Can Brain Damage Occur if a Baby is Left to “Cry it out”?

Research suggests that allowing a baby to “cry it out” can cause brain damage and at best causes extreme distress to the baby. Evidence is mounting that such distress in a newborn blocks the full development of certain areas of the brain and causes the brain to produce extra amounts of cortisol which can be harmful. Doctors say that children who suffer early trauma generally develop smaller brains.

Research shows that the brain areas affected by severe distress are the limbic system, the left hemisphere and the corpus callosum. Additional areas that may be involved are the hippocampus (located in the center of the brain and vital for long-term memory and spatial perception) and the orbitofrontal cortex (located at the front of the brain and vital for thinking such as decision making).‌

Some doctors argue that some of the brain-damaging effects may occur if parents fail to properly nurture a baby—and that means not allowing them to ‘cry it out’. In The Science of Parenting, the first parenting book to link parent behavior with infant brain development, Dr. Margot Sunderland describes how the infant’s brain is still being “sculpted” after birth, and that, parents have a major role in the brain “sculpting” process. To do this properly, Dr. Sunderland advocates that it is crucial for parents to meet the reasonable emotional needs of their child. This is assisted by continuously providing an emotionally nurturing environment for the child. Allowing a baby to “cry it out” when they are upset will probably be regarded as child abuse by future generations.


Why is it so hard to let a crying baby cry?

Research shows that our response to a baby’s cry may be hardwired into our brain. A baby cries because it is hungry, tired, too hot, too cold, lonely or otherwise unhappy. In effect, it is the only way the child can communicate their needs. If they could talk, they would. If a baby did not have a terribly shrill cry, they would less likely get attention and, from an evolutionary point of view, would unlikely be responded to and hence perish. So biologically, nature gives a baby their terrible cry for survival purposes.

Parents are also too biologically wired to not respond to their babies’ cries; responding isn’t simply a matter of choice, like whether to go see a movie or a band on a Friday night. Magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of mothers’ brains show that the hypothalamus and cingulated (parts of the mammal brain) are activated when their baby cries. The result is that most mothers feel physically compelled to pick up and soothe their crying babies.

Do We Actually Remember Being Born?

The subject of birth memory is very controversial among human development scientists. Some authorities argue that people can remember their own birth, the first year after birth, and even pre-birth memories. This is accomplished usually by methods such as “re-birthing,” use of a “primal” therapist, a “dianetics auditor”, hypnosis, dream analysis and deep meditation.

Boris Brott, the Canadian conductor and motivational speaker, claims he discovered he could play certain pieces sight unseen due to the fact that his mother, a professional cellist, had practiced these same pieces over and over during her pregnancy. In conducting a score for the first time, the cello parts would sometimes “jump out at him.” He knew how they went before turning the page of music. Yet other authorities, who dismiss claims such as Brott’s, argue that people cannot remember their own birth since the human brain is too underdeveloped for memory so early. They also contend that such sensory data, even if taken in, are quickly lost as memories because the fetus and newborn have no words to remember these memories by. However, there are problems explaining lost memories of sounds, smells, tastes and other sensations that may be less reliant upon words.

Of the many fascinating studies on the topic of fetus memory, one such study provides evidence that a baby can indeed possess some memory that involves words before birth. Psychologists Anthony DeCasper along with Melanie Spence conducted a very simple experiment. They asked a group of pregnant women to read aloud The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss twice a day during the last 6 weeks of their pregnancy. A few days after birth, the babies were given the opportunity to hear recordings of two stories. One was the familiar Dr. Seuss story. The other was another Dr. Seuss story they had never heard before. Outfitted with earphones and a special nipple that allowed them to switch the story being heard by sucking faster or slower, 10 out of 12 newborns changed their speed of sucking to arrive at the familiar story, thereby rejecting the new story. This suggests that the babies could hear, differentiate between and remember stories. They also preferred the familiar story to the unfamiliar one. In essence, they voted with their mouths.

What is the Significance of Vomiting Due to Morning Sickness?

Vomiting during morning sickness reduces the likelihood of miscarriage, pre-term birth, low birth weight and death of the newborn. The theory holds that vomiting makes pregnant women avoid foods that have chemicals likely to damage the developing central nervous system of the embryo and fetus.

From an evolutionary biological viewpoint loss of kilojoules due to food lost through vomiting is balanced by improved prevention of harm to the developing fetus.

Morning sickness usually ceases at the end of the first 3 months of pregnancy because by then the central nervous system of the fetus is less susceptible to the assault that a hazardous chemical could provoke.

Statistically, between 6 and 18 weeks into pregnancy, women who experience morning sickness have fewer miscarriages than women who do not experience it. And women who vomit during morning sickness have even fewer miscarriages than those who are merely nauseous. So if you are a woman with morning sickness, it might make you feel a little better to know that it is good for your baby.

A study of 26 women with severe morning sickness found that anti-vomiting medications (antiemetics) taken before symptoms of morning sickness started appeared to prevent recurrence of severe morning sickness in subsequent pregnancies.  Another study found that the more pregnancies a woman experiences, the more likely she will experience morning sickness—a fetal ‘dose’ effect.

