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Back when I was pregnant with my first child, I was reading and researching everything I could about parenthood. I was young (23) and newly married–having a baby so soon was not what I expected. Needless to say, I knew nothing!
I didn’t even know how to figure out a due date. I remember telling a friend at work a week after I found out that I was pregnant. She asked when I was due and I said I didn’t know because I hadn’t been to a doctor yet.
I was just so clueless, however, it’s amazing how your life can change and how your brain can make room for more information than you ever realized.
I’ve figured out a lot of things since then, including ways to calm a fussy baby. Learning about “The 5 S’s” was one of THE most important things I learned during pregnancy.
The Happiest Baby on the Block
Dr. Harvey Karp is the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block. This book is dedicated to teaching parents about “the 4th trimester”. The thing is that human babies are not actually quite ready for the outside world when they are born. They’re ready enough I suppose, but for the first three months or so of their lives, they still crave the comfort of the womb and aren’t quite ready to interact with the world around them.
That is where “The 5 S’s” technique comes in. There are five simple, yet effective soothing mechanisms that every baby finds comforting. Even babies with colic can be calmed with some combination of the 5 S’s.
The Happiest Baby on the Block is a must read for every new parent. However, if you’re busy (and who isn’t) and want to cut to the chase, there is a video of these techniques that you can also look into.
Below, I will summarize the 5 S’s. However, I really do recommend you read the book or watch the video. I know many people that claim these techniques didn’t work for their baby. It is most likely because they didn’t implement them well because they only read summaries to save time or money instead of investing in the full resource.
Speaking from experience, reading summaries and synopses is helpful to know if the strategies in the resource are what you need. However, to actually implement any of them correctly, you do need to actually read the true resource. This is true for so many aspects of parenting, and I have learned the hard way that most babies that are actually difficult need you to go beyond surface level information.
Many moms have calmed fussy babies with these techniques and perhaps didn’t read the full book. It’s likely their baby was a little easier going. If you feel like you are doing these things, but your baby doesn’t like them…READ THE BOOK and make sure you are actually doing it correctly! I am certain it will make a difference for you.
Without further ado, here are the 5 S’s!
The 5 S’s
Swaddling is a method of wrapping up the baby so they get the tight, comforting squeeze they were used to in the womb.
One benefit of swaddling is it can prevent babies from being disturbed by their startle reflex. If you have ever watched a newborn sleep, I’m sure you have seen their sudden jerks. This can scare a newborn and unsettle them. Swaddling is a great way to keep that in check. Because it calms the startle reflex, babies usually sleep better when swaddled.
It is another way to help give the baby the secure feeling of being in the womb, where space to move and jerk about is also restricted.
Swaddling is probably the most argued against of all the 5 S techniques. Many moms claim, “My baby HATES to be swaddled!”
The truth is that the vast majority of these babies would like swaddling, but they are being swaddled incorrectly. Swaddling is an art and it takes practice to find the technique that works best to make your baby feel secure.
Swaddling your baby poorly is no different from not swaddling at all. Your baby WILL fight the swaddle or try to find ways to escape. If they succeed, it usually means you are swaddling too loosely. Escaping the swaddle will frustrate a baby and upset them. It’s not an indication that they hate the swaddle. 99% of babies will love the familiar security of being inside the womb that the swaddle offers.
To swaddle, you can use a large enough thin blanket (such as these muslin swaddle blankets) or a special swaddle sack to make the wrapping easier. My favorite swaddle sacks are the HALO sleep sack swaddles. I have tried other brands (like Swaddle Me), and I personally feel like I can contain my baby’s arms better in the Halo, they’re warmer, and they are snugger.
The next S is actually two– stomach/side. This is the position in which you should hold a baby to help soothe them.
When babies are held on their back, it can be unsettling for them and trigger their falling reflex (my dog and my cat don’t like being held on their backs for this reason, either, so this all makes sense to me).
Turning your baby onto their side or stomach can settle that reflex and help them calm down. This is the position in which I see many “baby whisperers” carrying babies around–the baby is often laying on their side along the forearm of the adult. Turns out there is a rhyme and reason for this! It’s very soothing.
When I was explaining the 5 S’s to my mom and got to “shush”, she was a bit confused. She said, “You’re just going to tell your baby to be quiet and they listen?”
But it’s not about telling a baby to be quiet, it’s about recreating womb-like conditions to calm a baby.
Inside the womb, it is quite LOUD. The baby has been listening to mom’s digestion, blood flow, and whatever else for the past nine months. It’s often thought that the womb sounds similar to the white noise TVs can make.
That’s where the shush comes in!
You just say, “SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” loudly and for a very long time, taking breaths and starting again as necessary. Some people do shorter ones repeatedly (SHHH SHHH SHHH SHHH SHH) but I always felt the louder, longer ones helped my kids more.
This is the one I often get strange looks for, but it worked like a charm for both of my babies!
Swinging brings a baby back to what life was like in utero as the mom went about her daily business, the movement of her day soothing him or her to sleep.
This is why swinging is a great calming technique, however it is important you do it correctly for it actually to be soothing. In the middle of a crying fit, babies tend to do better with short, quick movements than long slow ones. The short & quick is more natural to them.
As with anything, finding the right way to swing your baby that actually soothes them takes a bit of practice. But don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of practice with that!
Babies love to suck–it is one of the most soothing things for them. Why do you think so many toddlers fight their parents on giving up their pacifiers?
You can use a pacifier, nurse your baby, or gently insert your clean pinky finger into their mouth. Some moms are afraid to use a pacifier too soon because they fear it may impact breastfeeding. Personally, I feel that is fear mongering and the odds are very slim that it would actually ruin breastfeeding. But you need to do what makes you feel comfortable.
Much to my dismay, neither of my kids would take a pacifier. I tried, and tried, and tried some more. I bought several kinds thinking one of them would click….nope.
But my oldest would gladly nurse or take my pinky finger to suck. My youngest didn’t even like my pinky; he would only nurse!
Regardless, you will find something that your baby can safely suck and that will calm them.
Colic is a much more intense form of fussiness. The 5 S’s can help a colicky baby, but it will most likely involve combining more than one ‘S’ at a time and experimenting with different combinations. Trial and error is an unavoidable part of parenting. However, just know that the 5 S’s are there as a strategy for you, and they most likely will make a huge difference.
What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for calming a fussy baby? Leave them in the comments below!
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The Happiest Baby on the Block is a must read for all parents-to-be. I really do believe reading the book or watching the video is critical to learn how to implement the techniques correctly because it may not be exactly what you think. I love that there is a video option to make it easier for many parents to commit to.