Calm a fussy baby using the popular method known as the 5 S’s. Dr. Harvey Karp invented the 5 S’s as a system to soothe fussy babies and help get them to sleep!
Many babies struggle with self-soothing and regulation during their first few weeks or months after birth.
After all, this world is completely new to them! It can take some babies up to four months to become adjusted to life outside of the womb, which is why this time period is often referred to as the fourth trimester.
Babies can get fussy for a variety reasons:
So when you’ve gone through your checklist to figure out why your baby is still crying or upset, it can be really stressful if you’ve checked everything off and your baby is still inconsolable.
Enter the 5 S’s—a set of soothing techniques invented by Dr. Harvey Karp to mimic the sensations babies felt in the womb to help calm them.
Learn how to get your newborn to sleep with my Newborn Sleep Program. You’ll learn expert sleep tips for soothing your baby to sleep, getting in good routines, and slowly dropping night feeds. Learn more here.
What are the 5 S’s for Babies?
The 5 S’s are five different soothing techniques that replicate the sensations babies felt in the womb. The 5 S’s were Invented by Dr. Harvey Karp (author of The Happiest Baby on the Block) and are things that parents can do to help calm fussy babies!
The 5 S’s are:
Let’s dive into each of the 5 S’s and see how you can use them to help soothe your baby when he’s upset!
Swaddling your baby can bring him physical comfort since he just spent the last 9 months snuggled up tightly in your belly.
Swaddling provides a cozy, womb-like environment and can help calm fussy babies and prevent the startle reflex from waking them. Swaddling is also a safe way to help keep them warm before babies can sleep with a blanket.
When babies are swaddled properly, they often respond well to the other 4 S’s. Some parents think their baby hates the swaddle, but they may just not be swaddling their baby correctly.
To swaddle properly, put your baby’s arms down by his side and make his arms nice and tight while his hips are nice and loose inside the swaddle.
Make sure to only swaddle your baby for sleep or if they are really fussy. During a baby’s awake time he needs opportunities to stretch and move his body around!
Some of my favorite swaddles include:
- SwaddleMe Velcro swaddle: It doesn’t get much easier than this! Take the guesswork out of swaddling with these easy velcro swaddles!
- Ollie Swaddle: This swaddle gives parents easy access to make diaper changes with the opening at the bottom.
- Sleeppea 5-Second Swaddle: A swaddle invented by Dr. Karp, this zipper swaddle makes it so even Houdini babies can’t escape!
2. Side/Stomach Position
Holding a baby on his side or stomach can also help soothe him. If your baby is upset, you can hold him against your chest on his belly, or hold his body against your body so his stomach is against yours, or he’s facing outward.
You can also help support your baby while he’s in his crib, by holding him up on his side temporarily.
Please know that placing babies on their backs is the only safe way to put them down for sleep. If you hold your baby on his side, make sure you are supporting him. As he calms down and becomes drowsy you can “roll” him over to his back for safe sleep.
3. Shush (White Noise)
If you’ve read any of my sleeping blog posts, you know I am a huge proponent of white noise!
Y’all, the womb was LOUD! While your baby was snuggly inside you, he heard plenty of noises from your fluids surrounding him—noises that were louder than a vacuum cleaner!
Silence can feel so awkward and uncomfortable to our babies.
Make sure to use a white noise sound machine while your baby sleeps. I recommend white noise (as opposed to an ocean or raindrops) and one that plays continuously.
The idea here is that if your baby wakes up in the middle of the night (which, of course he will!), the noise will still be playing and help soothe him back to sleep.
Another option that may seem odd, is that if your baby is especially fussy, you can shush them using your voice. After swaddling him, and holding him on his stomach against you, you can bring your mouth to your baby’s face and make a shushing noise.
There’s also the shusher machine that can do this for you.
The swing portion of the 5 S’s is the one that tends to raise a few eyebrows but as long as you’re supporting your baby’s head and neck, it can really soothe them!
Use tiny fast, movements back and forth while holding your baby on his side and shushing him. Babies were jiggled around quite a bit in the womb! Every time you moved, he moved, so those movements can feel soothing to him.
And last but not least is the suck technique. Babies have a natural need to suck and the pacifier can provide that!
After going through the other 4 S’s, you can give your baby a pacifier to suck on. This is the final step! Most babies will have calmed down by now and suck away on the pacifier and eventually drift into sleep.
Do the 5 S’s Really Work?
Yes! the 5 S’s can work wonders for a fussy baby! Dr. Karp stresses himself that they only work if done properly, meaning in the right order (how we listed them here) and making sure the technique is done properly.
This means if you’re swaddling your baby incorrectly or shushing them too softy, you probably won’t be as successful!
You can get Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block DVD, which demonstrates how to do the 5 S’s properly. I think I was able to rent the 5 S’s video from our local library, so look there as well!
How to Calm A Fussy Baby
If you’re having trouble calming a fussy baby, Karp also invented a sleep solution for tired babies and parents!
The SNOO is a safe sleep bassinet that includes a swaddle, white noise, and slight motion to help keep your baby content while he sleeps.
It’s the only bassinet as far as I know that does most of the 5 S’s for you! It is pricey, but has several raving reviews.
If you don’t want to commit to the large price tag, you can also rent the SNOO to test it out! If your baby responds well to it, then it could be worth the rental fee to keep it as long as you need it! There are also plenty of Rock N Play alternatives that may do the trick, since you’ll eventually have to transition from the SNOO to crib as your baby grows.
I’d love to know what you think about the 5 S’s. I’m hoping to add a video of each S in the future to show you how to do each technique!
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