This is a common burning question I get from parents! Or if you’re familiar with research related to “cry it out,” you may be wondering how “crying in arms” is different.
‘Cry it out,’ (CIO) which refers to leaving a crying baby alone, separating in some way from him/her, and not responding to cries, is very different from the innate healing process of ‘crying in arms.’ If you’ve done CIO, there’s no judgment here. Everything is a learning process! Also, you were/are probably exhausted. 💕
‘Crying in arms‘ (CIA) comes from the Aware Parenting approach (Dr Aletha Solter). It refers to allowing crying when it continues beyond immediate needs, but specifically holding Baby and making eye contact available. In other words, respecting and receiving the crying as communication.
At its core, Aware Parenting is about meeting needs—by understanding what those needs truly are. Crying itself is neither good nor bad. It’s a natural, healthy human response. Not only that–crying is a legit need and can be a solution depending on how it’s handled!
The crying itself is not what’s damaging. The crucial difference is in how we respond.
…increases stress–both emotionally and physiologically through stress chemicals released in the body. We know that for babies, separation from loved ones leads to an increase in stress hormones, regardless if they’re crying or not. So in a CIO scenario, stress can be continually triggered for the baby.
Also, it’s important to consider that “alone” includes physical separation or emotional separation, even in proximity. Emotional separation can arise from an experience of post partum depression, grief, or other circumstances. If you’ve experienced this, you’re not a bad parent; your baby’s crying is an invitation for healing.
Crying when held and paid attention to
…helps release stress. It involves human contact through closeness, touch, and loving attention. Have you ever gotten something “off your chest”? How did you feel afterwards? CIA is a communication process.
Therapeutic crying has been shown to reduce stress levels. We also know the chemical content of tears changes, depending on the situation, and may play a role in carrying stress chemicals out of the body.
At the end of a full cycle of a cry release, babies (and toddlers, and anyone 😉) typically become relaxed, either falling asleep or staying awake yet serene.
Crying beyond immediate needs is a need in itself; and is also a solution when done ‘in arms’/in presence!
So the invitation
…in all this is to reframe crying as communication and healing. You may not always know exactly what your child is “saying.” But the important part is the relationship, connection, and reciving of your child’s communication. This foundation will serve you for the rest of your lives.