A greater risk of serious behavior problems later in life has been linked to infants who cry excessively, and who have problems sleeping and feeding, scientists reveal in a research that will be published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Persistent crying, sleeping and/or feeding problems are known as regulatory problems.
Researchers found that around 20% of all infants show some sign of these regulatory problems in their first year of life. This can disrupt the families and increase costs for health services, say the researchers.
In previous studies, it has been suggested that behavioral or cognitive development later in childhood is a result of these regulatory problems, but conclusive evidence was found, the study says.
22 studies that were conducted between 1987 and 2006 were analyzed by researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland, University of Warwick in the U.K. and the University of Bochum in Germany.
Collectively the analysis involved about 16,848 children, of which 1,935 children who had regulatory problems were tested.
Possible association between regulatory problems in early infancy and childhood behavioral problems were analyzed by the researchers.
The twenty-two studies involved ten of the studies with consequences of excessive crying, four were on sleeping problems, three on feeding problems and five were studies about multiple regulatory problems.
The researchers divided childhood behavior problems into four categories: Internalizing, or anxiety, depression or withdrawal; externalizing, or aggressive or destructive behavior, conduct problems or temper tantrums; attention deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD); and general behavior problems.
The study was not able to tell if issues as a baby cause behavioral problems later in life. It is possible that it could be an early symptom of those later problems.
However, infants with regulatory problems were more likely to have behavior problems as children than compared to infants without any of these problems, say the researchers.
The analysis by researchers found that children who had regulatory problems in infancy were more likely to have externalizing problems and ADHD.
A major reason why parents seek professional help is due to their concerns about their baby’s crying, sleeping, or feeding problems.
Professor Mitch Blair, officer for health promotion at The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, points out that this “is an important study.”
He told BBC News that the study “really reinforces the need for attention at an early stage to prevent issues later in childhood,” and that parents are good at knowing when something is wrong with their children.
However, “It would be wrong for people to get overly alarmed. I don’t think on the basis of this report people should be going to their GPs,” Jane Valente, a consultant pediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital, told BBC News.
She says, “If a baby is not behaving like other babies it is probably worth discussing with a midwife or health visitor.”
A baby with multiple risk factors is even more likely to develop behavior problems, the research shows.
Clinically referred children often also come from families that have a range of risk factors such as obstetric, interactional, or psychosocial problems.
“It is about a 100% increase in risk, a doubling of risk of behavioral problems with excessive crying, sleeping and eating problems,” Professor Dieter Wolke, from the University of Warwick, told BBC News.
Professor Wolke says that while there are treatments for crying, feeding and sleeping problems in babies, there is no research that assesses its impact later in life.
He adds, “If you could prevent behavioral problems with an early intervention, in a public health-sense it could be very important.”
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