What’s the best way to calm a crying baby?

Summary: The “transport response” method of carrying a crying baby for a few minutes and then sitting with the child helps reduce crying and heart rate.


New research published in Current Biology on September 13 shows the importance of carrying crying infants rather than simply holding them.

Led by Kumi Kuroda at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science (CBS) in Japan, the study describes how crying babies are physiologically affected by being held, carried and laid down.

The data reveals a simple, but free and effective technique that increases the chance that a crying infant will settle down and sleep in bed.

Most parents know the occasional frustration and discomfort of dealing with a crying baby. For some, it is a regular occurrence that interferes with the baby’s ability to sleep and stresses the parents.

What can you do in this situation?

Kuroda and her team found a “transport response” in distressed mouse pups and human babies, in which infants calm down when carried by their mothers. The response is a complex series of parallel biological processes that result in less crying and lower heart rates, which helps parents transport the infants.

The new study used a baby ECG machine and video cameras to systematically compare changes in heart rate and behavior while mothers performed activities commonly used to calm infants, including carrying, being pushed in a stroller and being held while sitting.

Data during these activities were recorded from babies who were crying, awake and calm, or asleep. At each heartbeat, behavior was scored as sleeping, alert, or crying and scored accordingly. This allowed the researchers to track changes in both behavior and physiology with sub-second accuracy.

The experiment led to some important findings. First, as Kuroda explains, “Walking for five minutes promoted sleep, but only in crying infants. Surprisingly, this effect was absent when babies were already quiet.”

Among the babies studied, all had stopped crying and had a reduced heart rate by the end of the five-minute walk, and about half were asleep. Second, sitting and holding crying babies was not comforting; Heart rate tended to increase and crying continued.

Measuring the heartbeat allowed the researchers to analyze the effect of each micro-activity when handling infants. The researchers found that the babies were extremely sensitive to all of their mothers’ movements.

For example, heart rate increased when mothers turned around or stopped walking. The most significant event that disturbed the sleeping infants happened just as they were being separated from their mothers.

Every mother has experienced the disappointment when a finally sleeping baby wakes up after lying down. The researchers localized the problem using the heartbeat data. “Although we didn’t predict it,” says Kuroda, “the key parameter for successful laying down of sleeping infants was the latency to sleep onset.”

This shows a cartoon of a person walking with a baby in their arms
Based on the “transport response,” in which distressed animals calm down when carried, the behavioral and physiological data in this study showed that babies who cry a lot walk about 5 minutes and then sit around them for about 8 minutes lie down to calm down and put them to sleep. Note that sitting and holding a crying baby never calmed her down and her heart rate went up. Putting babies to sleep immediately after walking often resulted in higher heart rates and waking babies up. Photo credit: RIKEN

Babies often woke up when laid down before they had slept for about 8 minutes. Therefore, based on the data, Kuroda recommends that when babies cry too much and cannot sleep, mothers should carry them quietly for about 5 minutes with few abrupt movements, followed by sitting for about 8 minutes before laying them down to sleep.

While this procedure doesn’t address why some babies cry excessively and are unable to sleep, it offers an immediate solution that can help parents of newborns. Additionally, researchers recognize the usefulness of heart rate data in the age of wearable fitness equipment.

“We are developing a wearable ‘Baby-Tech’ device that will allow parents to see the real-time physiological status of their babies on their smartphones,” says Kuroda.

“As with science-based fitness training, these advances will allow us to practice science-based parenting and hopefully help babies fall asleep and reduce parental stress caused by excessive infant crying.”

About this news from parenting research

Author: Adam Phillips
Contact: Adam Phillips – THE KINGDOM
Picture: The image is credited to RIKEN

Original research: Open access.
A method of calming and promoting sleep in crying infants using the transport response‘ by Ohmura et al. Current Biology

See also

This shows a large black hole surrounded by small black dots on a white background


A method of calming and promoting sleep in crying infants using the transport response


  • Infant cries are muffled by transport, but not by motionless holding
  • 5-minute transport promotes sleep for crying infants even during the day
  • Placing sleeping infants in a crib interrupts or deepens the infant’s sleep
  • Laying down 5 to 8 minutes after falling asleep tends to prevent the infant from waking


About 20-30% of infants cry excessively and have trouble sleeping for no apparent reason, causing distress to parents and, in a small number of cases, even triggering impulsive child abuse.

While several sleep training methods or parent education programs can provide long-term improvement in infant crying and sleep problems, there is still no definitive recommendation for on-site behavioral interventions.

We have previously reported that brief infant carrying transiently reduces infant crying via the transport response, a coordinated series of vagal activation and behavioral calming that is conserved in mammals with sinuses.

In this study, we unraveled complex infant responses to maternal holding and transport by combining subsecond event-related physiological analysis with dynamic mother-infant interactions. Infant crying was muffled by either mother-carrying or reciprocation by a moving bed, but not by mother-holding.

Five-minute wearing promoted daytime sleep in crying infants when these infants were normally awake, but not in non-crying infants. Maternal placement of sleeping infants in a crib had bimodal effects, either interrupting or deepening the infants’ sleep.

During doffing, sleeping infants were most consistently alarmed by the initiation of maternal detachment and then reassured in a successful doffing after maternal detachment was complete. Finally, the sleep outcome after lying down was associated with the duration of sleep before the onset of lying down.

These data suggest a “5-minute carry, 5- to 8-minute sit” regimen to treat infant crying and sleep disorders, which should be further substantiated in future studies.

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