Here's How Parents Really Get Their Crying Babies Back To Sleep

A study revealed the optimum trick for soothing a baby. But, as parents attest, there's no one-size-fits-all approach.
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A study that revealed what many parents probably knew all along – the key to soothing an upset baby – has done the global rounds this past week.

The study, which was conducted with mums and their babies aged five months and younger, suggests that to soothe a crying infant, the optimal solution is to pick them up and carry them around for five minutes before sitting down and holding them for a further five to eight minutes.

Then – and only then – can you pop them back down in their cot and pray that they stay asleep.

According to previous studies, carrying babies while moving can reduce their crying – it’s something researchers have dubbed “the transport response” and has been witnessed among other baby mammals, too.

Carrying and moving about with a crying baby for five minutes helped to soothe them and encouraged them to drift off back to sleep, but it didn’t seem to help for babies that weren’t crying, according to the study from XXXX.

For lots of parents, the act of putting their babies down in the cot can be pretty stressful – some might liken it to carefully laying down a landmine. As soon as their tiny heads hit the sheet, many babies instantly wake up.

To that end, researchers suggested parents wait five to eight minutes for their baby to get into a suitably deep sleep to then pop them back in the cot and prevent them waking up again, although they did stress this isn’t a magic bullet.

Lead author Dr Kumi Kuroda, from the Riken Centre for Brain Science in Japan, told the Guardian: “Excessive crying, especially during the night-time, is shown to be a major source of parental stress. This roughly 15-minute method is worth trying before they start seriously worrying about what’s wrong with the baby.”

Of course, successfully settling a baby will vary greatly depending on their age, whether they’re teething or suffering from any other form of pain or sickness, whether you’ve burped them appropriately beforehand, how full their nappy is, whether they’re too hot or too cold, and hundreds of other variables.

If you’ve tried the study’s method and find it doesn’t work, here are some other tried and tested routines that parents swear by.

Feeding to sleep

For breastfeeding parents, The All Powerful Boob can often wield superpowers of epic proportions, helping to soothe little ones immediately while easing them back to sleep.

Nighttime breastmilk is high in the amino acid tryptophan, according to La Leche League, which helps babies make melatonin and sleep better. Just make sure you do some back pats before you lay them back down as otherwise you might have a gassy – and therefore wakeful – baby on your hands.

For those who are bottle feeding, the same can be true: a milk feed can help settle those hunger pangs and ease little ones back off to sleep.

One mum, Chrissie, tells HuffPost UK: “When mine was that young [under six months] we would keep the lights off, minimise talking, keep as calm and quiet as possible whilst changing his nappy, then feed, and cuddles before laying back down to sleep. He tended to fall asleep whilst drinking his milk at that age and the whole process would take about 15-20 minutes.”

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Gentle pats and back rubs

When milk isn’t involved, sometimes getting them back down can be as simple as picking them up, holding them and gently patting and/or rubbing their back. A bit of shushing never goes amiss either.

Responding to a question on what helps get her baby back to sleep via The Peanut app mum Deborah told HuffPost UK: “Feed to sleep, for sure. And if hubby gets a hold of him, just gentle patting or rubbing the back. He goes to sleep either way so it’s not like he really needs to eat any more. It’s more of a soothing thing at that point.”

The dummy

For many parents the humble dummy – or pacifier – can be a lifesaver when it comes to easing their baby’s cries and helping them settle back to sleep. It’s thought this is because the sucking action helps calm babies (it is like a rubber nipple, after all) and may even relieve pain.

Some research also suggests using a dummy when putting a baby down to sleep can reduce the risk of sudden infant death (SIDs), according to charity The Lullaby Trust.

If you’re breastfeeding, it’s generally advised you wait until you’re in a good feeding routine (around the four weeks mark) before using one.


While we definitely don’t condone medicating your baby to get them to sleep, there are occasions when they will be waking up because of pain (perhaps from teething) or illness.

What’s more, some babies become very unsettled after having their vaccines at eight, 12 and 16 weeks, so will require doses of baby-appropriate paracetamol to keep side effects at bay. Always read the label and remember that very young babies under two months old shouldn’t be given medicines like Calpol.

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Sometimes literally nothing works

Yes, that’s right. Sometimes, despite you trying every trick in the book, your baby might refuse to settle. Or they may drift off for short periods of time before getting upset and needing cuddles again. This is pretty common and usually nothing to worry about.

“Early weeks, it was a nappy change and breastfeeding,” says mum Rachel of her baby’s settling routine. But after a sleep regression at five months, it’s now a bit more challenging to get her daughter back down. The new “exhausting” routine involves feeding her baby on both breasts for an hour, multiple nappy changes and then “a super fun” nighttime walk around the block, singing lullabies. Only then do they get about five hours of undisturbed sleep.

If you’re worried about your baby’s nighttime activity and it’s really impacting yours and your baby’s sleep, don’t hesitate to speak to a health professional or sleep consultant who can help you get to the bottom of the issue.

Ultimately though, remember your baby will eventually become a child who will be able to settle themselves and those two-hourly early morning wake-ups will become a thing of distant memory.