Control Crying Debate Continues as it’s announced, "Leaving your baby to cry could damage its brain."

Penelope Leach, the child development guru, has reignited the debate about the best way to deal with a crying baby when she recently announced that, “Leaving your baby to cry could damage its brain.”


Via the TV, radio and most noticeably the internet, parents and professionals alike have been queuing up to put in their two cents’ worth on this very old debate.  Generally, there are three types of opinion you’re likely to find voiced on the internet:  1) Leaving your baby to cry is unforgivable and unnatural and you are an awful parent if you don’t endure months of sleepless nights 2) You should leave your baby in the shed at the end of the garden and leave them to it- that’s what my mother did for me and it never did me any harm 3)  Parents know best so you shouldn’t even bother reading books or listening to the so called experts as they know nothing.  Okay so I may be guilty of using a little hyperbole here but if you read through a couple of forums you’ll see that I’m not far off!

The parents' internet


It’s the parents and ultimately the baby that I feel sorry for.  When parents read such sensationalist headlines it strikes them with fear and worry.  In my view, this is exactly the reason that the professionals make them so people will buy the publication and read about their latest book and think, “I must buy this to find out if I’m harming my baby.”  Some may call mine a cynical view and everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  On a separate note Leach’s new book The Essential First Year  has just been launched and is available in all good bookshops.

Leach’s comments were an obvious attack on rival author Gina Ford who brought us the Contented Little Baby series.  Ford advocates strict routines and controlled crying in some circumstances.  Leach claims, “That kind of early-induced anxiety may relate to anxiety right through adult life.”


I’m not here to dispute Leach’s claims but I am curious about why she doesn’t make it clear where this research comes from.  As the psychotherapist Oliver James has noted, there has only ever been one published study on the effects of contrasting parenting styles that compared parents who often leave their baby to cry it our and those who never do.  Interestingly,  the results of this study were inconclusive.   As I understand it, the research Leach is quoting is nothing new and it shows that babies with unresponsive carers have been found to have high levels of the stress hormone Cortisol.  Leach adds that, “Babies left in orphanages have been shown to have brains that are not fully developed… Leaving your baby unanswered occasionally won’t do lasting damage, but a policy of not responding, day in day out over a long period, might.”


Even though I am fully open to the possibility of this research being entirely accurate, I don’t think it holds much relevance in the day to day lives of parents.  Unless the parents are clinically depressed, drug addicts, mentally unfit or intentionally cruel, orphanage-style neglect is not going to present itself.  10 minutes of their baby crying is a lifetime for most parents and I don’t think these sensational headlines are helping anyone.


As I say, it’s the parents and ultimately the baby that I feel sorry for because one headline like this can change the way the parents act.  If they start second guessing themselves, questioning and feeling guilty about every decision they make it will have an awful impact on their peace of mind and general well being and will lead to inconsistency in their parenting.  These three things, in my view, are the most important aspects to healthy parenting style and without them the baby will be affected.   Healthy, happy parents with a consistent routine is what’s most important.

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