When Did Human Beings First Start Giving Birth by Caesarean?

Ancient Egyptian folklore contains references to Caesarean section (CS) deliveries going back about 5000 years. Throughout most of history, CS was performed only as a last resort and to save the baby from a dying mother. The mother did almost always die. CS was so dangerous that the mother probably considered herself lucky if she and her baby survived, even if she was rendered infertile, which also often happened.

The popular belief exists that the Roman emperor Julius Caesar was born by CS and gave his name to it. But this is unlikely. Aurelia, Caesar’s mother, survived. This is unusual in itself. Also, under Roman law at the time, CS would not have been performed on her. Of course those attending her may have decided to ignore the law to save the mother and baby. Later, the Roman law governing CS known as lex regia was changed to lex caesarea under subsequent Roman emperors. This is probably how the name came about.

It was not until the 16th century that the first case of a woman giving birth by CS and surviving was verified. However, if Aurelia did give birth by CS, it is even more remarkable since she gave birth to further children.

Ironically, under Roman law, the mother’s husband performed the surgery. In that sense Caesar would have been fortunate. His father was a swineherd. Swineherds often have experience performing similar surgery on pigs. In England and North America, death rates for the mother in CS deliveries were about 75% until the mid-19th century. For the baby, it was only a little better.


Why are there more Caesarean births now?

Although CS is major abdominal surgery, it is generally regarded as being safer now than at any other time in our history. This is due to overcoming post-operative complications including the ability to fight infections.

Prolonged labour and risks to both mother and baby places pressure on childbirth professionals to act quickly. Statistically, in the English-speaking world, women are waiting until later in life to have children. As a consequence, more women experience natural childbirth difficulties due to causes not entirely understood. CS deliveries far exceed the estimated 12% incidence of need. Yet in some areas of the English-speaking world, the CS figure is 30% or more. Beyond this, in Brazil, CS delivery is regarded as the preferred form of delivery and is taught so in medical schools. A team of US doctors in California argues that the recent assertion of ‘a woman’s right to choose’ is a major factor in whether or not a CS is performed.

The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide 15% of childbirth labors have a life-threatening complication. It has been estimated that the “natural” rate of maternal death from childbirth is between 1% and 1.5%. The biggest risk is uncontrolled bleeding.

What Purpose Does Morning Sickness Serve?

Morning sickness is recurrent nausea and vomiting often seen in the first 4 to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Approximately 60% to 80% of pregnant women will experience it, and for about 20% of these women, the symptoms may extend beyond 12 weeks. Morning sickness is more pronounced in the morning than in the afternoon, evening or night time, hence its name. However, it can occur at any time of the day.

In their review article on morning sickness, Drs. K.Y. Loh and N. Sivalingam write that nausea and vomiting are usually mild and self-limiting, however some of the mothers have a more profound course which lead to hyperemesis gravidarum. Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is the most severe form of morning sickness. About 1 in every 1000 pregnant women suffer from HG. Hyper means “excessive”, emesis means “vomiting”, gravida means “pregnant woman”, and rum in this sense means “in danger”; hence an “excessively vomiting pregnant woman in danger” – a very apt description. HG involves repeated vomiting, dehydration and weight loss.‌ Hospitalization and the administration of intravenous fluids and monitored feeding may be required in extreme cases.

While several theories have been proposed, the exact cause of morning sickness remains unclear. Among the proposed theories, morning sickness symptoms could be triggered by:‌

  • high levels of hormones, including estrogen;
  • fluctuations in blood pressure, especially low blood pressure;
  • the bacterial infection caused by Helicobacter pylori; or
  • altered metabolism of carbohydrates interplay of physical and chemical changes protection from toxic substances.

With respect to the last theory, it is possible that a pregnant woman may have developed an aversion to foods more likely to harm the developing fetus. It is in the first 12 weeks that damage can be done most easily to the baby’s developing central nervous system. So if the mother keeps her diet very simple with “safe” foods, the baby is protected.

Why Do Babies Blink Less Often Than Adults?

In normal circumstances, newborn babies blink at the rate of less than 2 times per minute. In childhood, the blink rate rises, and so by about age 14, the blink rate is about 10 times per minute. In adulthood, the blink rate remains at about 10 to 15 times per minute. This rate changes with attention, stress, excitement, eye irritation and amount of sleep. Generally, when one has had more sleep, one needs to blink less. There is widespread variation in blink rate among individuals. There may be a genetic component in this, as well as a learned cultural component.

Blinking also may play an undetermined role in body language as it does in our non-human primate cousins. The main physiological purpose of blinking is to spread tears over the surface of the eyes.

Babies do not manufacture tears during their first month of life.

It is puzzling as to why babies don’t suffer from dry eyes due to their lack of blinking. It could be that since babies sleep so much compared with adults and thus spend so much time with their eyes shut, perhaps dry eyes are less of a problem for them. It may also be that a baby’s eyes have smaller fissures compared with an adult’s. That is, much less of the front of a baby’s eye is exposed to the outside world—and to its dirt, dust and brightness—due to the shape of the infant’s skull. As the baby’s eyelid openings are smaller in relation to the eye compared with the eyelid openings of an adult, a baby’s eyes may need less lubrication.

