Babies fall asleep faster when you hold them while walking than when you hold them in a chair or put them to bed


September 13, 2022

Walking with a crying baby is the fastest way to encourage him to sleep

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Scientists have discovered the most effective technique for calming a crying baby.

An experiment involving 21 babies under the age of 7 months found that they were more likely to stop crying and fall asleep when their mother walked with them, compared to when they were held by their mother in a chair or placed in a crib .

“This finding makes sense because when most people pick up a crying baby, they rarely just stand still with the baby, they instinctively walk around,” says Harriet Hiscock at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia.

Kumi Kuroda at the RIKEN Brain Science Center in Japan and her colleagues became interested in how babies respond to movement after studying the “transport response” in other mammals, in which babies become passive and develop slower heart rates when their mothers carry them.

To test the effect on humans, the team watched 21 crying babies in Japan and Italy while their mothers tried four methods of soothing them: holding their baby while walking, moving him back and forth in a stroller or rocking bed, holding him in a sitting position and putting them in a crib.

The experiments, each lasting 5 minutes, were conducted at home or in the laboratory depending on the mother’s preference.

The babies did not settle when their mothers held them up or placed them in a crib. But when their mothers walked with them, they all stopped crying and almost half of them fell asleep within 5 minutes.

Rocking them in the pram or bassinet had a similar calming effect, but to a lesser extent. This probably happened because of the rocking, creating a similar rhythmic movement to walking, according to the researchers.

Heart monitors attached to the babies show that, like other small mammals, their heart rates slow when their mothers carry them.

Preliminary experiments with fathers show that they also soothe their babies when they walk with them.

This transport response may have evolved so that babies can sleep on top of their caregivers while they go about their daily business, or to keep them quiet if their caregiver spots a predator and needs to carry their baby away without being spotted. says Kuroda.

The researchers advise caregivers who use this walking technique to hold their baby for another 5 to 8 minutes after falling asleep before putting them in the bassinet, as the babies in the study tended to wake up if they were moved earlier.

Pamela Douglas at the University of Queensland and Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, says that walking babies around is just one tool for encouraging them to sleep. “This study did not include breastfeeding or bottle feeding, which we know are very effective methods of reducing sleep in little ones,” she says.

According to Hiscock, the walking technique is useful for babies up to 6 months of age, but after that they should be encouraged to learn to settle on their own. “You don’t want to put them to sleep every time they wake up in the night,” she says.

Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.041

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