As any parent of a child knows, there is no magical way to calm a baby’s crying at night, let alone fall asleep right afterward. But a small study highlights a simple method that may prove more effective than others. Researchers at the Riken Center for Brain Science in Saitama, Japan, conducted a series of experiments to find out which approach was most useful for quickly calming crying babies. After filming the parents cuddling their babies, carrying them, cradling them in a stroller and laying them down, the latter managed to devise an optimal strategy, at least the one that proved to be valid, as the review explains. Current biology.“ Many parents suffer from babies who cry at night. explains lead author of the study, Kumi Kuroda. ” This is a problem, especially for inexperienced parents, which can lead to parental stress and child abuse in a small number of cases. “
This new study used cardiac monitors to monitor the electrical activity of the heart of 21 babies and video cameras to systematically compare their changes in heart rate and behavior when mothers performed four gestures commonly used to calm babies: being held by the mother who walking, being held by the mother sitting and lying on a rocking cradle or stationary. Data during these activities was recorded regardless of whether the baby was crying, awake, calm, or asleep. In this way, the researchers were able to follow changes in behavior and physiology with very high accuracy. The experiment led to some important discoveries and firstly, as Kumi Kuroda explains, “Walking for five minutes promotes sleep, but only for crying babies. Surprisingly, this effect was absent when children were already calm before. “
The next challenge: getting the sleeping baby to bed without waking him up
It also turns out that of the children studied, all had stopped crying at the end of a five-minute walk and had a reduced heart rate within 30 seconds and about half were asleep. Sitting and holding crying babies, on the other hand, did not reassure them: the heartbeat tended to increase and the crying persisted. Measuring heart rate allowed the researchers to analyze the effect of each gesture when manipulating the children. It turned out that the babies were extremely sensitive to all the movements of the mother. For example, heart rate increased when mothers stopped walking. That’s why the most likely time to wake sleeping babies within seconds of the 5-minute walk was when they were separated from their mothers to lie down. The causes of the phenomenon were re-identified using heart rate data.
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The study therefore indicates that children’s heart rates sometimes increased enough to wake them up when physical contact with the parent was broken and that trying to lay them down more gently made no difference. ” Although we did not anticipate this, the key parameter for the successful coating of sleeping babies was the latency from the onset of sleep. Babies often woke up if they were put to bed before sleeping for 8 minutes. “, Adds Kumi Kuroda. Therefore, the science team recommends that mothers carry the crying baby and walk for 5 minutes without stopping or sudden changes in direction, then sit and hold it for five to eight minutes before putting it to bed. This protocol is therefore contrary to the popular approach of letting babies cry in bed until they fall asleep. While researchers expect the effects to be the same with the father, they don’t know if this method improves the baby’s sleep in the long term.
To explain the effectiveness of this “walk, sit, sleep” approach, the scientific team invokes the “transport response” hypothesis observed in nesting mammals. That is, animals whose young are unable to support themselves and are often transported and cared for by their mothers. Studies have shown that when transported in this way, young people become more docile: while each child is different, movement has calming effects, probably activating this “transport response”. ” For many, we parent intuitively and listen to other people’s advice on parenting without testing methods with rigorous science. But we need science to understand a child’s behaviors because they are much more complex and diverse than we thought. “, He concludes. Note that excessive crying in infants, also called infantile colic, affects an average of 20% of healthy babies.