From Peaceful Babies—Contented Mothers by Dr. Emmi Pikler

translated from original Hungarian Mit tud már a baba? into German, and from the German

Friedliche Babys - zufriedene Mütter into English by Julie Le Gal Brodeur*

Copyright © Verlag Herder Freiburg in Breisgau 1982

Copyright © Emmi Pikler 1982


Why does the newborn baby cry?

Because he often feels uncomfortable. He was used to something better. He was used to calm and quiet, darkness and an even, comfortable temperature. Nourishment came to him ready made. He did not have to breathe. He was not subjected to any strong pressure or any friction, as it swam almost freely for nine months. Birth is the first very uncomfortable experience for the child, and it is followed by one discomfort after another. Hunger, thirst, more or less hardness, clothing that restricts his movement and rubs against his body, diapers.

The newborn must get used to many unchangeable things. This acclimatization takes many weeks, and during this time, the child cries frequently.

A more sensitive child cries often in the first days, sometimes even in the first weeks, especially thinner newborns with a lower birth weight, the so-called "fussy" babies. The other extreme are the babies that sleep through the night right from the start, may even sleep thought the day, and are calm when awake. But the average child cries quite a lot in the first 5–8 weeks, but also sleeps a lot.


What can we do so they don't cry?


That is: nothing so they don't cry.

But, naturally, we must do everything we can to make the newborn's circumstances tolerable. We must make sure that he has calm and quiet, that no one or nothing disturbs him, that he be kept in an even temperature as much as possible. We can protect him from harsh light and loud noise. We can keep him tidy and clean. [...] We can grant him free movement. His clothes should be soft and loose. We can care for his skin, supply regular, adequate nourishment, at intervals determined by the child, and where possible, at the breast.

So, we have to help the crying infant. We have to try to eliminate the cause of the crying, and the child will calm down in a short time. If that doesn't work, we mustn't let it cry desperately; if we weren't able to help him, we take him in our arms, reassure him, and as soon as he has calmed down, we lay him back in his cradle. As a rule, he should settle down well there and fall asleep quietly.

We should follow the same actions at night. It proven true that leaving a newborn to hunger and cry at night is not the right way to later achieve them sleeping through the night. To the contrary, if an infant that is well-provided and cared for during the day wakes up and cries, and is also comforted and fed during the night, he will sleep thought the night within a few weeks, without any "crying-training".

But mothers very often act completely differently: When the newborn begins to cry, they jump into a mechanical routine, and instead of trying to find out the reason for the crying, they pick up the baby, change his diaper, pace back and forth with him, rock him, sing to him, and simply want to pacify him and in this doing, overlook the real help that he needs.


It is unfortunate that as adults we are more or less impatient, agitated and unsettling, and that because of this our children also become impatient, agitated and unsettling.

So what we're really considering is, what is better: to expose the child to disturbing influences, from which we can never completely protect it, relentlessly from birth or later and gradually. The first years of life, including the first months, have a decisive impact on the later development of the individual. This is the foundation on which everything else is built. If this foundation is strong, the structure is better able to withstand shocks. Because of this, we try to secure the most favourable circumstances for the child, especially at the beginning, which gives him an advantage in his development, which will serve him his entire life.

If, however, the inner calm, the psychological balance of the child is disturbed within the first weeks or months, damage is done that is almost impossible to amend, and that has lifelong consequences. The child becomes weaker, is more defenceless, and less able to able to cope with outer discomforts and shocks (just as a physical injury sustained in the early years leaves lifelong traces).

Calm and peace in the first years cannot be subsequently recovered or replaced.