I think we can all agree that you aren't supposed to hit babies. Researchers in the Netherlands looked for factors that predict abuse.
What the researchers wanted to know: What makes parents more likely to take "actions provoked by infant crying that can threaten child health"?
What they did: Pediatricians and nurses interviewed parents of 3,345 babies in the Netherlands about crying. The babies were 1, 3, and 6 months old. All but a few parents also filled out an anonymous questionnaire, which asked about the actions they'd taken to stop a baby from crying. The list included things like carrying the infant, but also "Have you ever slapped your infant to reduce its crying?" and questions about shaking and smothering.
What they found: Six percent of parents of 6-month-old babies said they had slapped, smothered, or shaken the child to make it stop crying. Parents who thought their children's crying was excessive were nearly three times as likely to have smothered, shaken, or slapped their child. The risk was even higher for parents from nonindustrialized countries.
What the study means to you: Doctors should keep this study in mind when thinking about risks for abuse, the authors say, and should also teach caretakers how to cope with their child's tears. In an accompanying editorial, two doctors in California emphasize that the problem here isn't that some babies cry too much. Babies are supposed to cry. The problem is parents' or caretakers' abnormal response to crying.
Caveats: Parents filled out a questionnaire on their own behavior. Even though it was anonymous, they may not have wanted to admit hurting their child. (If that's right, then these actions are even more common than reported.) Also, this study was carried out in the Netherlands. Things may be different elsewhere.
Find out more: Tips on handling crying babies from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System
A list of publications on newborn care from the government's women's health site, 4woman.gov
Read the article: Reijneveld, S.A., et al. "Infant Crying and Abuse." The Lancet. October 9, 2004, Vol. 364, pp. 1340-1342.
Sheridan, C. and N. Wolfe. "If Only You Hadn't, I Would Not Have Hit You: Infant Crying and Abuse." The Lancet. October 9, 2004, Vol. 364, pp. 1295-1296.
Abstract online: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov