To summarize, crying serves a dual purpose during infancy. A primary function of crying is to communicate vital and basic needs during the preverbal years. The second function has been largely unrecognized until recently. Research has shown that crying is a beneficial physiological process that plays a central role in the resolution of trauma and the restoration of homeostasis. Once all immediate needs have been met, and all medical problems ruled out, crying infants should be held and allowed to cry as much as needed.

Since birth traumatized infants tend to cry more than those not traumatized, and since excessive crying by infants is a potent trigger for child abuse, it can be concluded that birth trauma is an important factor contributing to child abuse. In addition to suffering from the birth trauma itself, these babies often suffer further trauma at the hands of their parents who do not understand their attempts to heal themselves through crying. This fact may help to account for the emotional and behavioral problems, as well as later violent behavior of children who experienced perinatal complications.

Because of the strong reactions commonly felt by parents of crying babies, I personally consider all babies who cry extensively to be at risk for child abuse. I have been working with parents for the past 17 years, and I have found that parents of crying babies need four different kinds of help and support. First of all, they need information and continual reminders that the crying is beneficial and healing for their baby, and that their babies' crying does not imply that they are inadequate or that their baby is rejecting them. Second, they need encouragement to hold and listen to their crying baby. Third, they themselves need to be listened to and allowed to express their own strong emotions that are triggered by their babies' crying, as well as their feelings of anger, anxiety, and powerless resulting from a traumatic pregnancy or delivery. Finally, they need an occasional respite from parenting responsibilities.

When all parents are receiving this kind of support and information about crying, then I strongly suspect that we will see a dramatic reduction in the number of instances of child abuse. Furthermore, the life-long impact of traumatic birth will be minimized because babies will be healing themselves in a supportive environment.

This material is excerpted with permission from Aletha Solter's article published in Primal Renaissance: The Journal of Primal Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1996. The article was based on a paper presented at the Seventh International Congress of the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH) on "Birth and Violence" in September 1995. A complete copy of the article can be ordered from Aletha Solter at The Aware Parenting Institute (P.O. Box 206, Goleta, CA 93116, U.S.A.). © 1995 by Aletha Solter, Ph.D.

Aletha Solter, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist, consultant, international speaker, and founder of The Aware Parenting Institute. Her books, The Aware Baby and Helping Young Children Flourish have been translated into several languages.

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