Links between maternal care and persistent infant crying in the early months

Child Care Health Dev. 1998 Sep;24(5):353-76. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2214.2002.00089.x.


A community sample was screened to select three groups of infants and their mothers according to how much the babies cried at 6 weeks of age, the peak age for infant crying. The three groups--of moderate (n = 55), evening (n = 38) and persistent criers (n = 67) and their mothers--were assessed by diary, observation and questionnaire measures of mother and infant characteristics and interactions at 6 weeks and 5 months of infant age. At 6 weeks, mothers of persistent criers spent more time interacting with and physically stimulating their babies. Below-optimum maternal sensitivity/affection was linked to moderately increased crying in the infants overall. However, most mothers of persistent criers showed optimum sensitivity and affection, while no significant links between maternal sensitivity/affection and infant crying were found in the persistent crying group. By 5 months, when infant crying declined, the range and size of differences between mothers of persistent criers and other mothers declined. Home observations and a standard play measure failed to show group differences in maternal sensitivity, affection and intrusiveness at this age. The findings show that persistent infant crying in the early months often occurs in spite of high quality maternal care, so that in most cases the crying is probably not due to inadequate parenting. The need to distinguish general community cases from those at social or medical risk is emphasized and the findings' implications for professionals are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Crying*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior*
  • Infant Care*
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Parenting*
  • Time Factors