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How To Soothe Your Newborn

Being born is hard work. However a baby makes their entrance into the world, the process is intense. Then comes the adjustment period. Up until this point, the baby was cradled in a perfect environment. It was the perfect temperature all the time, there was the constant sound of mother’s heartbeat, louder sounds were muffled, it was mostly dark with some dim light, everything was so soft and watery and floaty. Then you start running out of space and eventually one day baby is born and a whole new person has arrived here on Earth.

You have waited a long time for this baby and now you are home at last. But this human did not come with an instruction book and those early days of getting to know each other are not without struggles. How do I know what my baby wants? Are they hungry? Tired? Do they need a diaper change? Why won’t they stop crying and settle, even after I have done all the things!?

The Fourth Trimester, a term coined by Dr. Harvey Karp, refers to the first three months of a baby’s life when they are still adjusting to life outside the womb. In his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block,

he describes babies Calming Reflex and teaches the 5 S’s as a means to activate that reflex when your baby is upset. Throughout my career as a birth and postpartum doula, I have used and taught these techniques and recommended the book to nearly all of my clients. Why? Because they work!

So, what are the 5 S’s? Swaddling, Side/Stomach lying, Shushing, Swinging and Sucking. When your baby is really upset, you can use these tools to activate their Calming Reflex.

First, Swaddle your baby. You want to swaddle them very snuggly, as they felt snug and secure in the womb. (In fact all of these tools are a way to recreate a womb-like environment.) I love using muslin swaddling cloths like these

For a visual, this video shows five ways to swaddle your baby. If you need something easier there are many great products on the market today that utilize zippers and/or Velcro and create a nice snug swaddle for your newborn. I like the Woombie for the first few weeks and these as baby gets older.

Do not let your baby’s protest make you think that they do not like to be swaddled, I promise you, they do. They may struggle and strain against the swaddle because they can’t control their limbs yet, without the swaddle they will do the same only it will further upset them.

Once you have your precious baby wrapped up in a nice tight swaddle, scoop them up and turn them on their side. You can do this sitting with them in your lap or standing with their back against you, facing out. Make sure to gently support their head as well. Once in this position you can gently jiggle their body. This is a gentle jiggle, NOT a shake. Shaking a baby can have devastating consequences, so I want to make sure to distinguish the two. This is a gentle rhythmic jiggle.

Baby is still not calming down so at this point you can add in the Shushing. Bring the baby’s ear close to your mouth and Shush in their ear as loudly or slightly louder than the cry.

Swinging. This can be any rhythmic motion for your baby. Putting baby in a sling or stroller and going for a walk, a bouncy seat, baby swing or any of the other baby contraptions that offer rhythmic movement can help. (It is worth a note that these products are not safe sleep spaces and if your baby calms down and falls asleep they should be moved to their bassinet, crib or other safe sleep surface as soon as possible.)

The final S stands for Sucking. Your baby has a strong sucking reflex for their survival. It ensures they eat and eat often! If you know your baby is not hungry, they may still find comfort in sucking. I think pacifiers are great tools.

New research shows that pacifiers may reduce the rate of SIDS deaths. If you don’t have a pacifier handy, a clean finger (trimmed nails, please!) will do!

When I am working with infants and their families, I use, demonstrate, teach and preach these soothing techniques because they work! I find that a tight swaddle coupled with a side jiggle and some shushing will almost always do the trick if baby is fed and dry. Depending on what the caregiver wants to do, they can mix these up, or use variations. A swaddle and a pacifier in a swing so you can use the restroom. Need to get out of the house? Swaddle baby up, put them in the stroller and out the door you go. That movement will quickly lull baby into a calm state. Have some picking up to do? Put your baby in a sling, Moby Wrap or an Ergo Baby Carrier, pop a pacifier in and get moving. Soon baby will be calm and all will be well. For a visual, check out this video of Dr. Karp himself demonstrating the 5 S’s.

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