Notes on How to Soothe a Newborn Baby

When you have a one-month-old screaming at you, it’s important that you have a checklist of things to do to give you the illusion of control and sanity. In preparation for Liza being old enough to throw some great screaming fits, here is such a checklist, adapted from Dr. Harvey Karp’s list. For those of you without children and with no desire to have children, think of this as worst-case scenario instructions, kind of like what to do when you have to fend off a shark. You will probably never need it, but then one day you’ll be trapped on a plane hurtling to its doom and your seatmate will have been knocked unconscious, leaving you with nothing to do but soothe his screaming baby.

In the order you are to try them, here are the seven S’s.

Swaddle. Babies were wrapped up tight in the womb. Being able to flail their arms and legs about is distressing. Wrap them tightly to comfort them.

Side. When sleeping, babies should be on their back. When calming them, however, try holding them on their side. Many babies find lying on their back to be disorienting.

Shush. While in the womb, babies were bathed in the susurrus of mom’s heartbeat and blood, and comforted by hearing the muffled sounds of her voice and the voices of those around her. White noise, rather than quiet, is what babies need to feel comfortable. While holding your baby on the side, bend down and put your lips near his or her ears and say “SHUSHHHHHHH” as loud or louder as the baby’s cries.

Swing. Babies in the womb also are jostled around by mom’s motions. Replicate that experience by gently swinging and jiggling your baby. Do not shake the baby violently, as that can harm tiny baby brains.

Suck. While taking the swaddled baby and turning them on their side, shushing them, and swinging them, offer a finger or pacifier for them to suck on. This triggers a calming reflex. “Suck” also serves to describe you if you make it to this point and are unable to calm your baby.

Sob. It’s 3:17 A.M., you’ve had no more than 20 minutes of sleep in a row, and your baby won’t calm down at all, despite all of the pseudoscientific S’s you’ve thrown at them. Go ahead and cry. You know you want to.

Shriek. It’s 4:40 A.M. and none of these strategies have worked. Join your voice with the baby’s and offer up a wordless howl of frustration and despair. Don’t forget to breathe from your diaphragm.

11 thoughts on “Notes on How to Soothe a Newborn Baby

  1. I totally remember this game. We had limited success with Swaddle, pretty good with Shush and Suck. Plenty of Sobbing and Screaming, too.

  2. Don’t forget ‘Sulk’: for when your spouse has gone through the list and finally woken you up so you can share the pain.

  3. We had a modification of Swing. Since he was too heavy for me to carry for the long distressed wails-a-thons, we adapted to the Sling. We popped the baby in, and walked – it got tiring, but I lasted longer and eventually it worked. Suck was great, but only with our pinkies. Pacifiers never worked.

    The Shriek was more fun as a Howl, but yeah, it kills your theme (a little like How in the 5 Ws). Whenever I howled because he was screaming, he would stare at me in astonishment. Of course, he would start as soon as I stopped howling.

    I remember Sob. I just tried it two weekends ago!

  4. Did we remember to send you guys the DVD of all this stuff? It’s stupid, but I totally remember feeling as if I understand all of these a lot better and learned new nuances to the hallowed 5 S’s after watching Dr. Karp do them.

  5. Another last resort: Subaru. Well, it doesn’t have to be a Subaru, really, but being driven in the car seems to soothe some babies when nothing else will.

  6. I’m totally going to print out this list and hang it on the fridge, just in case we forget them at 2 or 3 in the morning 😉

    Have you considered doing your own parenting series?

  7. Hi Guys!
    We can come over and demonstrate Will’s favorite, bounce up and down on the yoga ball while patting his bottom rhythmically. Also, we are experts on Dr. Karp’s “windshield wiper” technique.
    Jon won an award in swaddling too. Glad you have the book, it helps!

  8. hello
    I have a baby 5 weeks old. and some days he won’t eat right. He usually has 4 ounces of milk at a time then burps and goes to sleep. But some days he’ll only munch an ounce or 2 here and there. Then he won’t settle down he keepk acting like he’s hungry so i give him his bottle and he’ll suck for a minute or two then drifts off to sleep for about 20 minutes then does the same thing all over anain, and he fights his sleep. i’ve tried everything i can think of and nothing works.
    can anyone help me?
    i need some helpful tips.
    thank you

  9. Oh, gosh, it really varies so much from baby to baby. “The Happiest Baby on the Block” really did help us a lot, as did “The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer,” by Tracy Hogg and Melinda Blau. Many of their tips worked for us.

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