Excerpt from an article of the same title by Dr. Aletha Solter, copyright 1996
Aletha Solter, PhD is the author of The Aware Baby and Tears and Tantrums
Infants are extremely vulnerable, and have a considerable amount of emotional pain resulting from an accumulation of stressful experiences. Distress can be caused by a traumatic birth or difficulties after birth. Babies experience confusion as they attempt to understand the world and they are easily frightened and over-stimulated. In addition, they feel frustrated as they attempt to learn new skills and communicate. All of these result in emotional pain that is stored in the body.
Fortunately, babies come equipped with a repair kit, and can overcome the effects of stress through the natural healing mechanism of crying. Research has shown that people of all ages benefit from a good cry, and tears help to restore the body’s chemical balance following stress. An infant who has been isolated in an incubator without much human contact for several days may need to cry and rage for many hours, over a period of months, in order to release the emotional pain caused by such a terrifying and confusing experience. …..
Crying in these examples is not the hurt; it is the process of becoming unhurt.
What can parents do? First of all, it is important to check for immediate needs and discomforts, such as hunger and coldness. But if your baby is still fussy after you have filled her basic needs, it is quite appropriate simply to hold her lovingly and allow her to continue crying. Babies need closeness and attention when they are crying. No baby should ever be left to cry along. Even though you may feel ineffective when holding your crying baby, in reality you are providing her with much needed emotional support while she is releasing stress in this manner. Your baby is not rejecting you when she is crying. She Is simply feeling safe enough to show you her feelings.
Please note that this is not a cry it out approach. There is a huge difference between leaving a baby to cry alone and holding a crying baby lovingly in your arms while providing comfort and reassurance.
The other part of this: get support!! I think it is really important for parents to get support as they use this approach. Many strong feelings come up as you listen to your crying baby, and it is important to take these feelings to another adult who can be present for you to process them.