Bawling British babies cry more than those happy Danes

Babies in the UK spend more time crying with colic than other wealthy nations, but don’t worry, it doesn’t make you a bad parent.

4th April 2017
Bawling British babies cry more than those happy Danes (Screaming twin baby girls holding a box of Farley's rusks in their pram at Bloomsbury, London © Fred Morley/Getty Images)

Screaming twin baby girls holding a box of Farley's rusks in their pram at Bloomsbury, London © Fred Morley/Getty Images

Britons have a lot to cry about at the moment - whether weeping tears of joy or despair over Brexit, if Arsene Wenger is still the right man for the Gooners or whether a seasonal egg hunt should have anything to do with Easter – there’s always something we can well up over. But our propensity to shed a tear seems to be rubbing off on our children.

New research from the University of Warwick has discovered that British babies, though wonderfully innocent of all the trials and tribulations of this sceptred isle, cry more than any other country in the study.

Surely any weary-eyed parent knows all cries merge into one?

That might ring true, but the study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, has developed the first universal charts of the amount of time a baby spends crying in the first three months. On average, babies spend two hours a day crying during the first two weeks, peaking with an extra 15 minutes at six weeks, before settling down to a more manageable one hour ten minutes by week 12.

Ringing ears and lack of sleep suggest this is a little low, perhaps?

These results are worldwide averages, and observed crying and fussing times (or colic) range from as little as 30 minutes to a full five hours of bawling. A baby is considered to suffer from colic if they cry for more than three hours, more than three times a week over three weeks, but let’s face it, ain’t nobody with a new born keeping records for that long. That’s why the study used the modified Wessel criteria to measuring the crying of 8,700 infants over one week instead.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Although it’s not always clear what a baby is crying about, the results clearly show that British babies cry the most in the first two weeks, with 28 per cent of babies showing signs of colic. Canadian and Italian babies also showed high levels of colic at later stages, whereas only 6.7 per cent of babies in Germany and 5.5 per cent of Danish babies showed signs of colic at three to four weeks.

“Crying in the first three months has not been related to adverse outcome long term in children,” says lead author Professor Dieter Wolke in an email. “However for parents, high amounts of crying are distressing and they seek help from health professionals… For some [crying] is so distressing that they may become desperate and a few shake their baby, which has often highly adverse effects.”

So those Danish babies, is it hygge?

It’s no surprise that Danish children are a little more blissed out than those of us this side of the Channel given they live in one of the world's happiest nations, but this could actually rub off on the baby before they are even born.

"It has been shown that anxiety and stress in pregnancy leads to higher cortisol production, which crosses the placenta and has been shown to increase the amount of fuss/cry in babies after being born,” says Wolke. “Babies in Denmark or Germany may be born to mothers who were less stressed during pregnancy.”

It also helps that parents in Denmark are a little more relaxed about crying. “[They] wait a little to see whether their baby can self-soothe and have more physical contact with their baby. It is important to be calm yourself as parent, otherwise if the parent is agitated it is more difficult to calm a baby and to become upset yourself.”

Does that mean we Brits are bad parents?

Not at all. Even though our kids might weep a little more than most, it’s a perfectly natural thing to do.

All babies are different and three hours a day is well within the normal range, and this study will go a long way towards reassuring worrisome Britons that we’re not all that bad after all. Across several countries in the study, parents reported that around 40 per cent of all crying in the first three months is inconsolable – whatever they do.

So Professor Wolke’s advice: “stay calm, if it gets to much put the baby down in a safe place, calm yourself down and then try again.”


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