Mastering the Art of Newborn Settling: Proven Strategies for Calm and Content Babies
Uncover the key to soothing your newborn to sleep with a 5-minute walk and a quick cuddle!
Parents navigating the challenges of getting a crying baby to sleep understand the struggle, and those with babies older than a few weeks may have observed that babies cry less when walked with than when kept still.
This intriguing insight into movement versus stillness in soothing newborns was scientifically validated in 2013. Researchers hypothesized that walking with a newborn activates their proprioception or vestibular system. The study prompts questions about whether human babies, similar to wild mammals, cease crying when carried, mirroring the quiet and compliant behavior observed in the wild, often triggered by a sense of danger.
In the study, researchers explored four different scenarios with babies aged 1 to 5 months, utilizing a small sample size of only 11 infants. Despite the limited sample, this study serves as valuable reinforcement for what parents and sleep experts witness daily, emphasizing the potential effectiveness of a brief walk and cuddle in settling a newborn to sleep.
The 4 situations they tested were
- Carrying baby and walking
- Holding baby while seated (in the video they don’t really appear to be cuddling, more body facing away from mum, not a very soothing hold in my opinion!
- Placing baby in cot
- Moving cot (rocking)
Even though 9 of the 11 babies were very young newborns, none of them were swaddled. In my opinion you would see different results in all 4 situations if you added in a swaddle.
The 2 situations which didn’t decrease crying were placing the baby in the cot, and sitting still holding the baby…
This is unsurprising.
An already crying newborn is unlikely to stop crying if you place them in a cot and walk away.
This is why no one recommends cry it out for new-borns. They don’t have the ability yet to self-settle, and there’s no stimulus in this situation to calm them. No swaddle, no white noise, no dummy, no movement…..
The holding, I was surprised didn’t calm the infants until I saw the hold. As mentioned, the infants are not chest to chest with their mother, more chest facing the ceiling, and limbs all flaying and no swaddle. With the mum not proving a pat or back rub or even a shhhh I can see why these infants also didn’t stop crying.
Swaddle a young baby, then cuddle, chest to chest, add in walking, or back patting or bum patting, and a shush and you’ll definitely have enough stimulus to stop a baby crying.
Back to the study…
Crying only decreased when the parents walked around holding the infant or rocked the cot.
In fact, after 5 minutes of being carried 46% of the infants in the study were asleep. 18% feel asleep within the final 1 minute. This sounds great… but remember there are only 11 infants in the study, so we are looking at 4-5 of them falling asleep.
After the babies were asleep the mothers in the study sat and held the babies stationary/still.
The researchers then tackled every parents’ conundrum at this point…
The baby is sleeping on you, how do you get them into the cot!?
1/3 woke up when placed in the cot…
Quick side note….again, none of these babies were swaddled and many were newborns. If you swaddle your newborn and hold/walk, cuddle to sleep, you will be 10x more likely to be able to transfer them to the cot without them waking up.
Read my newborn sleep research
This study used heart rate monitors to show that the biggest heart rate change and startle awake occurred when the baby was detached from the mother. Not when placed in the cot.
If the issue is detaching from the mother, wrapping/swaddling your baby is going to give you bang for your buck! The snug feeling of a swaddle is the same in your arms and in the cot, this again is why the transfer is so much more successful when parents swaddle their babies.
Of those babies who did manage to stay asleep when transferred to the cot, the heart rate monitors showed a lower HR in the cot than when they slept in their mothers’ arms while walking. These scientists say this shows the babies slept better in the cots, than being held. (or that they finally slept long enough that they entered a deeper phase of sleep which lowered their heart rates…)
But still 1/3 woke up!
How do we get that 1/3 to go from asleep in our arms to asleep in the cot?
Researchers found if the parents waiting around 8 minutes before transferring to the cot were the babies who stayed asleep in the cot. This is consistent with sleep research that shows infants initial light sleep stabilizes after a few minutes.
There you have it! A simple way to get your newborn to sleep!
Walking holding your baby for 5 minutes, followed by sitting or standing still for 8 minutes, then transfer to the cot. Pretty easy steps to take to get your baby to sleep!
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the Block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education.
Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.
Fix your newborns day night confusion