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The New 5-Minute Trick for Getting a Crying Baby Back To Sleep

Illustration showing baby crying, parent walking with baby, then holding baby, then a sleeping baby

Verywell / Zoe Hansen

Key Takeaways

  • A new study out of Japan suggests the best way to soothe a crying baby back to sleep is by walking with the child for five minutes.
  • For some parents who struggle with getting their babies back to sleep in the middle of the night, this study may provide an alternative to the traditional “cry it out” method.
  • It’s important to note, every baby's needs are individual and what works for one may not work for all.

Any new parent knows this struggle all too well: You've fallen asleep, only to be awoken by the sound of your baby crying over the monitor. Completely exhausted, you've probably tried nearly everything from bouncing and rocking to swaying, singing, and swaddling.

While popular research dictates that 'crying it out' and letting the baby soothe themselves on their own is a viable method, a new study published on September 13, 2022, suggests another way to get your infant to stop crying. The study in the journal Current Biology introduces a method "to soothe and promote sleep" using what they call the transport response. It aims to help parents put their children back to bed in a more effective way.

The "Trick" To Getting a Crying Baby Back To Sleep

According to the study, carrying the baby and walking around for five minutes significantly increases the chance of the child falling asleep. The only caveat is making sure the caregiver then sits with them and waits an additional five to eight minutes before putting the baby in their bed. Researchers say this makes them less likely to wake up again.

The study involved 21 mothers and babies up to 7 months old. Researchers used electrocardiograms and video cameras to compare changes in the infants' heart rates and behaviors as the mothers tried four different ways to get their babies back to sleep. The different methods were: carrying the infant and walking, holding them while seated, placing the baby in a cot, and pushing a baby in a stroller. After this, the babies' behaviors—including whether they were asleep, alert, or crying—were matched with their heart rate data.

The results showed carrying and walking was the most effective way to stop the crying, with all of the babies quieting down, and 45.5% of them falling asleep within five minutes. Furthermore, 18.2% of the babies were awake when they stopped crying but fell asleep during the following minute as the mothers held them while seated. According to the researchers, this means the babies’ initial shallow sleep stabilizes after only a few minutes.

Based on this research, the “trick” to getting a crying baby back to sleep is as simple as walking with them for five minutes, as this produces a soothing effect especially since they are close to their caregiver. But they say, putting a baby immediately in their bassinet or crib after they fall asleep interrupts them. Instead, they suggest waiting five to eight minutes (until the baby is in a deep sleep) to put them down.

According to Lisa Hoang, MD, a pediatrician with Providence Mission Hospital, this study shows a more objective view of what pediatricians already believe to be true—that walking with a baby actually mimics the motion that's felt in utero.

"This is a very interesting study that investigates and validates behavior that a lot of moms, even new moms, do naturally," Dr. Hoang says. "It makes sense that the findings showed carrying a crying infant while walking helps to soothe them. This is a motion that babies...often find comforting, and measuring objective data like heart rate outside the womb validates this." Close contact with the mother also mimics the feeling babies get in utero, adds Dr. Hoang.

What Methods Didn't Work For Infant Sleep?

We all know not every child is the same. What works for one baby may not work for another.

The researchers found the other three methods used in the study were not as effective as holding the baby while walking. They say this is because when babies are asleep, they have a slow heartbeat. When they are startled or begin to cry, their heartbeat speeds up. Since the babies who woke up had fast heartbeats, walking with the babies slowed their heartbeat down enough to promote sleep.

Researchers outlined reasons why the babies were mostly soothed when their mothers were holding them and walking. They say babies became the most alert when they lose physical contact with their mother’s body—not when their back has touched the bed. For example moving the baby in a stroller, without contact with the mother’s body, would actually increase the baby’s alertness, as would keeping the baby alone in their bed.

