I’ve started doing some reading on taking care of a newborn during the first few months of life; there are a lot of opinions out there! One book I’ve heard recommended time and time again is The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. Many reviews online mention that even the fussiest and colicky babies are soothed to sleep with this method. Sign me up! For today's Motherhood post, I'll describe a bit of what I've learned from the book, including the 5 S's of turning on the Calming Reflex.
To better understand Dr. Karp’s soothing techniques, it’s good to start with his views on pregnancy and infancy and the real reason for infant colic. Basically, Karp believes that babies are missing out on a ‘4th trimester’ of pregnancy; most animals are able to start functioning fully on their own within hours of birth, but human babies need a few more months before they begin sitting up, cooing, or smiling. Did you know that despite our cervix’s dilating to an impressive 10 cm, it’s still quite a stretch to accommodate a baby’s head which on average is around 11cm in diameter, or 35 cm around? Obviously it wouldn’t be possible for us to naturally carry our babies for another 3 months, but Dr. Karp believes that as our brains and heads have gotten bigger, it’s necessitated an earlier exit from the womb. For this reason, they need to continue to receive the same stimulation outside of the womb as they have been while still safely enclosed inside. The ‘5 S’s of Soothing’ result from this need.
Additionally, he found that many cultures, particularly those who wear their babies, don’t have the same incidence of colic and fussy babies that we do. Here are some of his other interesting findings:
If you’ve got a little one who is suffering from colic, or even if you’re having difficulty getting them to sleep in the evening, the following 5 steps should be helpful in inducing the calming reflex in your little one.
1. Swaddling – Nothing new about this one! Using a blanket to wrap your baby up snugly helps by replicating the tight quarters they were living in for so long. Just make sure you can fit a few fingers in next to the baby to ensure it’s not too snug.
Source: Newborn Helpline
2. Side or Stomach position – Babies are more easily startled by movement when they are on their backs as it can trigger their moro reflex. Holding them on their side or stomach can help them move towards calming, and as well if they are suffering from gas, it can help relive the pain in the stomach.
3. Shushing – Similar to the sounds made by your heart and digestive system that your baby is hearing while in utero, making a loud Shhhh sound when they are fussing helps to calm them. Make sure you are louder than their crying so they can hear you (the sounds in utero would have been as loud as a vacuum cleaner is now) or use a sound machine if needed.
4. Swinging movement – This one is harder to describe. To be honest even having read the book I didn’t 100% understand the movement of the baby in this technique. Dr. Karp compares it to a ‘jell-o jiggle’ in that you are moving the baby back and forth pretty quickly but cupping your hand around/under his or her head so that it’s more of a jiggle than a shake.
Here’s a video that might help show it better, because I’m sure I’m confusing you!
5. Sucking - Once the baby has been soothed you can begin slowing down your motions and use a pacifier or even thumb to keep the baby in it’s calm state.
Here are two quick examples of combining all of the steps in the book that you may find helpful.
- Swaddle the baby and with your knees together, place her on her side along your thighs (with her head at your knees). Cup your hands loosely under the baby’s head and rock your knees back and forth in a rhythmic motion. Once the baby has calmed down, use your thumb that is in front of the baby’s face or a pacifier to continue their calming.
- For those really fussy nights! Put two dry clean towels in the dryer. When they are warm, pull one out and use it to swaddle the baby. Turn the dryer back on and sit on top of it while loosely holding the baby. When the towel has cooled off, switch the towels in the dryer and repeat as long as necessary.
The book provides way more examples of positions or alternatives for each of the steps, and I’ll be posting ones of interest or those that my friends find useful from time to time over the next 3 months (and the ones that work for me after that!). I’ve included an amazon link below if you’d like to purchase the book (and support baby D!), otherwise I would just try and find it at your local library.
If you would like to find out more without purchasing the book, check out this article by Dr. Karp for Pregnancy.org.