Monday, February 10, 2014

Carrying your Baby whilst Walking to Soothe and Calm

By Sue Heron Peadiatric Physiotherapist and Tatty Bumpkin Trainer

The posture for this week in Baby Bumpkin classes is Dolphin. This pose involves carers walking in a relaxed way with their baby (the relaxed walk). A recent study in Japan highlights the importance of just picking your baby up in your arms and taking them for a short walk round the room. Indeed, this may be the best way to calm them.

Baby Bumpkin Dolphin Pose

Researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan (1) have discovered that young infants tend to ‘cooperate’ with their carers whilst they are being carried i.e. infants under 6 months, whist being 'walked and carried' will tend to:
  • Stop crying
  • Move less
  • Lower their heart rate
It seems that the sensations of being held and feeling the movement of their carers against their bodies conbine to create a very effective soothing experience for the baby.

The researchers recruited 12 carers with infants between the age of 1- 6 months, setting  up each infant with a monitor so they could record their heart beat.

The carers were then asked to follow a sequence of moves with their baby for 30 secs at a time. These moves included:
  • Placing their baby in the crib
  • Holding their baby whilst sitting
  • Walking round with their baby
The research team then gathered the information for the awake babies for the period of time when they were being held and then carried. Their results showed that when the mothers stood up and started walking - their babies tended to:
  • Stop moving  their arms and legs so much and hold  themselves still
  • Stop crying
  • Lower their heart beat
Thinking that the lower infant heart rate might have been entirely due to the babies moving and crying less the researchers conducted further experiments and found that this was not the case. They concluded that the reduction in heart rate seemed to happen as a result of another neurological process.

Interestingly the researchers compared the results of these investigations on infant human behaviour whilst being carried with the behaviour of baby mice whilst they were being carried by their mothers. They noted that the baby mice also:

  • Stopped moving
  • Reduced their squeaks
  • Reduced their heart beats
when they were being carried by their mothers!
Armed with this data the researchers went on to look at the role of the senses and areas of the brain in this ‘calm behaviour’ of the 'carried'  baby mice. They concluded that:

  • The sense of touch was important – stimulation of this sense seemed to cause the mice to become still
  • Stimulation of the proprioceptive sense (sense of body awareness) was also important in calming the mice
  • The brain region called the cerebellum was important in orchestrating the calm response.
In addition, the researchers confirmed that this calm response of the baby mice when being carried by their mother also helped the mother i.e. the mother mice were able to carry their baby’s much more effectively and quickly when their babies were still.  Hence the researchers reckoned that this calm response by the infant mice has a role both in survival and in strengthening the bond between the mother and baby. 

In their conclusion the team highlighted that:

  • A short period of carrying (30 secs) could have a calming effect on a young baby following a brief irritation i.e. after being vaccinated or hearing a frightening noise
  • If a baby does carry on crying after the 30 sec walk it is likely that there is a greater underlying cause to their discomfort i.e. the baby is hungry or in pain
  • Knowledge of this soothing effect of being carried whilst being walked by the carer on an infant would be helpful for carers. It would give parents a first line of response when their baby becomes upset for no obvious reason- reducing levels of frustration all round!
  • Parents and professionals could use this calming behaviour, or the lack of it, as an early warning sign that the infant might have issues with being able to process their senses accurately. Children who are later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders often have sensory processing difficulties .

1. Esposito, G. Yoshida, S, et al. Infant Calming by Carrying in Humans and Mice.  Current Biology 2013: vol 23: pp 739–745

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