Why babies stop crying when you stand up – the science

It often feels like newborns despise it when you sit down. Like tiny sirens they are fast to warn you not to rest in that seat, instead to get active and parade up and down with them. As if you aren’t exhausted enough!

Why is there a difference between holding them whilst seated and holding them when stood up?

Turns out, there is a biological answer and it relates to the fight or flight instinct that is present in all of us. Newborns are responding to the risk of being attacked by predators and their brains are telling them it’s safer to be in the arms of their carer, standing up, ready to flee instead of sat down waiting for danger to arrive.

Researchers have explored the human flight response, particularly in babies in a 2013 study published in Current Biology. This flight response has evolved over a few millennia, back to a time when we were at risk of being eaten by larger animals.

Scientists analysed the heart rates of 12 healthy infants while their mothers put them down in a cot, cradled them while seated and also carried them around the room for 30 seconds. The investigation concluded: “the infant calming response to maternal carrying is a coordinated set of central, motor, and cardiac regulations and is a conserved component of mammalian mother-infant interactions”.

The research is considered important as it has “the potential to impact current parenting theory and practice, since unsoothable crying is the major risk factor for child abuse.”

It is always good to have an understanding of the physiological side of baby responses as there is usually always a firm scientific reason behind it.

Once you understand where it comes from, you allow your empathy to deal with the situation in a more measured approach.