It can be stressful and exhausting trying to get a crying baby to settle down and sleep. New research now suggests that for the best chance of success, parents should pick up the baby and walk with it for five minutes.
For the study, scientists at Japan’s RIKEN Brain Science Center used infant EKGs (electrocardiograms) and video cameras to monitor changes in heart rate and behavior in a total of 21 infants.
These observations were made while the mothers of these infants were performing activities commonly used to soothe crying infants—these activities included carrying the baby around while walking, holding while sitting, letting him lie in a still crib, or letting him lie down in a swinging bassinet or stroller. In all scenarios, with each individual heartbeat, the setup notes whether the baby is crying, awake or asleep.
It has been found that when babies are carried or placed in a rocking bed, their heart rate slows down within 30 seconds – this is no occurred when they were held or placed in a stationary crib.
Wearing them during a walk proved particularly effective, as all the babies stopped crying and half fell asleep after five minutes of activity. However, if the babies were returned to bed immediately after the five-minute period, over a third of them were awake again within 20 seconds. For this reason, it is recommended that parents first carry the baby for five minutes while walking, then sit and hold them for another five to eight minutes before returning them to bed.
Although the exact mechanism at play is not fully understood, it is believed that carrying babies activates their “transportation response”. This response has previously been observed in animals such as monkeys, dogs and mice, where infants instinctively become calm and obedient as they are carried from place to place.
“For many, we parent intuitively and listen to other people’s parenting advice without testing the methods with rigorous science,” said lead scientist Kumi Kuroda. “But we need science to understand baby behavior because it is much more complex and varied than we thought.”
An article about the research was recently published in the journal Current Biology.