It can be stressful and exhausting, trying to get a crying baby to settle down and go to sleep. New research now suggests that for the best chance at success, parents should pick the infant up and walk around with it for five minutes.
For the study, scientists at Japan’s RIKEN Center for Brain Science used a baby-scale ECG (electrocardiogram) machine and video cameras to monitor changes in the heart rate and behavior in a total of 21 infants.
These observations were made while the mothers of those babies performed activities that are commonly used to calm crying infants – these activities included carrying the baby around while walking, holding it while sitting, leaving it lying in a stationary crib, or leaving it lying in a rocking cot or stroller. In all scenarios, with each individual heartbeat, the setup noted if the baby was crying, alert or asleep.
It was found that when the infants were carried or placed in a rocking cot, their heart rate slowed down within 30 seconds – this did not happen when they were held, or put in a stationary crib.
Carrying them while walking proved to be particularly effective, as all of the babies stopped crying and half fell asleep after five minutes of the activity. That said, if the babies were put back to bed immediately after the five-minute period, over a third of them became alert again within 20 seconds. For that reason, it is suggested 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 the infants activates their “transport response.” This response has previously been observed in animals such as monkeys, dogs and mice, wherein babies instinctively become relaxed and docile while being carried from place to place.
“For many, we intuitively parent and listen to other people’s advice on parenting without testing the methods with rigorous science,” said the lead scientist, Kumi Kuroda. “But we need science to understand a baby’s behaviors, because they’re much more complex and diverse than we thought.”
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Current Biology.
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