“I feel like I’m withholding nourishment when I just hold and listen to my baby cry”

Do you relate? Before we go further, let me clarify–I mean during “crying in arms,” not nursing for hunger.

I’m dealing with some food intolerances. It feels like some foods are both helpful and hurtful at the same time–even some “healthy” veggies. It makes me acutely aware of what it means to nourish.

What if the thing you thought was nourishing turns out not to be; and what you never thought could be is?

Could “nourishment” possibly not be the answer every time? Are there other ways to “nourish”? What is your baby’s true need?

I find that sometimes loving parents get stuck in a loop trying to meet a need for nourishment, when really the need is something else–something you may not have received fully yourself and may need to learn.

If you’ve ever nursed “for comfort” and you’re familiar with the perspective that crying beyond immediate needs actually relates to communication and stress release (from Aware Parenting), I bet this question has crossed your mind too.

“I feel like I’m withholding nourishment when I just hold and listen to my baby cry.”

This is the #1 question I hear when moms want to start allowing baby to release those feelings. (For more information about “crying in arms,” see my post Crying Is a Need Too).

If you’re holding your baby and listening while she needs to ‘let off some steam,’ it’s not that you’re not nourishing your baby.

It’s that you’re meeting your baby’s true need for presence, honest face-to-face communication, her need to be listened to and accepted for all her thoughts and feelings, her built-in mechanism for releasing and healing stress, and a need to process experiences such as birth or moving to a new home.

What an immense gift!

When was the last time someone really sat down and was 100% present with you? If you’ve had this in your life, it’s so fulfilling, isn’t it? It’s affirming, satisfying, and we feel better.

So you see, you’re giving your child something, not taking something away. In this case, crying is a solution.

This is a moment Mama could choose to nurse ‘for comfort.’ But look at their eye contact and deep connection. I can verify that this child’s hunger needs have been met–nursing/nourishment is not being withheld. Consider the level of trust being deepened in these moments. Sometimes babies just need to let it out and be loved in the process!


This is also a word I use with food. I’m a hungry person. Sometimes after eating, I don’t feel “satisfied.” Is there something I’m missing?

Yes, nourishment is nutrients. Can nourishment–or being “satisfied”–also come from being truly listened to?

There’s no denying the body needs nutrients. But look at this crossover in terms of how your baby feels “nourished” in light of his/her needs being met.

Being present with someone and listening to his/her honest feelings–and sharing your own–have not been particularly valued in society (at least here in the States), although that’s starting to change in some circles. Stopping the crying/raging, however, has been valued and taught for centuries.

The feeling that crying can’t be good has been reinforced in so many ways. So then it’s understandable you may find yourself wanting to nurse “for comfort” (or “comfort food”). The tricky thing is, this confuses ‘comfort’ with ‘nourishment.’

Go ahead! Take permission to reclaim the value of presence and ‘holding space’ for you and your baby or toddler. 

You’re not withholding nourishment if the need is to communicate and heal. In fact, think about the potential side effects of habitually offering a solution that doesn’t truly match the need.

Don’t be afraid to ignore society’s training that you’re withholding anything from your baby by being present and listening (do meet immediate needs as best you can, same as always).

What an immense, soul-nourishing gift you’re giving your baby by doing so!