After hours of trying to soothe your fussy baby, you’re probably wondering if there are any magic tricks out there that you don’t know about.
It just so happens that there is one bundle of tricks known as the “5 S’s.” Pediatrician Harvey Karp pioneered this method when he brought together five techniques that mothers have often used and organized them into this easy mnemonic: swaddle, side-stomach position, shush, swing, and suck.
Despite your exhaustion and frustration, you know that your baby is crying because it’s the only way they have to tell you that they need something.
But you’ve played with your baby, fed them, burped them, checked their diaper, and made sure they aren’t in pain — so why are they still fussing? Don’t despair. It doesn’t have to be like this. Using the 5 S’s can make it easy to soothe your baby.
Here are two of the issues the method aims to combat:
If your baby is crying for 3 or more hours a day, 3 or more days a week, during the first 3 months of life, count yourself among this unlucky group. Colic usually starts at around 6 weeks and often fades by month 3 or 4, but it’s rough-going on both baby and you.
Falling asleep isn’t always easy for babies, and this is particularly so if your baby is overtired. By replicating the sensations experienced in the womb, parents can lull their babies into a long, restful sleep.
Research shows that babies who sleep on their tummies face a significantly higher risk of SIDS. So, you definitely don’t want to put your baby down to sleep on their stomachs, but you can help them get to sleep with the side-stomach position.
Swaddling means wrapping up your baby to make them snug as a bug. Anecdotal reports and some dated research shows that swaddled babies sleep longer and better than unswaddled babies. Why so? Most likely, when your baby’s snug and warm, they’re dreaming of the good old days in your womb.
In addition, swaddling reduces the likelihood of babies waking themselves up with their Moro reflex — startling at sudden sounds or movement and flailing their little arms.
Take a look at this video to see how swaddling is easy peasy. Here’s the trick summarized:
- Lay your baby on a piece of soft fabric that’s been folded into a diamond shape.
- Fold one side of the fabric over and tuck it under their arm.
- Lift up the bottom and tuck it in.
- Fold over the second side and tuck the end into the fabric wrapped round your baby’s back.
- Optimal but recommended: Give them a kiss and a hug.
Tips for the perfect swaddle:
- Leave two fingers of space between the swaddling fabric and your baby’s chest for wiggle room.
- Watch out for tight swaddling around the hips and legs that could cause hip development issues.
- Avoid bundling your baby with too many warm layers under the swaddle.
- Stop swaddling when your baby can roll onto their stomach.
Research shows that babies who sleep on their tummies sleep longer and don’t react as quickly to noise. One big problem, though: Putting a baby to sleep on their stomach or side is dangerous, as it increases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
According to Karp, holding babies in a supine position activates a calming mechanism that soothes their rattled system (and yours).
So go ahead — hold your baby on their tummy or side; lay them over your shoulder; or lay them across your forearm with your hand supporting their head.
But remember: When your baby has calmed down, place them on their back for sleep time.
Tips for the perfect side-stomach position:
- Put your bare baby on your chest with skin-to-skin contact for great bonding time. A 2020 study shows that even very preemie babies (30 weeks at birth) are calmed by this contact.
- When your baby reaches 6 months old, they’ll most likely be able to flip themselves over, but it’s still best to play safe, abide by the rules, and keep putting them to sleep on their backs until they’re 1 year old.
You know what shush means, but does your baby? You bet! Contrary to what you might think, your baby heard plenty of muffled sounds while in your womb including:
- the pumping of your blood circulation
- the rhythmic in and out of your breathing
- the rumble of your digestive system
- the drone of outside noises
When you make a loud shhh sound, you get pretty close to the blended sounds that your baby is used to. But there’s actually more to it.
Research shows that controlled in-and-out breath sounds can alter a baby’s heartbeat and improve their sleep patterns. That’s because we’re programmed to fall in sync with an external rhythm. Science calls this “entrainment.” Moms call it a miracle that saves their sanity.
Tips for the perfect shushing technique:
- Don’t turn down the volume — your baby will probably soothe fastest if you shush loud and long. Think of how the sound of a vacuum cleaner can calm an infant. Unbelievable, right?
- Put your mouth close to your baby’s ear so that the sound enters directly.
- Match the volume of your shushing to the volume of your baby’s cry. As they begin to settle, turn your shushing down.
Who hasn’t pushed a fussy infant’s carriage back and forth a million times harboring the hope that they’ll fall sleep?
You’re right — movement is a great way to calm a fussy baby. In fact, 2014 research in both animals and humans showed that crying babies who are carried around by mom immediately stop all voluntary movements and crying. In addition, their heart rate decreased. Add in some choreographed swinging and you have one happy baby.
How to swing:
- Start off by supporting your baby’s head and neck.
- Sway back and forth about an inch and add a touch of bounce.
By keeping your baby facing you and smiling, you can turn these moments into a bonding experience as well as teach your baby how to focus and how to communicate.
Tips for the perfect swing:
- Rock slowly for a baby who’s already calm and just needs to be sent to dreamland, but use a faster pace for a baby who’s already yelling.
- Keep your movements small.
- Once your baby’s calm, you can give your arms a rest by settling them in a swing. (Just never leave them unattended in a swing.)
- Never, ever, shake your baby. Shaking can lead to brain damage and even death.
Sucking is one of the primitive reflexes that your baby has. Having started practicing in your womb as a 14-week-old embryo, your baby is already a pro at sucking. (Plenty of babies have been caught in the act by ultrasound imaging.)
While sucking for calming may be a no-brainer, researchers in a 2020 study actually set out to prove it. When you encourage your baby to suck for comfort, know that you’re backed by hard facts: Babies enjoy sucking and are calmed by sucking even without feeding. It’s called non-nutritive sucking.
While you could let your baby suckle at your breast, for a little more freedom, you may want to use a pacifier. Keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) generally recommends holding back a pacifier until you and your baby have a nice breastfeeding routine — at around 3 or 4 weeks of age. And if you’re searching for the right paci, we’ve got you covered with this list of 15 best pacifiers.
Tips to give your baby the perfect suck:
- Don’t hold back a pacifier because of the worry that you’ll never get rid of it. Habits aren’t formed until around 6 months.
- Still worried about bad habits? Thumb sucking is harder to stop.
- In cases when you don’t have a pacifier, you can offer your baby your clean pinky to suck. Keep the pad of your finger upturned against the roof of their mouth. You’ll be surprised at the sucking power of someone so tiny.
A crying baby is no fun. If you’re concerned that your baby’s crying can’t be put down to normal crankiness, discuss your concerns with your pediatrician.
Incessant crying wears away at the fabric of the family. As you practice these five steps and learn what works best with your baby, you’ll be able to add your individual twist to them. Have fun!