OBJECTIVE. Western parents are given conflicting advice about whether to introduce a “scheduled” approach to infant care or to follow their infants' demands. Attempts to address this issue using randomized, controlled trials have been unsuccessful. This comparative study collected evidence about methods of parenting and associated infant crying and sleeping in 2 communities with substantially different approaches to infant care (London, United Kingdom, and Copenhagen, Denmark) and in a “proximal care” group, where parents planned to hold their infants ≥80% of the time between 8 am and 8 pm, breastfeed frequently, and respond rapidly to infant cries.
METHODS. Validated behavior diaries were used to measure parental behavior and infant crying and night waking longitudinally at 8 to 14 days, 5 to 6 weeks, and 10 to 14 weeks of age. Feeding and sleeping practices were measured by questionnaire.
RESULTS. Proximal care parents held infants for 15 to 16 hours per 24 hours and coslept with them through the night more often than other groups. London parents had 50% less physical contact with their infants than proximal care parents, including less contact when the infants were crying and when awake and settled. London parents also abandoned breastfeeding earlier than other groups. Copenhagen parents fell in between the other groups in measures of contact and care. These differences in caregiving were associated with substantial differences in several aspects of infant crying and settled behavior at night. London infants cried 50% more overall than infants in both other groups at 2 and 5 weeks of age. However, bouts of unsoothable crying occurred in all 3 of the groups, and the groups did not differ in unsoothable bouts or in colicky crying at 5 weeks of age. Proximal care infants woke and cried at night most often at 12 weeks. Compared with proximal care infants, Copenhagen infants cried as little per 24 hours, but woke and cried at night less often at 12 weeks of age.
CONCLUSIONS. “Infant-demand” care and conventional Western care, as practiced by London parents, are associated with different benefits and costs. As used by proximal care and Copenhagen parents, infant demand parenting is associated with less overall crying per 24 hours. However, the proximal form of infant-demand parenting is associated with more frequent night waking and crying at 12 weeks of age. Copenhagen infants cry as little per 24 hours as proximal care infants but are settled at night like London infants at 12 weeks of age. Colicky crying bouts at 5 weeks of age are unaffected by care. The findings have implications for public health care policy. First, they add to evidence that bouts of unsoothable crying, which are common in early infancy, are not much affected by variations in parenting, providing reassurance that this aspect of infant crying is not parents' fault. Second, the findings provide information that professionals can give to parents to help them to make choices about infant care. Third, the findings support some experts' concerns that many English parents are adopting methods of care that lead to increased crying in their infants. There is a need for informed debate among professionals, policy makers, and parents about the social and cultural bases for the marked differences between London and Copenhagen parents' approach to care.