Dr Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s to soothe your crying baby

If you’ve read my previous blog on the Snoo, you’ll know I’m a big fan and I used one for my second baby. The brains behind that bassinet is paediatrician Dr Harvey Karp.

I’ve been a fan of Dr Karp for a while and read his book and his teachings around crying babies and settling them really resonate with me. He says that in order to understand crying and how to more easily soothe them we need to accept 2 things:

1. All babies are born 3 months early. Newborn horses can run within an hour of birth but not our mushy little babies. A virtual 4th trimester of womb sensations (soft touch, jiggly motion, snug holding, etc.) may just be what they need.

2. The rhythms experienced inside the womb trigger a reflex that keeps babies relaxed. This calming reflex is a virtual off-switch for crying and on-switch for sleep.

When I first read point number 1, it was like a lightbulb moment for me. He goes on to explain that as we’e evolved our brains have naturally got bigger and so have our heads. If we were to stay in utero any longer our heads would get stuck and so the system has evolved to deliver our babies 3 months early. The term 4th trimester suddenly take on a whole new meaning and level of importance.

Parents around the world have intuitively found ways of replicating the womb to help calm their crying babies. White noise replicates the blood pumping around in utero, car rides create the rhytmic motion they are used to, and I know we’ve all found ourselves rocking back and forth whilst standing in the cereal aisle with a trolley in one hand. Our instincts guide us to rock our babies and “shh shh shh” them.

The basics of the 5 S’s method are below in Harvey Karp’s own words.

The 1st S: Swaddle

Swaddling recreates the snug packaging inside the womb and is the cornerstone of calming. It decreases startling and increases sleep. And, wrapped babies respond faster to the other 4 S’s and stay soothed longer because their arms can’t wriggle around. To swaddle correctly, wrap arms snug—straight at the side—but let the hips be loose and flexed. Use a large square blanket, but don’t overheat, cover your baby’s head or allow unraveling. Note: Babies shouldn’t be swaddled all day, just during fussing and sleep.

The 2nd S: Side or Stomach Position

The back is the only safe position for sleeping, but it’s the worst position for calming fussiness. This S can be activated by holding a baby on her side, on her stomach or over your shoulder. You’ll see your baby mellow in no time.

The 3rd S: Shush

Contrary to myth, babies don’t need total silence to sleep. In the womb, the sound of the blood flow is a shush louder than a vacuum cleaner! But, not all white noise is created equal. Hissy fans and ocean sounds often fail because they lack the womb’s rumbly quality. The best way to imitate these magic sounds is white noise.

The 4th S: Swing

Life in the womb is very jiggly. (Imagine your baby bopping around inside your belly when you jaunt down the stairs!) While slow rocking is fine for keeping quiet babies calm, you need to use fast, tiny motions to soothe a crying infant mid-squawk. To do it, always support the head/neck, keep your motions small; and move no more than 1 inch back and forth. (For the safety of your infant, never, ever shake your baby in anger or frustration.)

The 5th S: Suck

Sucking is “the icing on the cake” of calming. Many fussy babies relax into a deep tranquility when they suck. Many babies calm easier with a dummy/pacifier.

The 5 S’s Take PRACTICE to Perfect

The 5 S’s technique only works when done exactly right. The calming reflex is just like the knee reflex: Hit one inch too high or low, and you’ll get no response, but hit the knee exactly right and, presto! If your little one doesn’t soothe with the S’s, watch the Happiest Baby DVD / Streaming Video again to get it down pat. Or, check with your doctor to make sure illness isn’t preventing calming.

How Do the 5 S’s Relate to Another Favorite S – Sleep?

The keys to good sleep are swaddling and white noise. In another “Aha!” moment, I realized technology could assist parents with their 4th-trimester duties. So Happiest Baby invented SNOO, an innovative baby bed based on the 5 S’s that helps calm babies and ease them into sleep. Parents especially love when it quickly calms babies for those 2 a.m. wakings!

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