All babies cry—and that’s a good thing. How else would we know if our helpless infants were cold, hungry, lonely, or in pain? Traditionally, parents have just been encouraged to keep their chins up and wait until the baby grows out of it. But, that’s easier said than done! So, what are the 5 S's and why are they so important?

Crying Takes a Toll on Babies AND Parents

Typically, babies get increasingly irritable around sundown and can continue for hours. No wonder, parents get concerned, frustrated and very, very tired.

Exhaustion triggered by persistent crying creates huge stress in families, including marital conflict, maternal and paternal depression, and obesity. It causes car crashes and other accidents—people make all kinds of poor decisions when stressed and overtired. It also puts babies in danger when a wiped-out parent falls asleep with a baby in their arms, on an unsafe couch or a bed, which increases the risks for SIDS and infant suffocation. And believe it or not, the national costs of complications of infant crying and parental exhaustion total well over $1 billion dollars a year!

My ‘Aha!’ Moment on Calming Babies

Most doctors say that colic (crying for more than 3 hours a day) is a mystery. That’s what I used to say, too, until 1981 when I learned about the !Kung San of the Kalahari Desert, whose mothers usually calm their fussy babies in under a minute! The more I thought about it, the more I realized we could be as successful as !Kung parents, but only if we adopt 2 new ideas:

1. All babies are born 3 months early. Newborn horses can run within an hour of birth...but not our mushy little babies. A virtual fourth trimester of womb sensations (soft touch, jiggly motion, snug holding, etc.) may just be what they need.

2. Baby's have a calming reflex. The rhythms experienced inside the womb trigger a reflex that keeps babies relaxed. This calming reflex is a virtual off-switch for crying and on-switch for sleep.

The !Kung mothers are master baby calmers because they imitate the womb by carrying and rocking their babies 24/7...and feeding them three times an hour.

American parents have long turned to similar womb-mimicking tricks, whether they’ve realized it or not, like going for car rides and turning on the vacuum cleaner to soothe their babies.


The Basics of the 5 S’s Method for Soothing Babies

Smart parents around the world have invented all kinds of variations on the calming womb-like sensations I’ve dubbed the 5 S’s: Swaddle, Side-Stomach Position, Shush, Swing, and Suck.

1. The 1st S: Swaddle

Swaddling recreates the snug packaging inside the womb and is the cornerstone of calming. It decreases startling and increases sleep. And, wrapped babies respond faster to the other 4 S’s and stay soothed longer because their arms can’t wriggle around. To swaddle correctly, wrap arms snugstraight at the sidebut let the hips be loose and flexed. Use a large square blanket or the Sleepea 5-second swaddle, making sure not to cover your baby’s head or swaddle so loose that the blanket unravels. (Note: Babies shouldn’t be swaddled all day, just during fussing and sleep.)

2. The 2nd S: Side or Stomach Position

The back is the only safe position for sleeping, but it’s the worst position for calming fussiness. This S can be activated by holding a baby on her side, on her stomach or over your shoulder. You’ll see your baby mellow in no time. 

3. The 3rd S: Shush

Contrary to myth, babies don’t need total silence to sleep. In the womb, the sound of the blood flow is a shush louder than a vacuum cleaner! But, not all white noise is created equal. Hissy fans and ocean sounds often fail to calm babies because they lack the womb’s rumbly quality. The best way to imitate these magic sounds is white noise. (SNOO, SNOObear, and Happiest Baby’s CD/Mp3 each contain specially-engineered white noise sounds to calm crying and boost sleep.)

4. The 4th S: Swing

Life in the womb is very jiggly. (Imagine Baby bopping around the womb as Mom jaunts down the stairs!) While slow rocking is fine for keeping quiet babies calm, you need to use fast, tiny motions to soothe a crying infant mid-squawk. My patients call this movement the “Jell-O head jiggle.” To do it, always support the head/neck, keep your motions small, and move no more than 1 inch back and forth. I advise watching the DVD to make sure you get it right. (For the safety of your infant, never, ever shake your baby in anger or frustration.)

5. The 5th S: Suck

Sucking is “the icing on the cake” of calming. Many fussy babies relax into a deep tranquility when they suck. Many babies calm easier with a pacifier.

Complete guidance can be found in my Happiest Baby on the Block book and companion DVD/Streaming Video.

The 5 S’s Take Practice to Perfect

The 5 S’s technique only works when done exactly right. The calming reflex is just like the knee reflex: Hit one inch too high or low, and you’ll get no response, but hit the knee exactly right and, presto! If your little one doesn’t soothe with the 5 S’s, watch the Happiest Baby DVD/Streaming Video again to get it down pat. Or, check with your doctor to make sure illness isn’t preventing calming.

How The 5 S’s Relate to Another Favorite S—Sleep

In another "Aha!" moment, I realized technology could assist parents with their fourth-trimester duties and three out of the 5 S’s. So Happiest Baby invented SNOO, an innovative smart baby bassinet thats based on the 5 S’s, offering safe swaddling, soothing white noise, and gentle rocking to help calm babies and ease them into sleep. Parents especially love when it quickly calms babies for those 2am wakings!

For even more on the 5 S's, check out:

Swaddling: What to Do If Your Baby Keeps Breaking Out of the Swaddle

Side or Stomach Position: Baby Only Sleeps When Held On Their Side

Shush: How White Noise Impacts Baby's Hearing

Swing: 3 Easy Ways to Rock a Baby

Suck: Why Babies Love Pacifiers


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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.