Babies may be born every day, but NOBODY is born an expert on parenting…we all need a little backup every now and then, and it might as well come in the form of a well-known pediatrician and infant sleep expert! The 5 “S’s” is a series of soothing techniques developed by Dr. Harvey Karp, author of Happiest Baby on the Block , which has helped parents all over the world gain insight into calming their newborns. The names of the steps that follow are straight from his book, and can also be found on his website, happiestbaby.com.
1) Swaddling: Swaddling is essential to soothing a baby, which makes sense, if you think about it. Your baby is used to being wrapped up snugly inside your womb, and it can be a startling experience to be thrust out into the world, especially for a preemie who wasn’t quite ready. If you’re still living that NICU life, check with your care team to make sure your baby is developmentally ready to be swaddled, and if so, GO FOR IT! Not sure how? Don’t be afraid to ask a member of your team for a quick tutorial.
Always check to make sure your baby isn’t overheating, and be sure they have their hands within reach of their mouths. Most importantly, NEVER leave your baby in bed with loose blankets. If you’re already home, here is a tutorial recommended by a member of our NICU care team.
2) Side / Stomach: This is a “feel good” position for your baby. The reason being, it shuts off their Moro Reflex (that startling feeling of falling you sometimes get when you’re sleeping). The best side/stomach position is face out, back against your stomach or chest, letting the baby rest their head in the crook of your elbow. Keep in mind that the side/stomach position is only for when your baby is being held and or supervised, and back is always best for sleeping.
3) Shhhh-ing: The most soothing sound for a baby is the shhhh-ing sound, as it mimics the sounds your body made all those months circulating blood within the placenta. Where do you think the white noise machine makers got the idea from? The key to this move is to match your shhh with the volume of your baby’s cry. The louder they cry, the louder your ‘shhh’ should be in response. As they start to calm, lull your ‘shhh’ along with it. Keep in mind that depending on your baby’s gestational age, their hearing may be a little more sensitive at this stage. If you have any questions about how much volume your baby can handle, check in with your care team to confirm.
4) Swinging: When your baby was in the womb, I bet you usually noticed them moving more when you weren’t. That’s because the swaying or swinging motion your body naturally made as you were walking (or waddling, for some of us) around lulled them right to sleep! Now that they’re out in the world, lying still can actually be a little disorienting and uncomfortable. The rhythmic, jiggling of a good swing can work wonders to calm your fussy little one, which is why parents have been doing it for centuries. The more time you spend swinging, the easier it will be to figure out exactly how your baby likes it, but Dr. Karp suggests starting out with a fast, tiny movement, almost like a shiver. As your baby calms, slow your swing to match, into a more broad, rocking motion.
5) Sucking: The golden ticket to calming a fussy baby! Suckling is the best way to take your baby from calm to straight up tranquility, because it triggers their calming reflex and leads right into relaxation. Your baby’s hands (which is why it’s important to make sure they are always accessible when swaddled), a pacifier, or mom’s breast (especially if you are practicing responsive feeding) will work. Whatever your preference is doesn’t matter, so much as giving your baby the opportunity to take advantage of this soothing technique.
It’s no secret that dealing with a fussy baby can be frustrating, and no parent comes home from the hospital with the magic touch. Trying to calm your baby can be a physically and emotionally draining for both of you, and it is important to acknowledge that. Your baby gets upset, which makes you upset, which makes your baby more anxious, and the cycle begins.
Always be mindful of your own emotions when trying to calm your baby, and remember that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. If you don’t have help readily available, and you feel yourself getting frustrated, set your baby on their back, in a safe sleeping space, clear of blankets and potential obstructions, and leave the room for a few minutes to collect yourself. Never shake your baby out of frustration. Call for backup when you need it, either physically, or even over the phone to vent for a moment, until you are calm enough to return to your baby. It’s okay to need a break from time to time, and it’s sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby!
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