A Five-Minute Walk: The Best Way To Soothe A Crying Baby


Parents with a new baby are no strangers to nighttimes disrupted by crying. It can be quite a frustrating time for parents when their infants cry excessively and refuse to sleep. Although many parenting books and articles have outlined several ways to soothe crying infants, new research has proposed another method.

A study from the RIKEN Center for Brain Science (CBS) in Wako, Japan, published in the journal Current BiologyTrusted Source, has suggested the best way to stop a baby from crying without special gadgets or skills. Instead, researchers stated that parents should carry their baby while walking for 5 minutes, then hold them still for 5 to 8 minutes before laying them back down.

The researchers have been studying the transport response, an innate reaction seen in many altricial mammals, and in this study, they unraveled the complex infant responses to maternal holding and transport by combining subsecond-scale, event-locked physiological analyses with dynamic mother-infant interactions.

Discovering The Best Way To Calm A Crying Baby

The study’s researchers have long been studying the transport response, an innate reaction seen in many altricial mammals — those whose young are immature and unable to care for themselves, including mice, dogs, monkeys, and humans. 

They observed that the young become docile and their heart rates slow when carried by their mother, an effect called the “transport response.” In their new study, the researchers aimed to compare the effects of the transport response with other conditions like motionless maternal holding or rocking and determine if the effects last with longer carrying in human infants.

The study compared 21 infants’ responses under four conditions: 

  • being held by their walking mothers, 
  • held by their sitting mothers, 
  • lying in a still crib, 
  • or lying in a rocking cot. 

Based on their analysis, the researchers were able to arrive at the following findings:

  • Babies calm down the most within 30 seconds when they are carried around within — either in their mothers’ arms or in a rocking cot.
  • Almost half or 46 percent of the infants were asleep within 5 minutes of being walked around, and a further 18 percent were asleep 1 minute later.
  • Over one-third of the infants were awake within 20 seconds when they were immediately laid into their cribs after being soothed to sleep by walking.
  • Babies held longer for around 3 to 8 minutes after being moved were likelier to stay asleep after being laid down in their crib.

The study’s findings suggest that holding a baby alone might not be enough to soothe crying infants, as opposed to the traditional assumption that maternal holding reduces infant distress. Also, the movement has calming effects, possibly activating a baby’s transport response. 

Based on their findings, the researchers recommended a method for soothing and promoting sleep in crying infants: “5-min carrying, 5- to 8-min sitting before bed.”

How to Effectively Use The 5-minute Walking Technique

The researchers shared the following guidance on effectively using the walking-holding-laying technique:

  • Make sure the baby is held close to the body.
  • The 5 minutes of walking should be at a steady pace without any sudden turns or stops.
  • Keep the baby’s head secured to ensure it doesn’t move about.
  • Keep track of the time using a clock instead of merely guessing.
  • Don’t pause your walk to see if the infant is sleepy.
  • If the baby continues to cry after 5 minutes, you may continue walking for another 5 and stop after 10 minutes in total.

It is also recommended for parents to sit and hold babies longer for another five to eight minutes after carrying and walking them within five minutes before putting them to bed. 

The study provided evidence that infant transport significantly reduces crying and potentially promotes sleep and a new behavioral protocol. However, it is still crucial to note that unlike most behavioral interventions for infant sleep difficulties, the said technique does not affect infant sleep in the long term and would require further studies to verify. But what is evident now is how it can provide an immediate solution for infant crying and may be helpful, especially when regular sleep routines, breastfeeding, or pacifiers are not effective or available.

Journal Reference

Ohmura, N., Okuma, L., Truzzi, A., Shinozuka, K., Saito, A., Yokota, S., Bizzego, A., Miyazawa, E., Shimizu, M., Esposito, G., & Kuroda, K. O. (2022). A method to soothe and promote sleep in crying infants utilizing the transport response. Current Biology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.041 

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