posted on 9/13/2022 1:29 PM / updated on 9/13/2022 1:30 PM
Babies cry for a variety of reasons: hunger, colic, pain or the need to change a diaper. A team of researchers found that holding a baby for a five-minute walk is an effective strategy for calming him down while he’s crying. The calming technique is an innate reaction in mammals such as mice, dogs and monkeys. The puppies’ bodies tend to relax, and the heart rate slows down.
For the study, the scientists analyzed and compared 21 babies in four conditions: being held by their walking mothers; held by their seated mothers; lying in a motionless crib; or lying in a rocking crib. It was found that while the mother was carrying the child, the crying babies calmed down and the heart rate was reduced by 30 seconds.
A similar effect was observed in babies who were placed in a rocking crib. Research suggests that the movement has a calming action because it likely activates the transport response present in altricial mammals — those whose young are unable to fend for themselves.
The effects were most evident when the holding and walking movements lasted about five minutes. The babies participating in the study stopped crying and nearly half fell asleep. However, when mothers tried to tuck sleepy children into bed, more than a third were alert within 20 seconds. In contrast, if babies slept longer before being laid down, they were less likely to wake up.
“Even as a mother of four, I was very surprised to see the result. I thought that baby awake while lying down is related to how he is placed in bed, like his posture or the smoothness of movement. But our experiment did not support these general assumptions,” said Kumi Kuroda, corresponding author of the research.
The study was conducted with mothers, but the researchers expect the effects to be similar in any caregiver. Based on the findings, the authors propose the method to improve infant sleep, countering misguided approaches that have become popular, such as letting babies cry themselves to sleep.
“For many, we intuitively care for and listen to other people’s advice about parenting without testing the methods with rigorous science. But we need science to understand a baby’s behaviors, because they are much more complex and diverse than we thought,” concludes Kuroda.
The study was carried out by RIKEN Center for Brain Science, in Japan. The survey can be read in full at this link.