Crying More Than an Average Baby

Excessive crying by babies may indicate potential for later behavior problems

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Preemies often require extra attention after they are born, depending on how early they arrive. They may also sometimes present extra challenges for parents.

A recent study found that excessive crying in premature babies was linked to later behavioral problems.

Babies who cried more often than usual up until 5 months old were more likely to have behavioral difficulties when they were preschoolers.

The preemies' parents also tended to be more stressed when their kids were toddlers if the kids had cried more than usual as babies.

"Ask your pediatrician for help with excessive baby crying."

This study, led by Riikka Korja, PhD, of the Department of Child Psychiatry at Turku University in Finland, looked at the possible long-term effects of excessive crying in preemies.

These researchers tracked 202 preemies (born, on average, at about 28 weeks of pregnancy), all of whom weighed 3.3 pounds or less at birth.

The babies had been born between January 2001 and December 2006 at the same hospital in Finland.

The babies' crying behavior was recorded in a baby diary at three points in the children's infancy. The first point was the time when the babies would have been born if they had not arrived early (at 40 weeks of pregnancy, if the mothers had remained pregnant).

Then the babies' crying behaviors were recorded at the times when the babies would have been 6 weeks old and 5 months old of "corrected age" (if they had been born at full term).

When the children were 3 and 4 years old, the researchers used a child behavior checklist to assess the kids' behavior.

They also assessed the parents' stress levels when the children were 2 years old and 4 years old.

When the researchers compared the babies' behaviors from infancy through preschool ages, they made adjustments to account for differences in the children's sex, pregnancy week of birth, weight at birth, length of time spent receiving respiratory treatment at birth and possible brain differences found at birth.

The researchers found a link between the babies' crying behaviors as infants and their behavior at age 4.

The more excessively that babies cried up until 5 months old, the more likely they were to have behavioral problems at age 4.

Further, the more excessively the babies cried up until 5 months old (crying for longer periods and more often than average), the higher the parents' stress tended to be when the kids were 2 and 4 years old.

The researchers suspect that the link between preschool-aged behavior and crying in infancy to be related to a child's difficulty in learning to manage their emotions.

"Early excessive crying, especially if lasting up to 5 months of corrected age, is a clinically relevant signal in preterm infants because it may reflect infants’ regulatory problems and/or parenting stress," they wrote.

"Our results suggest that persistent crying reported at 5 months’ corrected age is related to the later parent-reported behavioral problems," they wrote.

However, it's not clear what is necessarily "causing" the excessive crying in babyhood or the behavioral problems later on or how these are related.

It's also not clear whether parental stress might be related to causing problems, might be a result of the problems, might be a bit of both or might be unrelated.

It is possible that underdevelopment in the brain or some other biological effect of being born very early might be related to the crying or the later behavioral problems.

"Biological vulnerability combined with the extraordinary parenting challenge created by preterm birth may contribute to the strong association between infant crying and later parent reported behavioral problems," the researchers wrote.

All of these possibilities will need to be researched in future studies.

Either way, the parents of a baby who cries excessively may want to discuss their situation with their pediatrician.

This study was published January 6 in the journal Pediatrics.

The research was funded by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation and by the Hospital District of South-West Finland. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 9, 2014
Last Updated:
January 10, 2014