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“Walk, Wait and Cuddle” To Soothe Your Baby

A new study has surprised scientists and parents alike by revealing that there may be a more effective way to soothe upset babies than using traditional methods.

Many new parents, when at a loss with what to do with a screaming baby, will no doubt turn to Professor Google and learn about techniques such as controlled crying, rocking side to side and gentle shushing. However, a new study from Japan has revealed that these methods may not be as effective as the walk, hold and wait approach.

The small study at RIKEN Center for Brain Science compared a number of different soothing methods. The findings showed the most effective approach was to walk around with baby, and then sit down and cuddle the infant for another five-to-eight minutes before putting them down to sleep.

The experiment, reported in Current Biology, involved 21 mums – and their babies (aged around three months). The mums adopted four different approaches designed to soothe a distressed baby:

  • mum walking and holding baby.
  • mum sitting and holding baby.
  • baby lying in a still crib.
  • baby being rocked in a cot.

The results of the experiment revealed that when the mums slowly walked around while carrying their baby (known as the “transport stage”), the babies started to calm down and their heart rates slowed within 30 seconds. A similar response was identified when the babies were placed in the rocking cot. However, the same effects were not found when the baby was placed in a still crib or when the mums sat still and held the babies.

illustration of a woman walking with baby and then sitting and holding baby

The study found that the walking motion, whilst also holding baby close, soothed the distressed infant and helped them to fall asleep more easily. The sitting and cuddling time of five-to-eight minutes was also considered a critical window for two reasons. Firstly, researchers found that this window of time meant baby could move from lighter sleep to deep sleep. And secondly, as a result of being a state of deep sleep, baby was less likely to wake up when being laid down in the cot.

The results are particularly interesting because they suggest that the maternal hold may not always be enough on its own to soothe a distressed baby. Instead, the study highlights that maternal contact and motion are both important in helping to soothe baby. Researchers said this approach actually closely mimics the same soothing technique used by animals in the wild. Many will pick up their offspring and move them around to help them return to sleep.

The other point to note from the experiment is that the babies were generally soothed within15 minutes of the technique being used. This may be a helpful indicator for parents when faced with the dreaded night wake-ups to know that they could return to sleep after a relatively short window of time. However, before you get too excited we should highlight again that this was a very small study and more research is still to be undertaken.

Whilst the outcome of the research is interesting and could be helpful for parents, there are lots of different techniques that can be used to help soothe a distressed baby. What might work for some parents, may not work for you and your baby – and that’s OK. The most effective strategy is to get to know your baby and try a few techniques to find what works best for you.

If you’re really struggling to figure out why baby is crying, Matthew McConaughey has these wise words to share: “They eat, they crap, they sleep, and if they’re crying, they need to do one of the three and they’re having trouble doing it. Real simple.”

However, if Matthew’s advice doesn’t quite do it for you and you’re still finding it really difficult to soothe your baby, then don’t delay and get help ASAP. There is plenty of support available at Cry-sis helpline and from the National Childbirth Trust: soothing a crying baby.

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