The most effective way to calm a crying baby at night, according to science

It’s three in the morning and the baby is still crying. After checking that he is fine, that he is not hungry and that his diaper is dry, his parents resort to all possible tricks to calm the little one and fall asleep, which includes rocking, lullabies, lullabies and the last of the options : the car ride. But the nightly tantrum continues and the nerves begin to truncate.

A group of Japanese scientists claims to have discovered the formula to end this frustration experienced by most parents. They explain their strategy in the magazine ‘Current Biology’ and it is so simple that it will probably seem disappointing to some, but nothing prevents you from trying it. As they write, to calm a crying baby you have to do the following: walk with the child in your arms for five minutes; sit with the little one on top for five to eight minutes and then, having achieved the purpose, calmly place him in her crib. That easy. And they say it works.

“Many parents experience nighttime crying in babies,” says Kumi Kuroda of the RIKEN Center for Brain Science in Japan and an author of the study. “That’s such a big problem, especially for inexperienced parents, that it can lead to stress and even child abuse in a small number of cases,” she notes.

Rocking chair

Kuroda and his colleagues have been studying the transport response, an innate reaction seen in many altricial mammals, those whose young are immature and unable to care for themselves, such as mice, dogs, monkeys and humans. They observed that when these animals pick up their young and start walking, their young’s bodies tend to become docile and their heart rate slows. Kuroda’s team wanted to compare the effects of the carrying response — the relaxed reaction while carrying — with other conditions, such as holding or rocking the infant with the mother immobile, and also examine whether the effects persist with longer carrying in infants. humans.

Carry the baby for five minutes, sit with him in your arms for five to eight minutes and go to bed

Ohmura et al.

The researchers compared the responses of 21 babies while they were under four conditions: being held by their walking mothers, being held by their sitting mothers, lying in a still crib, or lying in a rocking crib. The team found that when the mother walked while she held the baby, the crying babies calmed down and their heart rates slowed within 30 seconds. A similar calming effect occurred when babies were placed in a rocking cradle, but not when the mother held the baby in a sitting position or placed the baby in a stationary cradle.

This suggests that just holding a baby might be insufficient to calm their crying, contradicting the traditional assumption that being held by their mother reduces infant distress. At the same time, movement has calming effects, probably by activating the baby’s carry response. The effect was most evident when the holding and walking movements continued for five minutes. All the crying babies in the study stopped crying, and almost half of them fell asleep.

heart rate

But when the mothers tried to put their sleeping babies to bed, more than a third of the participants returned to alertness within 20 seconds. The team found that all the babies produced physiological responses, including changes in heart rate, that can wake them up the moment their bodies separate from their mothers. However, if babies slept for a longer period before putting them down, they were less likely to wake up during the process, the team found.

“Even as a mother of four children, I was very surprised to see the result. I thought that the baby’s awakening in the crib is related to the way they are positioned in bed, such as their posture or the smoothness of the movement, “says the researcher. “But our experiment did not support these general assumptions,” she adds. While the experiment involved only mothers, Kuroda expects the effects to be similar in any caregiver.

Based on their findings, the team proposes a method to calm and promote sleep in crying babies. They recommend that parents hold and walk babies for five minutes, and then sit and hold babies for an additional five to eight minutes before putting them to bed. The protocol, unlike other popular sleep training approaches such as letting babies cry themselves to sleep, aims to provide an immediate solution to crying babies. Whether it can improve long-term infant sleep requires more research.

“Many of us breed intuitively and listen to other people’s advice on parenting without testing the methods with rigorous science. But we need science to understand the behaviors of a baby, because they are much more complex and diverse than we thought, “says Kuroda.


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