New research suggests that a quick 5 minute walk followed by 8 minutes of quiet holding can induce a state of calm in babies. For years, parents have tried different modalities and tricks to calm their infants. Turns out, a little movement is all they need.
A study conducted at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science (CBS) in Wako, Japan, suggests the brief walk-and-hold method over all else. After the 13 minutes is up, parents can lay their infants back down for sleep.
To arrive at the 5-minute approach, the Japanese scientists tested 21 crying infants ranging from 2 weeks old to 7 months old. These methods included the mother holding the baby while walking, the mother holding the baby while standing, rocking the baby in a cot, and laying the baby down in a still crib.
The babies loved movement the most. The optimal time frame for movement was found after each method was tested for varying durations to see how the babies’ responses differed. Almost half (46%) of the infants calmed any fussiness and fell asleep within 5 minutes of being walked around; another 18% were asleep 1 minute later.
However, over 33% of babies who had calmed from walking immediately woke up if laid in a still crib. “I expected that the slowness and gentleness of laydown of sleeping infants [would] increase the success rate, but this hypothesis was not supported,” Dr. Kumi Kuroda, PhD, a researcher and co-author of the study, told Healthline.
The key to putting down an infant, it seems, is to induce a deep enough sleep to bypass the child’s “fall reflex.” This level of sleep was easiest achieved after a few minutes of holding following the initial walk.
Soothing a crying baby is likely linked to reconnecting the child to the mother’s movement during pregnancy
“Babies have a startle reflex called ‘the Moro reflex’, [which] is activated as they are lowered down,” Rosey Davidson, an infant sleep consultant in London, U.K., said. “If you can put them down when they are in a deep sleep, this is less likely to happen.”
For the Japanese study, an electrocardiogram monitored the babies’ heart rates during movement, and a similar response was found to other mammals’ heart rates during transport. Their heart rates slowed after being walked around and rose when moved away from the mother’s body.
“We’ve known as a species for a very long time that one of the ways we can soothe our children includes carrying them,” Dr. David Berger, a board certified pediatrician in Tampa, FL, said.
Dr. Amy Baxter, CEO and chief medical officer of Pain Care Labs and pediatric emergency physician in Atlanta, GA, said the baby’s physiological response relates to brain development outside of the womb.
“They’re no longer experiencing the constant swaddling and background sounds of another human,” Dr. Baxter said. “When the brain’s safety system is in overdrive, the amygdala, which causes fear, is triggered. Most likely what is happening is that infants are accustomed to the walking and movement of the mother. Without it, they have higher arousal — and this is perhaps the reason it takes 5 minutes [for] the infant amygdala to calm down.”
If you want to try the walking technique, make sure the baby is held close to the body and don’t stop walking for the 5 minute duration. Keep the baby’s head as still as possible, and use a clock — don’t just estimate the time you’ve been walking. Once the walk is over, hold the baby still for the 8 minutes, at which point he/she should be ready for sleep.