TUESDAY, Jan. 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Premature babies who
cry a lot may be more likely than other preemies to have behavior
problems by the time they reach preschool, a new study
Experts said the reasons for the finding are not certain, and no
one knows whether "interventions" to soothe preemies' crying would
ward off behavior issues later.
"In many ways, this study raises more questions than it answers," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
Parents and pediatricians should pay attention to preemies'
"excessive crying," said Adesman, who was not involved in the
But that won't necessarily lead to a better-behaved preschooler,
For the study, child psychiatrist Riikka Korja and colleagues at
Turku University Hospital in Finland followed 180 premature infants
delivered at their hospital. The babies were all born at a very low
birth weight -- less than 1,500 grams, or 3.3 pounds.
Parents kept diaries to record how often, and for how long,
their baby cried each day. Then when their child was 3 or 4 years
old, they completed standard questionnaires that gauge behavior
issues -- such as rule-breaking and problems getting along with
Overall, the study found that the more infants cried each day,
the higher their scores on problem behaviors at preschool age. That
link was especially strong when the researchers focused on crying
at the age of 5 months -- which is beyond the age where "colic"
(crying for hours a day) is common.
At 5 months, babies in the study were crying for a little more
than an hour per day, on average. According to Korja's team, the
findings suggest that 5-month-olds who are crying more often than
the norm may have higher odds of behavior problems later.
The findings were published online Jan. 6 and in the February
print issue of
But another expert cautioned that prolonged crying does not mean
your child is doomed to have serious behavior issues.
Most kids in the study had behavioral scores that were within
the range of "normal," said Dr. Katherine Steingass of Nationwide
Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
"Just because your baby is crying a lot does not mean they're going to have significant behavioral problems," said Steingass, who was not involved in the study.
And why would infants' crying be related to behavior at
preschool age? It's not clear, but Korja's team suggests one
possibility: Infants who cry a lot may have underlying "regulatory
difficulties." And when they get older, they may still find it hard
to control their behavior when they're distressed.
Steingass said that is a plausible explanation.
It's also possible, she noted, that certain parents are prone to
perceiving problems. In this study, moms who were more stressed
tended to report more behavior issues. Still, when the researchers
factored in mothers' reported stress levels, the link between
infant crying and preschool behavior remained. While the study
found an association between excessive crying and later behavior
problems, it did not establish a cause-and-effect link.
All babies cry and fuss, of course, so parents might be left
wondering how much is "too much."
There's no universal definition, said Dr. Daniel Coury, who
heads developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide
Children's. But babies might be considered "colicky" if they are
crying for more than three hours per day, he said.
Parents can take steps to help soothe a colicky baby, Coury said
-- like holding and rocking, or swaddling. Some babies are calmed
by a ride in the car or steady background noise, like a fan or a
"white noise" machine.
Both Coury and Steingass said that if parents are worried that
their baby is crying too much, they should talk to their
pediatrician. "Often, reassurance from your doctor is very
helpful," Coury said.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, about 20
percent of infants develop colic, which is usually at its worst
between the ages of 4 and 6 weeks. It typically goes away at around
3 months of age.
Adesman agreed that talking to your pediatrician about colic is
important, but stressed that more research is needed before it can
be seen as a way to influence children's behavior later in
And since this study focused on low birth weight preemies, it's
not clear if the results apply to full-term babies, Adesman
However, Korja's team writes, some past research on full-term
infants has linked excessive crying beyond the age of 3 months to
hyperactivity and behavior issues later on.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on
infant colic and crying.
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