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Breastfed Babies May Cry More, But Hang in There Moms

Crying baby

It can be difficult to deal with a crying baby, so news that breastfed babies may cry more than those who are bottle-fed does not sound like a good sales pitch for breastfeeding. However, the authors of the new study stress that this display of irritability may be a communication issue between mother and child, and that moms should hang in there and continue to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding offers infants many benefits

The health benefits associated with breastfeeding have been well publicized, including the fact that there is an “overwhelming body of evidence supporting breastfeeding as the normal and most healthy form of infant nutrition,” as noted by the new study’s lead researcher Dr. Ken Ong, a pediatrician from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge.

For example, breastfeeding has been found to protect infants and children against development of infections (including ear infections), eczema, allergies, asthma, and both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In addition, breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of obesity and is associated with better cognitive development.

New breastfeeding study results

But a cranky, crying baby can cast a shadow over breastfeeding if mothers believe their infant is unhappy with being breastfed. Therefore in the new study, the researchers evaluated 316 babies aged 3 months and asked the mothers about their infants’ crying habits and their ability to soothe the babies.

Compared with mothers who bottle fed their infants, those who were breastfeeding or who used both bottles and breastfeeding said their babies cried more and were harder to console. Dr. Ong emphasized, however, that “Bottle-fed babies may appear more content, but research suggests that these infants may be over-nourished and gain weight too quickly,” which is undesirable given the high rate of childhood obesity.

In addition, the researchers pointed out that irritability displayed by infants is a natural form of communication between mother and child, with Ong suggesting parents have “more realistic expectations” concerning normal infant behavior.

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Once parents recognize that crying may be a problem for some time while breastfeeding continues, they may be able to get some support to help them through the trying times.

In fact, other research suggests breastfed infants may outgrow this crying stage. In an observational study reported in Pediatrics, for example, investigators did not see a difference in temperament between older breastfed or formula-fed infants at age six to 12 months old.

Breastfeeding habits

Despite the benefits from breastfeeding, the number of mothers who continue this form of nutrition for their babies for longer than a few months is low. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breastfeed exclusively for at least four months but preferably six, and continue some breastfeeding for one year and the World Health Organization recommends the habit for two years or longer, the actual figures are much lower.

Figures from 2006 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 73.9% of infants born that year were ever breastfed. Only 33.1% were exclusively breastfed through 3 months of age, and that figure dropped to 13.6% through 6 months of age.

The authors noted that despite reports that breastfed infants cry more and are more difficult to console, “increased awareness of the behavioral dynamics of breastfeeding, a better expectation of normal infant temperament and support to cope with difficult infant temperament could potentially help to promote successful breastfeeding.”

Auestad N, Halter R, Hall RT, Blatter M, Bogle ML et al. Growth and development in term infants fed long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: a double-masked, randomized, parallel, prospective, multivariate study. Pediatrics 2001; 108: 372-81
De Lauzon-Guillain B, Wijndaele K, Clark M, Acerini CL, Hughes IA, Dunger DB, Wells JC, Ong KK. Breastfeeding and infant temperament at age three months. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29326. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0029326

Picture Credit: Morguefile