Almost every parent has been there. You’re sitting down, wrestling a fussy/screaming/crying infant in your arms – likely in tears yourself – and you have no freaking clue what to do. Then, without thinking, you stand up for a second, and lo and behold, your baby stops crying.
Sit back down, and the baby wails again. Stand up and they’re happy as a clam. It’s exhausting AF, but this is often the reality of having a fussy baby. (Thank the goddess for baby carriers, and other adults who can take over once in a while, amiright?)
If you have been in that exact situation with your baby, it turns out you are far from alone (and please, let’s reassure all new moms that this kind of thing is normal!). In fact, scientists have studied this very phenomenon, and not only is it well documented and observed as a thing, but there are even some theories as to why babies prefer their caretakers to be standing up and in motion.
The whole thing has to do with evolution, say the authors of a 2013 study in published in Current Biology. Basically, you’ve got to think of the earliest years of homo sapiens – you know, hanging out in the wild with all kinds of predators ready to grab us and turn us into dinner. If a mom held her baby standing up and in motion, it would buy her a few extra precious seconds in terms of fleeing the scene if an angry herd of lions came calling.
So babies evolved to STFU if their moms were standing up and in motion – and screaming their little heads off if their moms did anything else. The researchers call this STFU-ing the “calming response,” meaning that not only are babies quieter when they are held by an upright human, but their heart rates slow as well. They are mellowed out in body and mind.
“The infant calming response to maternal carrying is a coordinated set of central, motor, and cardiac regulations,” explain the authors. “Infants under six months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease.”
Furthermore, the authors hypothesize that this “calming response” is adaptive and increases the chance of infant survival. Well, at least it did back in the day when we were regularly chased by wild animals.
“The calming responses may increase the survival probability of the infant in cases of emergency escape by the mother-infant dyad and ultimately work to support the mother-infant relationship,” the authors write. “Conservation of this calming response in altricial mammalian species supports the adaptive value of this behavior in mother-infant relationship and, as a consequence, infant survival.”
Fascinating stuff, right?
In addition to coming up with that theory, the authors of the study observed a bunch of human mother/baby dyads (as well as mice mother/baby dyads) in order to understand the whole phenomenon further. For the human baby part of the study, 12 babies were hooked up to ECG’s, and then their moms were instructed to perform a series of tasks while the babies’ vitals were observed.
Moms held the babies while sitting down, they carried them around the room for 30 seconds, and they also placed their babies in a crib. You probably know exactly where that went, right? When the moms sat down, the babies were pissed. When the babies were placed in cribs, they were beside themselves with rage. But when the moms picked the babies up, they were pleased as punch.
We moms can’t get a damn break, can we?
Check out this video, released by Current Biology, which shows you one of the study participants doing their thing. I guarantee it will look VERY familiar.
So there you have it. It’s not just you. Babies are needy as heck, and they like what they like. And honestly, there isn’t much we can do about it. But that doesn’t mean that the entire burden of this all should fall on the mom. Partners – if they are around – need to be involved here. And there is nothing wrong with employing a fake set of rocking arms, like a swing or whatever (if your baby will take it). And as I mentioned, baby carriers are absolute lifesavers. I would not have survived the newborn months without mine.
Remember that above all else, your baby isn’t trying to be an asshole. Blame it on evolution, a baby’s need to replicate the conditions of the womb (you know, the whole fourth trimester thing) or just the simple fact that little tiny humans need a whole lot of love and touch.
Whatever the case, remember that your baby is just being a baby. You are doing nothing wrong. And most of all, this too shall pass. As ridiculously hard as it is, everything is just a phase in parenting. Promise.