Here's the science behind 'The Hold,' which claims to instantly calm a crying baby

In a video that’s now been watched more than six million times, Dr. Robert Hamilton, a pediatrician, demonstrates something he calls “The Hold,” which he says he uses in his practice to quickly calm crying infants.

The technique appears to be quite simple: He folds the baby’s arms against her chest with one hand, using his fingers to prop up her chin. He holds the baby upright (leaning slightly forward) with one hand on the baby’s bottom, and “wiggles” her gently.

The previously wailing infant, who had just gotten a shot, appears to chill out almost instantly.

So what exactly is going on here? And does it really work?

We talked to Dr. Stephen Cook, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester’s Golisano Children’s Hospital, who told us that Dr. Hamilton’s technique seems reasonable as well as simple — which is important for new parents.

Folding the arms echoes the effect of swaddling, which is known to reduce fussiness; holding a baby at an upright angle can ease acid reflux; and gentle motion (never shake a baby) is typically calming to very young infants, since it mimics being in the womb. (Most of these are also covered by Dr. Harvey Karp’s famous five S’s, which include “swinging” and “swaddling,” which is wrapping a baby up snugly in a blanket so that their limbs don’t flail about.)

But there are a few important caveats.

First, Dr. Cook noted, these kinds of soothing techniques really only work in infants up to two or three months old. Don’t try this on a screaming one-year-old.

Second, babies are often crying for a reason, something Dr. Hamilton points out in the video. They might be hungry; they might be sick; they might need a diaper change. “It’s important to make sure the baby does not have something else major going on,” Dr. Cook said, because a little wiggle won’t fix that.

Photo: Robert Hamilton / YouTube.

Parents should also remember that Dr. Hamilton’s video shows him using the technique just a few times, in a doctor’s office — that’s not a lot of data to go on. In a real-life, home setting, things might not always go as smoothly.

Dr. Cook suggested that “The Hold” may work less well or less consistently with colicky babies, with babies that have been fussing for hours, or with anxious and exhausted parents. “Those are the ones who will want to do it more — and who may get less help from it,” he said.

Still, he praised Dr. Hamilton’s video for being a straightforward and sensible presentation of an easy-to-follow technique.

“We have to think of better ways to communicate with families and give them simple tips,” Dr. Cook said, acknowledging that too much parenting advice is complicated and overwhelming. That’s part of why “The Hold” is so appealing: Watch the video once, and you’ll feel ready to try it out.

Just don’t expect it to work every single time.

A truly foolproof baby-calming technique would require magic, not just pediatric expertise.

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