How to Soothe a Fussy Baby Using Dr. Karp's Five S Method

Updated on February 1, 2017

Dr. Harvey Karp and the Five Ss

Each baby is different; Dr. Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block, has a method that may or may not work for your baby, but you will never know until you try. The steps seem so simple, and you may think that you already do these things, but you may not have been doing them in the right way or order. This man has created a nearly foolproof way to sooth nearly every baby that he comes in contact with. Should these steps work for you and your baby, pass along the information to your other new mother friends—be it her first or fifth baby. A little extra knowledge never hurt anyone.

The Happiest Baby Method and Five Ss

1. Swaddle

2. Side or Stomach Position

3. Shush

4. Swing

5. Suck

Dr. Harvey Karp on Dr. Phil

Step 1: Swaddling

In the hospital, the nurses make swaddling look so easy...well, that is because that is something they have done every day for their entire career on the maternity ward. The best way to swaddle with a receiving blanket is to:

  1. Place it in diamond shape where you will be swaddling the baby and fold down the top corner slightly.
  2. Place the baby on the blanket, with his head off of the folded corner.
  3. Take one side of the blanket, put his arm down to his side, and pull the blanket, tucking it snuggly around his opposite hip.
  4. Take the bottom part of the blanket and pull it up over the shoulder that is not yet covered, tucking it behind his shoulder
  5. Finally, take the last open side of the blanket, placing his other arm down to his side, and pull the blanket snuggly around and tuck into the fold from the bottom. The bottom, where his feet are, does not need to be pulled as tight as his arms because babies love to kick their feet. It is more important that their arms be squished up tight against them, as this is soothing to a baby.

How to Swaddle

Step 2: Side or Stomach

After swaddling, the next step to sooth a crying baby is to lay them on their side or stomach. Every baby will be different, so try multiple angles between their side and stomach to see what they prefer the best. Your baby may like one angle one day and hate it the next. You may not need to advance further after this step. Changing positions is sometimes all a baby needs to be happy. This step is best done in your arms, on your chest, or on your lap so the next steps will be easier to accomplish.

Step 3: Shhhh

In the womb, it is said that babies are exposed to loud, vacuum like sounds 24 hours a day. This is why parents instinctively "ssshhhhh" their babies to try and sooth them. However, most of the time, parents mistake how to properly make the sounds for their baby. Start quietly, right next to their ear, and gradually get louder. Do not quickly go from quiet to loud, take several breaths to get from quiet to loud. She will probably be much calmer by now than she was when you first started swaddling her.

Step 4: Swinging

The next step is rocking or swinging. There is a reason that newborns love to fall asleep in swings or in the arms of somebody that is walking them around, the constant motion reminds them of being in the womb. For this step, you can use a swing or if you have him in your arms or on your lap that will work too. This step is mostly about getting their head to move. If he is in your arms, place his head in your hand (since he will be on his stomach or side, his cheek should be on your hand) and gently move so that his head softly shakes back and forth. Start with large movements side to side and slowly shrink your movements so that his head barely moves. If you are using your lap, place his head at your knees and swing them gently side to side, slowly making your movements smaller. A swing that goes side to side is better for this step than a swing that moves forward and back.

Step 5: Sucking

Finally, if all four of the previous steps have not succeeded in calming your baby, the last step is sucking. Nursing mothers know that suckling, even for just a minute or two, can be all that is needed to calm down their fussy baby if nothing else has worked. If she has already been fed and you want to avoid making another bottle try implementing a pacifier. Pacifiers were invented to keep babies sucking reflex satiated until the next time to feed. If you do not want to use a pacifier for fear that they will become reliant on it or that it could cause her teeth to have problems later, give them a finger (probably your pinky, for size) to suck on for a couple of minutes. If you are not nursing and give her your finger to use, you can feel how much suction her little mouth has, you will have a new respect for nursing mothers after.

Understanding Colic

Colic can be one of the worst things that a parent has to deal with. Colic is the, generally, inconsolable crying that occurs at all hours of the day and night, even if baby has been fed, changed, burped, and cuddled. Every baby is different, so just because your first baby did not have issues with colic does not mean that the next baby will not. Colic is usually thought to be gas that can not be coaxed out by burping or farting, while this is true for some babies, it is not the case for all. If it is gas, try gripe water or gas drops. If it is not gas, different approaches will be needed.

Dr. Karp says that gas does not cause colic because if a baby can be soothed by riding in a car but starts crying when the car stops, the child was not crying in pain. Before you run your baby to the pediatrician for being inconsolable, make sure that you are first doing the steps properly; a trip to the pediatrician is never a bad thing, though, just to make sure that everything is okay with your baby.

Dr. Karp's five steps almost guaranteed to sooth your baby; some babies do not even need all five steps. Take the steps in order and you may find that you do not need to go any further. Sometimes the same baby may need all five steps and other times she may be calmed after just one or two.

Did Dr. Karp's 5's help sooth your baby?

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