist in humans which are turned on by nurturing.
According to Narvaez: "We should understand the mother and child as a mutually responsive dyad. They are a symbiotic unit that make each other healthier and happier in mutual responsiveness. This expands to other caregivers too."
Narvaez says the popular notion that developed in the 1800s that babies should be allowed to "cry it out" in isolated cribs comes from a misunderstanding of the child and brain development. According to Narvaez: "Babies grow from being held. Their bodies get dysregulated when they are physically separated from caregivers. Babies indicate a need through gesture and eventually, if necessary, through crying. Just as adults reach for liquid when thirsty, children search for what they need in the moment. Just as adults become calm once the need is met, so do babies. There are many longterm effects of undercare or need-neglect in babies."
Narvaez traced the origin of the belief that babies should be allowed to "cry it out" to the late 1800s when behaviorists anxious to make psychology "hard science" began discouraging affection in child rearing. According to Narvaez, behaviorist John Watson (1928), as president of the American Psychological Association, "took up a crusade" against affection. He warned of the dangers of too much mother love in a time in which "men of science" were assumed to know better "than mothers, grandmothers and families about how to raise children." According to John Watson and behaviorists of his school of thought, too much nurturing would result in "whiney, dependent, failed human being."
Narvaez says that now psychologists know that,"letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated persons who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation."
According to Narvaez, when a baby is stressed, hormone cortisol is released that kill neurons. Early deprivation of nurturing attention results in disordered pattern of stress reactivity in later life. Prolonged stress in early life results in poorly functioning vagus nerve and is related to irritable bowel syndrome and other psychogenic disturbances. The body's self regulatory functions are undermined and mechanisms that tune the brain for calmness are disrupted. According to Narvaez, when a baby gets scared and it is comforted, "the baby builds expectations for soothing, which get integrated into the ability to self comfort. Babies don't self-comfort in isolation. If they are left to cry alone, they learn to shut down in face of extensive distress, stop growing, stop feeling, stop trusting."
More about Darcia Narvaez, babies cry it out, psychology today, Anxiety
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