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Parenting Advice Column
Subject: 7-month-old baby screams to be held

My son is 7 months old. He screams (not cries - no tears) every time he is not getting my full attention or being held. This has gone on for at least three weeks. He had colic pretty bad from about 3 weeks until 12 weeks. I suspect he's teething - he got the first two teeth at 3 1/2 mos.

My friends suggest he's spoiled because he is always with me - including at my part- time job - and may need to learn alone time. How do I know if he's in pain or just over-indulged? And, if he is over-indulged, are there any suggestions or books to help me? I'm about to have to quit my job and just hold him all day because the sound of his screaming drives me nuts and that seems the only solution. I appreciate any help you can offer me.

- Name withheld


I can empathize with you. I know from experience how disturbing a baby's cries and screams can be for the whole family. But in fact they are meant to disturb us and to let us know that something important is needed!

A seven-month-old baby needs and deserves to have our attention and holding. All babies were held all day and night for thousands of generations. It is only in the last hundred years that we have decided they don't need this compassionate care any more. I strongly urge you to (a) try an herbal remedy for teething (you can find these at a health food store) and (b) if you don't already have one, purchase a good sling and use it throughout the day. Wanting to be held (day and night) is a perfectly normal and healthy desire for a seven-month-old baby. His wanting you to hold him is a sure sign that you are doing things right. You have created a close bond with him that will last a lifetime.

And here is an interesting fact - nursing babies grow up to be children who have higher IQs than non-nursing babies. We used to think it was the nutrition in breastmilk, but it turned out to be the extra holding! This is what Dr. George Wootan wrote:

"... the increased opportunity for parent-child bonding offered by breastfeeding is a widely known benefit of nursing, which brings up an interesting sidelight. A baby can have lots of brain cells, but they won't do any good unless they're interconnected. The nerve fibers that connect these cells are called dendrites. And what develops dendrites?

You probably said breast milk ... right? Wrong! Touching develops dendrites. Holding, touching, and stroking a baby, as a mother naturally does while nursing ("you can prop a bottle but not a breast"), helps the child develop the way nature intended, both physically and emotionally."

Your intelligent son is trying to let you know how important touch and holding are to him. If a child has a healthy need like this, the only way to help them to grow is to meet that need. Fighting it can only delay the child's development, and endanger the parent-child bond in the bargain. As Naomi Aldort wrote, "Every stage in a child's life is there for a purpose. If we can respect and respond to her needs fully during each stage of her life, she can be done with that stage and move on." And move on he will! My son just turned 19. Holding him in his infancy is one of my fondest memories.

This stage may seem like it will last forever, and sometimes he will need you when you want to be doing other things. But you'll be amazed at how quickly these early years go by! Enjoy them while you can. You are lucky to have a child who loves you - and he is lucky to have such a loving mother.

Unfortunately in our society, you will often hear advice that you should ignore crying. But ignoring a baby's cry is like using earplugs to stop the distressing noise of a smoke detector. The sound of a smoke detector is meant to alert us to a serious matter that requires a response - and so is the cry of a baby! As Jean Liedloff wrote in The Continuum Concept, "a baby's cry is precisely as serious as it sounds."

It is our job as parents to identify our children's needs and meet them in the very best way possible. If you meet his needs for physical closeness now, you can be sure that he will meet your needs to be emotionally close to him in later years.

Please read:

and this poem: "To My Grown-up Son"

I also highly recommend The Baby Book by Dr. William Sears.

- Jan

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