Trying to calm your fussy baby can feel overwhelming at times, especially when it seems you are doing everything you can and they are still struggling to de-escalate. As a Mama, I know how hard this is.
What’s important to understand is that to your baby, you are their safe space, and they rely on you to help them regulate, especially in the first few months of life. So while they may not immediately calm down in your arms, you are still doing exactly what they need by providing them that comfort when they are upset.
Using The Five S’s to Soothe Your Baby
If you find this is a common pattern, your baby might benefit from using a technique called the “Five S’s.” This is a technique developed by a pediatrician and founder of Happiest Baby, Dr. Harvey Karp. The Five S’s is designed as a series of steps to help calm even the fussiest of babies. While you can use it with older infants, this technique is geared towards babies up to three months old. Dr. Karp believes that babies are born “too early.” Because of this, he suggests that within the “fourth trimester,” parents do everything they can to replicate a womb-like experience for their baby because life on the outside is quite a significant change for them!
What are the Five S’s?
The Five S’s include swaddling, side or stomach position, shushing, swinging, and sucking. To help your baby effectively calm down, it is best to go through each of these steps during periods of fussiness. Periods of fussiness can occur at any moment throughout the day but often tend to peak in the evenings. Many mamas refer to this period as the “witching hour,” as it seems that nothing you do works to bring your little one back down. Dr. Karp’s Five S’s can be a valuable set of tools once you have ensured that your newborn’s basic needs are met (not fussy because they need a feed, a change in temperature, a new diaper, etc.).
The first step in this process is to swaddle your baby. Babies have been swaddled for hundreds of years. Swaddling provides several benefits, from helping re-create that snug feeling they had in the womb to controlling their Moro reflex. Karp recommends that you swaddle your baby during fussy and sleep periods only. Babies need plenty of time with their hands and feet free to explore their surroundings and practice using their limbs.
Side or Stomach Position
The next step in the Five S’s process is holding your baby on their side or on their stomach. You only want to practice this position while holding your baby during awake periods and not during sleep periods. This position can help bring comfort to your baby. Babies spend a great deal of time on their backs until they learn to roll over around four to five months old. So the feeling of being on their tummies without the pressure and hard work of tummy time can be very relaxing and soothing for them.
Shushing also helps to re-create familiar noises your baby heard in the womb. Contrary to what we might think, it was actually quite loud in there! To effectively do this, you can get up close to your baby’s ear and shush over and over. This is also why white noise during sleep periods can be helpful to soothe your baby.
It is a fact that babies can regulate better while in motion. After all, they were constantly in motion for nine months (give or take) while in your womb! Karp suggests that with this step, you gently swing your baby with small movements side to side and never while upset or angry.
Babies have a strong suck reflex in the first few months of life. Before babies are old enough and coordinated enough to find their own hands and fingers, the urge to suck (and the soothing effect that it has) can be satisfied by a pacifier or by nursing. Some families opt not to introduce a pacifier for fear of it becoming a dependence that is difficult to break down the road. But in the early months of a baby’s life, the pacifier can be a useful tool when no other soothing techniques work.
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Be consistent in your efforts and find what works best for your baby!
When using the Five S’s, remember that you may need to cycle through this process several times until your baby calms down or even falls asleep! If your baby is becoming more upset or not calming down, stay calm and consistent. Know that eventually, your baby WILL stop crying. Some babies simply have a fussier disposition than others.
I have used this technique with five of my babies and found it very effective in the newborn stage with enough consistency and persistence. But for some babies, you may still see they have trouble at certain periods of the day. The evening especially can be a peak fussy period for babies in this stage. Remember that ultimately you know your baby best, and all babies respond to soothing techniques differently. Once you find what works for you and your baby, it is best to continue to follow their cues!