Objective: To assess the effectiveness of a behavioural programme introduced in the first 3 months of age in preventing infant crying and sleeping problems. Two issues were addressed: (i) which elements of the behavioural programme would parents implement; and (ii) whether the behavioural programme was more effective in reducing infant crying and encouraging night-time sleeping than an educational intervention or the routine services.
Methodology: Mothers and newborns were assigned at random to the behavioural programme (n = 205), educational intervention (n = 202), or control (n = 203) group. Behaviour diaries kept before randomization and at 3, 6, 9 and 12 weeks of age were used to measure implementation of the interventions and infant behaviour, including crying and sleeping. Crying and sleeping problems were followed up using questionnaire measures at 9 months of age.
Results: The educational intervention did not change parental care behaviour. One element of the behavioural programme, a focal feed between 10 PM and midnight, was not implemented. A second element, stretching of interfeed intervals after 3 weeks of age, was implemented initially, but not maintained at older ages. The third element, which asked parents to emphasise day and night differences in the environment, and to settle their babies in the cot and minimise interaction at night, was carried out by more parents in the behavioural group than in the other groups. This led to an increase of around 10% in the number of babies who slept for 5 or more hours at night (a definition of sleeping through the night) at 12 weeks of age. Fewer behavioural programme parents sought help for crying and sleeping problems between 3 and 9 months of age.
Conclusion: The behavioural programme produced a modest increase in the number of infants who slept through the night by 12 weeks of age. The results are discussed in relation to other findings, which bear on the programme's adoption for routine health-care policy and practice.