Holding Pattern Linked to Crybabies

Quieter infants get mid-range care, European study finds

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By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 9, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that if your baby cries too much or can't sleep through the night, it might have something to do with how often you hold her.

Babies held for a whopping 15 hours to 16 hours a day cried the most at night and had more trouble sleeping when they were 3 months old, while those held the least were heavier criers at two weeks and five weeks. Parents who took an in-between approach, meanwhile, had quieter babies in both early and later weeks in the first months of life.

The approaches each have "different costs and benefits," said study author Ian St. James-Roberts, a researcher at the University of London.

St. James-Roberts and colleagues studied three groups of parents -- 275 total -- who treated their babies differently in the first weeks of life.

One group of parents chose to stay very close to their babies at the age of 10 days, holding them 80 percent of the time between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and responding immediately to crying. Many of these parents slept with their babies.

The second group of parents lived in London and was the most distant from their babies: They held them an average of 8.5 hours a day. According to St. James-Roberts, this is similar to the behavior of American parents.

The third group, made up of parents from Copenhagen, Denmark, held their babies an average of 9.75 hours.

The researchers then examined the crying and sleeping habits of the babies.

The study findings appear in the June 2006 issue of Pediatrics.

The London babies fussed and cried 50 percent more each 24 hours than the other two groups at 10 days and five weeks. The study authors wrote that this supports suspicions that British child-rearing habits lead to more crying in infants.

At 12 weeks, the parents who held their infants the most were more likely to report that they slept for five hours or more a night without waking or crying. They reported an average of five nights of smooth sleeping in the previous week. The parents who held their babies the least reported an average of 4.6 nights of carefree sleep, vs. a lower 3.4 average nights among the mid-range group.

Overall, the study authors report that babies still cried quite a lot no matter what their parents did. This adds "to evidence that bouts of unsoothable crying, which are common in early infancy, are not much affected by variations in parenting, providing reassurance that this aspect of infant crying is not parents' fault."

Dr. George J. Cohen, a pediatrician and editor-in-chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics' "Guide to Your Child's Sleep," said the findings sound reasonable, although the research only looked at select groups of babies and parents and "may not be universally applicable."

What to do? Be flexible about your baby's sleeping patterns, Cohen advised. "Parents' most common 'mistakes' are not knowing the variety of normal patterns and therefore trying to push the baby into sleep patterns that the baby may not be ready for," he said.

Also, he said, while "different parenting styles may produce different infant behaviors," babies still have individual differences. "Parents should not blame themselves if their infants seem not to adapt to parent desires for sleeping," he added.

More information

Learn more about babies and sleeping from the Nemours Foundation.

SOURCES: Ian St. James-Roberts, Ph.D., researcher, University of London, United Kingdom; George J. Cohen, M.D., fellow, American Academy of Pediatrics, and clinical professor, pediatrics, George Washington University, Washington D.C.; June 2006 Pediatrics

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