Exploring Human Potential

Why Pick Up A Crying Baby?

Posted on | April 23, 2013 | 2 Comments

Rocking Chair Project doctor during home visit.

Mike Magee

For the past decade, we’ve supported a 501C3 non-profit called the Rocking Chair Project. The effort has partnered with Family Medicine residents around the country who were able to identify economically disadvantaged moms about to give birth, and were willing to do a home visit within 3 weeks of delivery. Where does the rocking chair come in? It is a vehicle for nurturing. The residents train to assemble this gift onsite in the home while sharing information including the importance of holding, soothing and comforting newborns. But why nurture a crying baby?

According to a new study in the journal Current Biology, babies experience a complex physiologic calming response within 3 seconds of being held by their mothers. “Now researchers say that this calming response is actually a coordinated set of reactions, involving the nervous, motor and cardiac systems.” Neurobiologists were dramatically impressed by the measured responses in humans and animals.

To early childhood development experts who have commented on the Rocking Chair Project, a finding like this is hardly unexpected. As Edward Zigler, PhD Professor Emeritus at Yale has said, “The younger the child at the time of the intervention, the larger the payoff to the child. There can be no relationship without real proximity in which the interaction is characterized by warmth and concern. That’s the Rocking Chair Project.”  Harvard’s  Professor Emeritus, T. Berry Brazelton adds, “What a wonderful project – to provide rocking chairs for every mother so they can rock and soothe their babies.”

The training for residents includes practical online scripting provided by Zero To Three. This invaluable orientation prepares the resident to positively coach these new moms during the visit. What to say about the crying baby? From the script:

“I know it can be so hard and frustrating to hear your baby cry. But that’s her main way of communicating. Holding her in different ways and trying different things to comfort her—talking or singing to her—is the best you can do. Some days nothing works—babies just have to cry sometimes. But hang in there. Responding in a loving way now lets your baby know she can trust you to always be there. That means in the long run, she will cry less.”

As the nation moves to a more home-centered approach to health delivery, what can this project teach health professionals?

1. Some of the most important messages (like the value of soothing a crying baby) may not have been part of your medical or nursing training curriculum. Be alert to other sources (such as Zero To Three) to fill in the gaps.

2. Entry into a family’s home is a great honor. It signals commitment and trust. To be invited in suggests the desire for a long term relationship. You go, not simple as a doctor, nurse or caring professional – you go more importantly as a human being.

3. Home-Centered Health Care is a two way street. They learn from you, and you learn from them. You’re in it together.

4. A baby visit, or an aging grandparent visit, is a family visit. Homes are not simply the domicile of individuals, they are the cultural nurturing centers of inter-generational families.

5. You are not there to simply diagnose and treat. You are there to witness, to care, and to participate. If you are successful, their lives will improve, and so will yours. Everyone needs to be held, to be soothed, to be comforted to be loved. Even you. That is why we pick up a crying baby.

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.


2 Responses to “Why Pick Up A Crying Baby?”

  1. janice mancuso
    April 26th, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

    I’ve always LOVED rocking chairs. This essay has helped me decide to fix the old, inexpensive, broken rocking chair I rocked my babies in over 30 years ago. I was so close to letting it become firewood. Thanks!

  2. Mike Magee
    May 2nd, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

    Many thanks, Janice. So pleased that this piece awakened positive memories and good times! Best, Mike

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