Tips for a Happy Baby and a Happy You
Dr. Harvey Karp is a pediatrician, child development specialist and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine. He teaches the 5 Ss for a happy baby to sooth colic, boost infant sleep, and help reduce how much a baby cries to make parents and children happy.
Soothing a baby can be harder than it seems, but there is a way to help crying babies. There are reflexes the baby already has that can be used to soothe the baby. These techniques have been used for centuries.
The first three months of the babies’ lives is the fourth trimester. Our babies are very immature at birth unlike other animals. Their survival depends on the brain. The main reason babies cry is because they need to be born before their brain gets too big, but it’s too early for them. They are still fetuses and they often get upset because they miss the uterus. Trying to copy the uterus setting with sound, confinement, and movement is a way to start the baby’s calming reflex and help them stop crying.
5 Ss can be used to turn on the calming reflex.
1. Swaddling- This is the most important first step in calming, but usually does
not work by itself.
• Wrap the baby tightly with the arms down; this is an unusual position for
a baby, but it is very important to keep arms in the blanket.
• Use a square blanket that is big enough to wrap all the way around the baby.
• Wrap in this pattern: DUDU (down, up, down, up).
• Wrapping too tight will make baby more upset, but it should be as “tight as
the elastic waistband at the end of your pregnancy.”
• Many parents give up swaddling because they think their babies do not like it.
A new baby does not need freedom; this is a common misconception in the
US, but it is not true.
2. Side/stomach lying position- This position simulates how the baby was
positioned in the last weeks in utero.
• The baby’s head is in the palm of your hand and their feet are closest to your
• This is also called the “reverse breast feeding” position or “football hold.”
• This is not a position for sleeping, just when they are held. They should
sleep on their back!
3. Shushing- Make a “sshhh” sound close to the baby’s ear and loudly.
• Shush as loud as the baby is crying.
• Radio white noise and hair dryers can also be used.
• A loud shush seems rude in the US, but it is not to babies!
4. Swinging- This is jiggling; most moms do this already.
• You want the head to jiggle, don’t hold the head. Open your hands so the
head can move.
• Do not use big movements, but you can do it faster if the baby is more
• This is not shaking, like in Shaken Baby Syndrome. It is just jiggling, like in
utero with mother’s movement, so it will not hurt the baby.
A mechanical seat can be used after the baby is initially calmed to continue the calming, but do not use the seat at first. Make it at a fast speed, belt the baby in, and swaddle the baby first.
5. Sucking- this is not breast feeding, use a finger or pacifier.
• You can pull on the pacifier a little bit to make the baby think they are losing it
so they suck harder. But do not pull it out because it will have the opposite
• Do not give a baby a pacifier until they are breast feeding well.
• Do not dip the pacifier in anything or hang it around a baby’s neck.
If the baby is really wailing, you may need all 5 Ss. Be as intense with the Ss as the baby is when they are crying. For this reason, sometimes dads are better at first!
Sometimes you can calm your baby with 5 Ss, but as soon as they are put down again, they cry. They want to be with you, but you cannot be with them all of the time! You can swaddle, put them in a swing, and put on white noise to maintain their calmness. Some babies need to swing all night long.
You can phase every S slowly out. For example, to start phasing out swaddling, swaddle with one arm out and see how they do. Then you can try two arms out.
You need to do each S exactly right to trigger the calming reflex, but practice makes perfect! Be patient and keep trying.
Karp, H. (Producer). (2002). The happiest baby on the block [DVD]. United States: The Happiest Baby, Inc.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 04/24/2013
Copyright © 04/24/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7489
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