The Trick Doctors Swear By To Stop A Baby's Crying

Crying is one way in which young babies communicate specific concerns that need addressing. These can include hunger, thirst, pain, discomfort, loneliness, tiredness, and more. 

In the first six weeks following birth, it is not unusual for infants to cry anywhere between two to three hours daily, according to Nemours KidsHealth. In fact, babies will cry most often up to 3 months of age.

In some cases, however, a baby may cry more frequently than what's considered normal and for no identifiable reason. Crying that exceeds three hours a day for more than three days each week over a period of three weeks or more can be indicative of colic

Researchers from a 2019 study published in PLoS ONE point out that as many as 20% of infants cry more than average. In addition to being distressing for the baby, the situation can also be significantly distressing for caregivers, placing them at an increased risk for parental exhaustion and depression, the authors state. 

When it comes to quieting a crying infant, some caregivers may find certain methods to be more effective than others.

Why is rocking so effective to stop a baby's crying?

Sometimes, a lukewarm bath, soft music, or a stroller ride can be effective at calming a fussy baby. In other cases, a baby may respond better to touch, such as back-rubbing or gentle rocking. 

In a 2013 study published in Current Biology, researchers found that carrying one's young elicited the greatest calming effects in both human babies and baby mice. For human babies, this meant being held by their mother while the mother was in continuous motion (walking), as opposed to sitting still. For baby mice, this soothing effect was observed in response to oral transportation by the mother. The research showed that babies' body movement, heart rate, and crying lessened in response to being carried. These study findings demonstrate an interconnectedness between central, motor, and cardiac responses in infants to motion-based carrying.

These kinds of studies may provide some insight as to why rocking can be an effective means of alleviating infant crying. After all, just like carrying, rocking is motion-based too. Rocking can also take different forms. Some caregivers may softly sway their babies from side to side, back and forth, or gently bounce their infant — such as when seated on a large exercise ball (via Healthline). But there may be another form of rocking that could also do the trick.

How to use The Hold to sooth a crying baby

A viral YouTube video has continued to make the rounds over the last several years. In this video, Dr. Robert Hamilton of Pacific Ocean Pediatrics in California outlines a unique, step-by-step rocking technique to help soothe a crying baby. "Viral" might even be an understatement, seeing as the video has amassed more than 58 million views and counting since it was first posted in 2015.

To follow Dr. Hamilton's technique, termed "The Hold," start by picking up the baby and rolling them over onto their side in your hands. Then, take one of the baby's arms and fold it over across their chest. Fold the remaining arm back across their initial arm. Next, using one of your hands to gently hold the baby's arms in place while simultaneously upholding their chin, use the palm of your free hand to support the baby's behind. Tilting the child at a 45-degree angle while keeping their head elevated, proceed to lightly rock the baby up and down, stir them in a circular motion or gently jostle the baby's bottom. Just remember to keep these motions fluid and seamless.

The science behind The Hold

In a shortened version of the video re-posted by the Science Channel, experts break down why this positioning works like a magic trick to soothe a fussy infant. In essence, it evokes sensations similar to those of being in the womb. To start, the cross-armed position over the baby's chest makes them feel snug and contained. In addition, the rocking motions are similar to those of floating in the amniotic fluid. Finally, slightly tipping the baby forward at an angle is effective in holding the child's focus. When horizontal, the ceiling is mostly what's in the baby's line of sight — perhaps not very interesting. Together, allowing the baby to get a good look at the world around them, along with simulating familiar womb-like sensations, this redirects the infant's attention away from crying and instead towards new and comforting stimuli. Dr. Hamilton adds in the original video that tilting the baby slightly forward also protects against the parent losing their grip on the child like they would if the baby were positioned upright and were to throw their head back.  

"That's a comforting position for a baby because you have to remember where they're coming from — a very tight womb — and they've been in that position for a long time," Dr. Hamilton told TODAY.

Will this trick work every time?

While there are no 100% guarantees, Dr. Hamilton has found that 90% of babies stop crying when rocked using "The Hold" technique (via TODAY). However, he notes that there are cases in which the method may not be effective or advisable, including for babies who are crying because they need to eat, are sick, or are more than 2 to 3 months old. After this time, they are no longer light enough to be supported in this position as they continue to grow and gain weight.

With over 11,000 comments on the video, Dr. Hamilton isn't the only person who sings the praises of "The Hold." One viewer commented on the Science Channel video saying that they, too, work in the medical field and have shared the magic of this technique with patients. "I'm an ER nurse and first-time parents often bring their fussy babies to the ER in the middle of the night thinking something is wrong with them," the viewer writes. "I love showing this to those parents and watching their faces when their baby magically stops crying. It almost always works!"

Support for caregivers

Not only can these kinds of techniques benefit an upset baby, but they can also support the mental health needs of new parents. As previously mentioned, researchers have noted that excessive crying in infants can be a risk factor for parental exhaustion, depression, as well as what's known as "shaken baby syndrome." The potentially-fatal condition occurs when a baby suffers brain damage due to being physically shaken, reports the Mayo Clinic.

To reduce the risk for such instances, it is important that systems be put in place to ensure parents have access to resources and support. Such resources available include crisis hotlines, parenting classes, and professional mental health counseling. A support system is also key, if available. Those who have the means or access may benefit from seeking childcare either professionally or through friends or family.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.