Aim: To determine the persistence of regulatory problems (RP), i.e. excessive crying (>3 months of age), feeding and sleeping difficulties from infancy to preschool age, and to evaluate whether RP at 5 months are predictive of preschool adaptive behaviour and social skills.
Method: A prospective population study of newborns admitted to neonatal care. RP at 5, 20 and 56 months of age were obtained via parent interviews and neurological examination and preschool adaptive behaviour and social skills by parent ratings. Logistic and linear regression analyses were conducted and controlled for psychosocial and neurological factors.
Results: More than half of the sample had RP at least at one measurement point. In about 8% of infants, RP persisted across the preschool years. Multiple RP and feeding problems increased the odds of eating problems at 20 and 56 months. Persistent RP and feeding problems were predictive of deficits in preschool adaptive behaviour and social skills. In addition, sex differences were found.
Conclusions: Multiple RP and feeding problems had the highest stability. Persistent RP were predictive of adverse social and adaptive behaviour. Understanding of the aetiology may help to prevent persistent RP.