The reason sitting with the mother—even though the baby still has contact with the mother’s body—wasn’t as effective was because the movement was the defining factor in slowing down the baby’s heartbeat. The physical contact with the mother was what calmed the babies down. Since walking with the baby had both these actions it was the most effective method to get babies to sleep.

Should I Use the Cry It Out Method To Get My Baby To Sleep?

While this study didn’t compare the cry-it-out method to the other methods to get the baby to fall asleep, a 2016 study found that the method does work. Advocates of crying it out swear by it, and after the first initial hurdle, babies learn to sleep better on their own. According to that study, the babies in the cry-it-out group slept 20 minutes longer than the other babies. It could be a viable option for you if you want to try it and don’t mind having your baby cry for a bit before you go to soothe them.

I recommend using a cry it out routine when parents are so stressed out and at the end of their rope that they need to do something quickly (that will work within four or three days) to keep their sanity and avoid serious accidents.

HARVEY KARP, MD FAAP


Pediatrician and child development expert Harvey Karp, MD FAAP, however, says even though studies suggest this method works, it may not be the most effective method around. “I recommend using a cry-it-out routine when parents are so stressed out and at the end of their rope that they need to do something quickly (that will work within four or three days) to keep their sanity and avoid serious accidents,” he says.

“Otherwise, it's important for parents to realize that each baby is different and that what might work for one baby may not work for another. It’s important for [parents] to research and try different methods to see what works best for them,” Dr. Karp adds.

Other Suggestions To Help Your Baby Sleep

Aside from the cry-it-out method and the other suggestions used in the study, Dr. Karp also recommends a technique that uses a combination of white noise and movement to help lull your baby to sleep. 

“In the end, we really want to teach babies to self-soothe, so that when they inevitably wake in the middle of the night, they can settle back down without help,” he says. “I recommend a form of gentle sleep training I call the ‘wake and sleep’ method."

According to Dr. Karp, the 'wake and sleep' method uses the white noise and the rocking to lull your baby to sleep. "But when you put your baby in their bed, you gently rouse them with a soft tickle. They’ll open their eyes and a few seconds later, will close them and slide back into sleep," Dr. Karp explains. "I know that waking a sleeping baby seems ludicrous, but those few seconds of drowsy waking teaches your baby that they’re capable of self-soothing and sleeping through the night!”

Another tried and true method parents swear by is the four S's: swaddling, side sleeping, shushing, and swinging. A 2019 study found that utilizing the four S’s helped babies sleep longer on average, and also encouraged self-regulating behaviors.

What This Means For You

While this study offers a new way for parents to help their babies fall asleep, it all boils down to what your baby responds the most to, as well as what you’re more comfortable utilizing as a whole. The cry-it-out method, the four S method, and the walking with baby method could all be used at various intervals in your baby-soothing journey. Then you can see what your baby best responds to.

It’s also important to note that this study was done on only 21 mothers, so further research might be needed to be able to tell how effective the walking with baby method really is overall. If you have any questions about your baby's sleeping habits, make sure to reach out to their pediatrician.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Bilgin A, Wolke D. Parental use of ‘cry it out’ in infants: no adverse effects on attachment and behavioural development at 18 monthsJ Child Psychol Psychiatr. 2020;61(11):1184-1193. doi:10.1111/jcpp.13223

  3. Gradisar M, Jackson K, Spurrier NJ, et al. Behavioral interventions for infant sleep problems: a randomized controlled trialPediatrics. 2016;137(6):e20151486. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-1486

  4. Rosier JG, Cassels T. From “crying expands the lungs” to “you’re going to spoil that baby”: how the cry-it-out method became authoritative knowledgeJournal of Family Issues. 2021;42(7):1516-1535. doi:10.1177/0192513X20949891

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By Nikhita Mahtani
Nikhita Mahtani is a contributing writer with extensive experience in parenting, health, and wellness. She primarily uses her contacts in the mental health and medical industry to help readers deal with stress and burnout, prejudices or racial bias—especially in the parenting space, and the mind-body connection.