On April 4th, 2017 we learned about

British babies weep more each week than other infants in cross-cultural survey

Science has finally found the world’s biggest crybabies, and they’re in England. This isn’t a veiled comment about Brexit supporters, but the results of a world-wide study of how much infants cry per week. Since parents often feel completely powerless to control their babies’ outbursts, it might not be obvious how we can help humanity by studying the whimpering of babes around the globe. The answer is that it’s a first step, and the fact that trends were found at all suggests that there may be ways to a happier, or at least quieter, baby that could eventually be accessible to everyone, especially those living in the United Kingdom.

Summing up sobs and sniffles

Drawing on data from nearly 8,700 babies, researchers from the University of Warwick took steps to quantify baby crying. Breaking crying into something countable is important, since when a parent hears a baby’s cry it’s hard to focus on anything else— every minute of crying feels like too much, especially if you’re a woman. But “too much” doesn’t lend itself to real comparisons, so the compiled data allowed for real comparisons across countries to see where the babies spend more time in tears.

Obviously, every child is an individual, interacting with the individual sensitivities of their own particular caregivers, so the results had to allow for ranges of crying each week. On the extremes of this spectrum, some babies cried for as little as 30 minutes a day while others spent over five hours each day wailing. One a macro scale, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and the Netherlands had more crying babies overall. The more stoic children were found in Denmark, Germany and Japan. Trends were also found with the babies ages, with six-week-olds being the biggest bawlers but tear-time dropping by 50% only six weeks later (so hang in there, mom and dad!)

Nature, nurture, or both?

The fact that there are patterns is actually a reason for hope. It suggests that the time babies spend crying isn’t hard wired into our brains, and thus is subject to other variables that we might be able to control. So from these rankings, researchers are digging into the causes to see if there are economic, genetic, nutritional or cultural differences that make some babies louder than others. Past research into the minds of moms (ok, mouse moms) has already found a mix of causes. A crying mouse pup will trigger oxytocin release in its mother’s brain to spur a care response, but only the mother has had some practice and learned that feedback loop to begin with.

In the mean time, remember that babies won’t be crying forever, although maybe think twice about booking your flights out of Heathrow.

Source: Babies cry most in UK, Canada, Italy and Netherlands, Scienmag

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