"Rock-a-bye baby" is one of those timeless lullabies you sing while you gently rock your baby to calm them. Luckily, it's not limited to scary, fragile, tree tops on windy days, but can be an anywhere, anytime solution to put your little one to sleep. So why does rocking your baby to sleep work?
One of the most natural reactions you have when seeing your crying baby is to pick them up in your arms, and gently rock them — it usually seems to work and it seems like a built-in reaction, almost instinctual. It's no wonder that the baby rocking (sounds so cool) industry is so big and successful. From baby swings, to baby bouncers, and rocking chairs for moms, the pursuit for that gentle calming movement is huge.
According to a 2013 Japanese study published in Current Biology, researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Saitama found that from baby mice to human babies, most mammalian infants calm when they are carried by their mothers. Apparently the soothing effect happens when the mother walks around with the baby, providing that gentle movement, versus standing still in one place.
The study explained that when a mother carries her baby, a calming reaction is triggered by a combination of cardiac, motor, and central regulations in the body and brain. They noted that gently rocking or carrying around an infant can slow their heart rate and activate movement detectors in their nervous system, which detects their spacial position and sense of body movement.
The researchers found that carrying or rocking a baby to calm them is a natural and beneficial reaction of their sensory and motor systems, and suggested that ignoring those needs could be unhealthy. They concluded that their findings could help prevent child abuse, including methods that prolong episodes of inconsolable crying, by helping parents understand their babies' natural, neurological reactions.
The calming effect that rocking has is a built-in, natural response brought on by your baby's inner developmental systems. It's crazy how something so complex can feel so simple and good. Rocking a baby, and avoiding tree tops, can help calm down your baby, cradle and all.