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.