Whether it’s Nelson at Trafalgar, the charge of Light Brigade or Gordon at the siege of Khartoum, a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity is widely lauded as the ultimate British virtue.
According to scientists, however, Britons abandon such phlegmatism when they become parents and in turn cause their babies to cry more than almost any others in the world.
A new worldwide survey of babies has found that only Canadian babies spend more time crying than the British, with experts blaming over-anxious parents as the cause.
If you are not relaxed you are not going to be any use to your babyProfessor Dieter Wolke, University of Warwick
Researchers at Warwick University analysed data on almost 8,700 infants to assess how upsetting babies in different countries find their first 12 weeks of life.
With the exception of Canada, babies in the UK cried longer than those anywhere else in the industrialised world, in stark contrast to their counterparts in Denmark and Germany, where crying levels were the lowest.
The authors of the study, which is published in the Journal of Pediatrics, say German and Danish parents are more relaxed about their babies and are more likely to wait a minute or two after crying starts before picking them up.
British parents, however, spend less time holding their infants overall, but are quicker to snatch them up when they show signs of distress, possibly entrenching their propensity to sound off.
The differences in parenting approach may account for the 28 per cent of UK infants suffering from colic, defined as crying for more than three hours a day for at least three days a week, behind only Canada at 34 per cent and ahead of Italy at 21 per cent.
Colic rates in Denmark and Germany, by contrast, were 6 and 7 per cent respectively.
Professor Dieter Wolke, who led the research, said: “German and Danish parents are much less likely to get worked up and they will wait a little bit before they intervene to see if the baby can self-sooth.
“They don’t get all worried about it.”
Across all the countries examined for the survey, babies cried for an average of two hours per day in the first two weeks after birth.
Crying peaked at about two hours and 15 minutes each day at six weeks of age, before gradually reducing to an average of one hour and 10 minutes.
Previous research has indicated that around 40 per cent of infant crying is inconsolable, and Professor Wolke said many new mothers and fathers are unduly stressed by some “unscientific” parenting books which offer bogus solutions.
Concern in Britain over crying babies costed the NHS an estimated £70 million each year, he said, with stressed-out parents less more likely to reinforce a pattern of crying.
“It’s the same principal as going on a plane,” he said.
“You are told to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.
“If you are not relaxed you are not going to be any use to your baby.”
But he added that adult well-being surveys consistently put Denmark as one of the happiest countries in the world and that Danish babies may enjoy some “genetic bias” whereby they cry less.
“The new chart of normal fuss/cry amounts in babies across industrialised countries will help health care professions to reassure parents whether a baby is crying within the normal expected range in the first three months or shows excessive crying which may require further evaluation and extra support for the parents,” he said.