Lifestyle

Walking with your crying baby for just five minutes can get them to sleep

A new study has found that carrying your crying baby for walk of just five minutes can lull them back to sleep – making it even more effective than just holding them.

This is because a walk triggers physiological changes, including slowing their heart rate.

The Japanese authors of the study, which has been published in the journal Current Biology, recommend this knowledge be shared with all parents.

They are also currently developing an app based on the findings that will alert parents if they need to pick their baby up.

Lead author Dr Kumi Kuroda, of the RIKEN Center for Brain Science, Tokyo, said: ‘Many parents suffer from babies’ night time crying.

‘That’s such a big issue, especially for inexperienced parents, that can lead to parental stress and even to infant maltreatment in a small number of cases.’

This ‘transport response’ was identified by Dr Kumi and the rest of the team in distressed mouse pups and human infants – both of whom calm down when carried by their mothers.

The phenomenon helps parents move their babies more easily when necessary, and is also seen in dogs and monkeys.

In experiments involving 21 infants, different changes in heart rate and behaviour were compared as their mothers carried out different activities with them, including carrying, being pushed in stroller and holding while sitting.

During these activities, the tots wore EEG (electroencephalogram) skull caps to measure electrical activity.

It was also noted when the babies were crying, calm, awake or asleep.

When carried and walked around, crying infants calmed down, and their heart rates slowed within 30 seconds.

These findings suggest that movement is key to helping them calm down faster.

A similar calming effect happened when the babies were placed in a rocking cot, but not when they were placed in a stationary crib or when the mother held them while sitting.

This calming effect was more evident when the holding and walking motions continued for five minutes, with all of the babies being calmed by this point, and nearly half having fallen fast asleep.

However, it seems keeping them calm requires a a bit more time, as the tots also showed a trend towards waking up as soon as their bodies weren’t in contact with their mothers.

If the infants were asleep for longer before being laid down, they were less likely to wake up.

Dr Kumi said: ‘Even as a mother of four, I was very surprised to see the result.

‘I thought baby awoke during a lay down is related to how they are put on the bed, such as their posture, or the gentleness of the movement.

‘But our experiment did not support these general assumptions.’

Dr Kumi thinks this response is likely to be the same with fathers and other guardians carrying their babies.

She said: ‘Walking for five minutes promoted sleep – but only for crying infants.

‘Surprisingly, this effect was absent when babies were already calm beforehand.’

Watching their heartbeats let the scientists see the impacts of each type of moment on the babies, and it seems they’re very sensitive to them

For instance, their heart rates went up when their mothers turned, and when they stopped walking.

The biggest impact happened when they were being put down – so it makes sense that they’ll need to be in a deeper sleep if you want to lay them down.

Dr Kumi recommends parents carry their crying babies steadily for about five minutes – with few abrupt movements – and then sit with them while they sleep for eight minutes before putting them in their beds.

This may not work for every baby and is unlikely to work in every situation like, for example, if your baby is experiencing discomfort, but it’s absolutely worth a try if they’re being fussy.

Dr Kumi said: ‘We are developing a “baby-tech” wearable device with which parents can see the physiological states of their babies on their smartphones in real-time.

‘Like science-based fitness training, we can do science-based parenting with these advances, and hopefully help babies to sleep and reduce parental stress caused by excessive infant crying.’

She added: ‘For many, we intuitively parent and listen to other people’s advice on parenting without testing the methods with rigorous science.

‘But we need science to understand a baby’s behaviours because they’re much more complex and diverse than we thought.’

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