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Support for parents of babies who cry excessively to be trialled nationally

A trial of a support programme to help parents of babies who cry excessively is to be rolled out nationally after parents praised the effectiveness of the intervention in reducing parental depression and improving their ability to cope independently.

Stressed Mother Holding Crying Baby
The Surviving Crying programme is designed to be used by parents in their own home

Around 20% of infants cry for prolonged periods during the first four months, affecting around 146,000 UK families per year. Where parents cannot cope, this can lead to parental depression, poor parent-child relationships, problems with child development, and, in rare cases, infant abuse.

Following successful initial small-scale testing, researchers at Nottingham Trent University, University College London and the University of Leicester, funded by the National Institute of Health and Care Research and supported by the Institute of Health Visiting, are now working with parents and health visitors across the UK to test the Surviving Crying package.

The programme is designed to be accessible and can be used by parents in their own home. It includes access to a website, printed booklet, and a programme of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)-based sessions delivered to parents by a specially trained health visitor.

The initial trial with 52 parents showed reductions in the number of parents reporting the crying to be a large or severe problem - from 28 to 3 parents - or feeling very or extremely frustrated by the crying - from 31 to 1 parent. Other findings included improvements in parents' confidence, their knowledge of infant crying and their sleep. There was also a reduction in their contact with NHS services.

All parents and 85% of the 50 health visitors involved agreed the package should be included in the NHS and 94% of the health visitors wanted materials of this kind to be included in their training.

The national trial will test the clinical and cost effectiveness of health visiting services supplemented by Surviving Crying, compared to statutory health visiting services alone.

Lead researcher Jayne Brown, Professor of Health Care Professions at Nottingham Trent University’s Institute of Health and Allied Professions, said: “Excessive crying is regularly diagnosed as colic but in many studies the crying remains unexplained and there is no reliable way to prevent or resolve it.

“This puts a huge emotional strain on parents, and because there is currently no evidence-based NHS support available, they often turn to popular media such as the internet, which give conflicting advice, or take infants to GPs or hospitals, substantially adding to NHS costs.

“The Surviving Crying package was overwhelmingly welcomed by both parents and health visitors in the first trial, but now we need to show how it adds value to standard NHS support and how it can be used effectively in normal NHS practice.”

Parents taking part will be randomly allocated to either a control group which receives the usual support from the NHS and their health visitor, or an intervention group with access to the Surviving Crying materials alongside standard support. Health visitors and researchers assessing the results and feedback from parents will not be aware of which group they belonged to.

As part of the next stage of the trial, the Surviving Crying materials will also be adapted into a training module delivered mostly online and tailored to the needs of busy NHS professionals, and 10 volunteer health visitors will be trained in delivering the CBT-based sessions to parents.

The trial currently involves parents and health visitors in Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, London Borough of Newham, Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust.

From May 2023 it will be extended to include Barnsley Council, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust, and Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. For further information email:

Other organisations involved in the research include UOL Leicester Clinical Trials Unit, Institute of Health Visiting, University of Cambridge, University of Warwick, Diabetes Research Centre, University of Leicester, and Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.

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    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded The Times and The Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2023 and ranked second best university in the UK in the Uni Compare Top 100 rankings (2021/2022). It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with nearly 39,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.

    Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data). It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.

    NTU is ranked 4th most sustainable university in the world and 1st in the UK for sustainability-themed Education and Research in the 2021 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

    The National Institute for Health and Care Research

    The mission of the NIHR is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

    • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
    • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
    • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
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    • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.

    NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.

Published on 11 January 2023
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences