Nightingale Night Nurses 2-2020-204-2

The 5 S’s: How to Soothe a Fussy Baby

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Do you ever feel lost on how to soothe a fussy baby? After nine months in the perfectly warm and cozy womb, our bright, loud world can be totally overwhelming for newborns. All babies cry to communicate their needs. A cry could mean baby is cold, wet, hungry, tired, overstimulated, or just plain uncomfortable.

And if our world is overwhelming for most babies, crying is certainly overwhelming for most parents. When you’ve fed, burped and changed your baby – and they’re still upset, it’s understandable to have no clue how to proceed. Add hormones and sleep deprivation into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a formula for feeling totally defeated.

That’s where the 5 S’s come in. Longtime pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp of Happiest Baby on the Block is on a mission to help parents know how to comfort their babies. Drawing on the realization that our babies are born much earlier in comparison to other mammals, he encourages 5 simple techniques to help recreate a calming, womb-like environment. Dr. Karp believes that these techniques produce a calming reflex in newborns, allowing them to relax easily into sleep.


Swaddling recreates the tight embrace of the womb. When babies are swaddled snugly, their startle reflex decreases significantly, preventing them from interrupting their attempt to sleep. Use a swaddle blanket or commercial swaddle sack with velcro, zippers, or snaps. The key is to keep arms snugly by baby’s side without restricting hip mobility. Many babies appear to “fight” the process of being swaddled, but this does not mean they won’t enjoy or benefit from it once they are settled.

Side or Stomach Position

It’s important to place baby on her back to sleep. But many babies need help settling before they can relax on their backs. That’s where the side or stomach position come into play. After swaddling, hold your baby against your forearm so there is slight pressure against her belly. Many babies love to be faced out, zoning out as they take in their surroundings and fall into a deep sleep.


Silence can truly be deafening for babies! It’s quite loud inside the womb, with the constant reassurance of blood whooshing through the mother’s arteries and varying sounds coming muffled through the uterine wall. Repeating a steady “shush” sound can help remind your baby that she’s safe and sound.


Life in the womb is hardly ever still. Babies become accustomed to the constant motion from your movements, and they can easily feel unsettled without it. While this ‘S’ is for ‘Swing,’ it could also be ‘J’ for ‘Jiggle.’ Newborns can often need fast, quick jiggling to reset during an episode of crying. It’s absolutely essential to always support their heads and to keep movements less than one inch to each side. If you’re feeling frustrated, it’s best to hand baby off to another trusted adult. Never shake your baby out of frustration.


The reflex to suck is deeply ingrained in baby humans. When babies suck, they are satisfying a primal urge to meet their most basic biological needs. When your baby is all swaddled up, on their stomach or side in your arms, swaying and shushing – try offering a clean finger or pacifier for them to suck on. This final step is the cherry on top, allowing babies to melt into sleep.

Deep Breaths All Around

Babies feed off our our energy, looking to their caregivers to determine if it’s safe for them to relax and sleep. Use these techniques to soothe your newborn, remember also to soothe yourself in the process. Take deep breaths, lean on your support system, and be gentle with yourself – you may not get it on the first try. Learning your infant’s cues and what makes them tick takes time. Do your best, trust your gut, and reach out to your pediatrician if you feel that your baby is inconsolable. Learning how to soothe a fussy baby is hard. The newborn phase is physically exhausting and emotionally intense – it gets easier, promise!