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What’s the best way to soothe a crying baby? – Neuroscience News

Summary: Using the “carry response” method of carrying a crying baby for a few minutes and then sitting with the child helps reduce crying and heart rate.


New research published in Current biology September 13 demonstrates the importance of carrying crying babies rather than just holding them.

Led by Kumi Kuroda at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science (CBS) in Japan, the study details how crying babies are physiologically affected by being held, carried and laid down.

The data provides a simple yet free and effective technique that increases the odds of getting a crying baby to calm down and sleep in bed.

Most parents know the occasional frustration and discomfort of dealing with a crying baby. For some, this is a regular occurrence that affects the baby’s ability to sleep and stresses parents.

What can you do in this situation?

Kuroda and his team found a “carrying response” in distressed mouse pups and human babies in which the infants calm down when carried by their mothers. The answer is a complex series of parallel biological processes that result in reduced crying and heart rates, which helps parents carry infants.

The new study used an infant ECG machine and video cameras to systematically compare changes in heart rate and behavior when mothers performed activities commonly used to calm infants, including carrying, being pushed in a stroller and holding in position. seated.

Data during these activities was recorded from babies who were crying, awake and calm, or sleeping. At each heartbeat, behavior was assessed as sleepy, alert, or crying, and scored accordingly. This way, the researchers were able to track changes in behavior and physiology with sub-second precision.

The experiment led to some important discoveries. First, as Kuroda explains, “Walking for five minutes promotes sleep, but only for crying infants. Surprisingly, this effect was absent when the babies were already calm before.

Of the babies studied, all had stopped crying by the end of the five-minute walk and had a reduced heart rate, and about half were sleeping. Second, sitting and holding crying babies was not soothing; the heart rate tended to increase and the crying persisted.

Measuring heart rate allowed researchers to dissect the effect of each micro-activity when handling infants. The researchers found that the babies were extremely sensitive to all of their mother’s movements.

For example, heart rate increased when mothers rolled over or stopped walking. The most significant event that disturbed the sleeping infants happened just as they separated from their mothers.

All mothers have experienced the disappointment of seeing a sleeping baby wake up after being put to bed. The researchers identified the problem using heart rate data. “Although we didn’t predict it,” Kuroda explains, “the key parameter for successful elongation of sleeping infants was latency from sleep onset.”

This shows a cartoon of a person walking with a baby in their arms
Based on the “carry response” in which distressed animals calm down when carried, behavioral and physiological data from this study showed that when babies cry a lot, walking for about 5 minutes and then sitting for about 8 minutes should help calm them down. down and put them to sleep. Note that sitting and holding a crying baby never calmed them down and heart rates increased. Putting babies to sleep immediately after walking often resulted in a racing heartbeat and waking babies up. 1 credit

Babies often woke up if they were put to bed before they had slept about 8 minutes. So, based on the data, Kuroda recommends that when babies cry too much and can’t sleep, mothers should wear them regularly for about 5 minutes with some jerking motions, followed by about 8 minutes of sitting up before laying them down. to sleep.

Although this procedure does not explain why some babies cry excessively and cannot sleep, it offers an immediate solution that can help parents of newborns. Additionally, researchers recognize the usefulness of heart rate data in the era of wearable fitness devices.

“We are developing a portable ‘baby-tech’ device with which parents can see the physiological states of their babies on their smartphones in real time,” Kuroda explains.

“Like science-based physical training, we can do science-based parenting with these advances and hopefully help babies sleep and reduce parenting stress caused by excessive infant crying.”

About This Parenting Research News

Author: Adam Phillips
Contact: Adam Phillips – THE KINGDOM
Image: Image is credited to RIKEN

Original research: Free access.
“A method to soothe and promote sleep in crying infants using the transport response” by Ohmura et al. Current biology

See also

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A method to soothe and promote sleep in crying infants using the transport response

Strong points

  • Infant cries are attenuated by carrying, but not by being held still
  • 5-minute transport promotes sleep for crying infants even during the day
  • Lying sleeping infants in a crib interrupts or deepens infant sleep
  • Lengthening 5 to 8 min after onset of sleep tends to prevent infant awakening


About 20-30% of infants cry excessively and have difficulty sleeping for no apparent reason, causing parental stress and even triggering impulsive child abuse in a small number of cases.

Although several sleep training methods or parent education programs may provide long-term improvement in infant crying and sleep problems, there is as yet no conclusive recommendation for on-site behavioral interventions.

Previously, we reported that brief infant carrying transiently reduced infant crying via the transport response, a coordinated set of vagal activation and behavioral calming conserved in altricial mammals.

In this study, we unraveled infant’s complex responses to maternal holding and carrying by combining sub-second scale and event-locked physiological analyzes with dynamic mother-infant interactions. Infant cries were attenuated either by maternal carrying or by the back and forth motion provided by a moving bed, but not by maternal holding.

The five-minute carry promoted sleep for infants who cried even during the day when those infants were usually awake, but not for infants who did not cry. Maternal lengthening of infants asleep in bed exerted bimodal effects, interrupting or deepening infant sleep.

During lengthening, sleeping infants were most consistently alerted by the initiation of maternal detachment and then calmed after the completion of maternal detachment during successful lengthening. Finally, the sleep outcome after bedtime was associated with the duration of sleep before the start of bedtime.

These data suggest a “5 minute carry, 5 to 8 minute sit” regimen for addressing infant crying and sleep difficulties, which should be further substantiated in future studies.

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