Rather than crawling back into bed in the wee hours after finally soothing a crying baby, sleep-deprived parents may want to check out the latest scientific literature on transporting mammals.
In an attempt to help those numbed by sleep loss, researchers conducted a series of experiments to find out which approach to crying babies best calms them.
After filming parents hugging their babies, carrying them, rocking them in their cradles and putting them to sleep, the scientists arrived at the optimal strategy, or at least the one that worked better than the others.
Writing in Current Biology, the team recommends that parents pick up a crying baby, walk with it for five minutes — without sudden stops or sudden changes in direction — and then sit down and hold it for five to eight minutes before putting it back down. down again.
“Excessive crying, especially at night, has been shown to be a major source of parental stress,” said Dr. Kumi Kuroda of the Riken Brain Science Center in Saitama, Japan. “This 15-minute or so method is worth trying before they start seriously worrying about what’s wrong with the baby.”
This information comes from studies of fragile mammals – those that are helpless at birth – such as cats, dogs, mice, squirrels and, especially, humans. Research shows that when their mothers carry them, the young become more docile, an effect called the “transportation response.” Because animals often move their young to escape imminent danger, the response may have evolved through increased offspring survival.
Researchers used video recordings and baby heart monitors to categorize four different approaches to soothing crying babies: holding the baby in a sitting position, placing the baby in a crib, holding while walking, rocking in a bassinet or similar. The crying only decreased when the babies moved, when they were rocked or carried. Sitting still with the child or putting him in the crib did not hold back the tears.
Researchers report that after wearing them for five minutes, all crying babies stopped crying and nearly half fell asleep. But even for those parents whose babies were settled, the danger was still far away. About a third of children woke up again almost as soon as they were put to sleep.
To find out what woke up the babies, scientists delved into the heart monitor data. It showed that the babies’ heart rates sometimes increased so much that they woke them when physical contact with their parents was broken. Trying to lay the baby down more gently made no difference. What has helped is sitting with the sleeping child for five to eight minutes after the walk to help them fall into a deeper sleep.
While this approach has worked better than others, scientists aren’t claiming it’s a magic bullet for sleep-deprived parents. The study of 21 infants in Japan and Italy is “exploratory,” with results that need to be verified in larger studies.
“Babies can have sleepless nights for very different reasons,” said Gianluca Esposito, a professor of developmental psychology and co-author of the paper at Trent University. “If the child has a stomach ache, I don’t think it will help. Unfortunately, I think many parents will still have sleepless nights. It’s part of being a parent.”
Professor Ian St James-Roberts, who studied methods of calming crying babies at UCL’s Institute of Education, said he hoped the team would continue their work. “There are other studies of the use of a parent carrier that generally show that babies cry less when they are carried,” he said. “It would be good to know if these new, more detailed guidelines are improving.”
“Crying is an important and normal method of communication for babies – crying gives your baby a voice,” said Dr Betty Hutcheon from the Brazelton Center UK. “Babies cry in different ways for different needs, such as tiredness, discomfort, hunger or wanting to be held and played with. Over time, parents learn what each cry means through trial and error. There is no single answer or strategy that will meet all the needs of crying babies at all times – different answers will be appropriate at different times.’