Are There Really Fewer Boy Babies Born During Hard Times?

The sex ratio of boy and girl births is affected by severe stressors such as earthquakes, tsunamis, environmental toxin contamination, political and social upheavals, and even serious downturns in the economy. When society gets such a severe shock, the number of boy births falls and the number of girl births rises. A reduced number of boys are conceived and a higher number of boys die before birth. The theory behind this is that natural selection favors female births when times are hard, because on average females have a better chance of mating successfully than males. This principle seems to be followed in animals.

In an examination of German birth records, it was revealed that in 1991, the year immediately following the German reunification, the ratio of boys to girls in the former East Germany dropped to its lowest point since 1946, but then bounced back a year later. In the rest of Germany, where conditions were more stable, the boy/girl ratio was unaffected.‌

Researchers showed that the same odd occurrence happened in New York City after 9/11. In addition, the researchers put forward the view that a male’s life expectancy is affected by whether or not he was born in stressful times.

There are two rival theories accounting for this reduced male fetal morbidity. The first is the damaged cohort theory, which holds that a mother’s response to the shocks of stressful times can trigger “stress reactivity” in the fetus and thereby shorten the life span of males in utero. The second is the culled cohort theory, which holds that shocks of stressful times induce spontaneous abortions of frail male fetuses, but hardy male fetuses survive. Researchers examined data from several northern European nations and conclude that there is more support for the culled cohort theory.

How Was Paternity Determined Before We Had DNA Analysis?

Before DNA analysis, paternity was established by comparing inherited characteristics of blood cells from the father, mother and child. For example, the membranes of white blood cells contain surface proteins known as antigens. People who are not related almost never have the same type of antigen. The most accurate paternity tests used antigens on white blood cells called leucocytes. On average, using this test ruled out 90% or more of men as a child’s father.

Other tests could be performed on the antigens and internal proteins of the red blood cells and the proteins in plasma, the clear part of the blood. A thorough paternity test consisted of some 34 different tests that together were about 99.6% accurate. If a man was not excluded through these tests, the probability of paternity was calculated by comparing the likelihood that the child inherited shared characteristics from him rather than from an unrelated, unknown man of the same ethnic background. If the probability was above 90%, then most courts held that the man was the child’s father.

Why Do Babies Always Seem To Have a Runny Nose?

There are at least three reasons why infants and young children always seem to have a runny nose. First, they have more colds. Infants and young children have many upper respiratory tract infections due to a less developed immune system. This is why children often get so many colds when they start school. Close contact for the first time with other humans (and often infectious children at that!) exposes them to many viruses they have never encountered before. In the obverse, this is also why the elderly rarely have colds.

Exposure to more viruses builds up immunity. Old people have had the exposure, young people have not. Second, infants and young children may not always keep as warm or as cool as they should. Thus, they may be more susceptible to vasomotor rhinitis, an illness that occurs when there is a change in temperature that causes swelling in the tiny blood vessels in the mucous membrane linings of the nose and produces a runny nose. Third, an infant or young child may not have fully developed sinuses, which could cause the nose to run more often.

Dr. Vincent Iannelli, author of The Everything Father’s First Year Book, also believes a baby’s sinuses are not well developed. However, it is a myth that a baby has no sinuses at all. In fact, newborns have very small maxillary and ethmoid sinuses. The maxillaries are under the cheeks while the ethmoids are higher up in the nasal cavity. They are so small that they cannot be seen in a normal x-ray until the child is 1 to 2 years old. The frontal sinuses and the sphenoid sinuses don’t begin to develop until a child’s second year and can’t be seen on an x-ray until the child is 5 to 6 years old. The sinuses continue to grow until the child is a teenager.

Why Do Newborn Babies Often Look Like They Have the Measles?

The pores of a newborn’s skin are not always completely efficient. A baby can be born with spots covering their entire body. Often they are little red spots with yellowish-white centers, which can look like measles or a symptom of an infection, but are neither. It is called neonatal urticaria— completely normal—and quickly goes away by itself.

A newborn can sometimes be covered with a whitish coating called vernix. Vernix is a covering that is composed of dead skin cells and oil-gland secretions, and some describe it as a waxy or cheesy substance. It is secreted by the fetal sebaceous glands in utero. Vernix is composed of sebum (the oil of the skin) and cells that have sloughed off the fetal skin. It is hypothesized that vernix has antibacterial properties. Vernix dries and peels away during the first week or two after birth, leaving the baby with smooth, extraordinarily soft skin.

There are a variety of temporary skin conditions that can affect a newborn’s appearance, which are usually nothing to be concerned about. Milia, for instance, are tiny white cysts just below the surface of the skin of a newborn and are usually located on the nose, forehead and cheeks. They disappear in the first few weeks after a baby’s birth. Salmon patches are red or pink patches of skin found on the neck, on the eyelids or on the lower to middle forehead. These patches on the face generally disappear by themselves by the end of the first or second year. Patches on the back of the neck may persist somewhat longer. If you have the slightest worry about your baby’s skin, consult your family doctor or specialist pediatrician. And sleep well, worry free.