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Helping mothers help their crybabies.

Some infants cry a lot more than others. In England, for example, researchers estimate that 25 percent of babies cry more than 3 hours a day. Mothers often find that professional advice on how to stop their babies' tears helps. But researchers wonder what it is about such counseling that proves useful. Could empathy and attention alone help mothers handle their babies better?

A recently completed 3-month study compared the benefits of simply lending a sympathetic ear, providing nonprofessional behavioral counseling, or offering no support. In all cases, parents kept a diary of their child's crying. Ninety-two mothers of troublesome infants age 1 to 3 months participated in the study. All of the children cried and fussed nearly 6 hours a day.

Behavioral counseling cut the duration of crying bouts in half and helped more than the other two approaches, report Dieter Wolke, now of the University of Munich Children's Hospital in Germany, and his colleagues in the September PEDIATRICS.

When the counselors just listened and sympathized, the children reduced their crying by 37 percent by the study's end. But the babies whose mothers received no support cried almost that much less, the researchers found.

Children in all three groups had a similar decline in the number of times they cried each day. But those whose mothers received counseling had fewer crying bouts in the evening.

The counselors -- mothers who had raised colicky kids of their own -- spoke with the study participants three times on the phone. Their recommendations included establishing daily routines and avoiding overstimulating the infants, such as by rocking them too vigorously.

Despite the reduction in tears, the children still cried more than average and generally had difficult temperaments. Data from this and other studies suggest that such infants probably have unusual central nervous systems, the team asserts.

However, "the question of whether difficult temperament, caretaking style, or both...lead to excessive crying cannot be answered by the data presented here," they note.

While infants like these do cry less as they get older, another study found that "colic babies" still cried four times as much as other kids at age 10 months, says Wolke.
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Title Annotation:excessive crying probably caused by unusual central nervous system
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 24, 1994
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