Picture by Jessica McMaken
Nearly every parent has found themselves face to face with an inconsolable baby. He's clean and fed, but he's howling like his tiny little world is coming to an end. What's a parent to do? Take a deep breath and let Dr. Harvey Karp turn your baby into the Happiest Baby on the Block.
Dr. Karp begins his book with his theory of the "4th trimester." You see, as a compromise of evolution, all human babies are born premature. If a human baby's brain developed to a point where it was truly ready to live outside of the womb, it's head would be too large to birth through the narrow hips required for upright walking. Interesting, no?
So once a baby is born, it really would prefer to be back in the womb where it's needs were fully met 24 hours a day. This is where the "5 S's" come into play. Swaddling, Side (or stomach), Shhhhh, Swinging and Sucking. Let me explain.
Swaddling is the process of wrapping your baby up tight in a blanket - like a burrito. This is often the way the nurses in the hospital (or your midwife at home) will wrap a new baby. It makes a baby feel safe and secure and keeps him from being woken by his startle reflex. The book provides a great, step-by-step diagram of how to swaddle a baby good and tight.
Dr. Karp recommends that a fussy baby be held so that he is lying on his side or stomach, for instance in the belly hold. This puts pressure on a baby's tummy that can gently relieve gas that have built up. The book provides many hold variations to try with your baby. Karp cautions that a baby should never ever be left to sleep unless he is lying safely on his back.
Shhhhhh-ing your baby is the 3rd "S." Karp recommends providing white noise by actually saying "shhhhh" or by turning on a fan, white noise machine or even static on the radio. This mimics the sounds of the womb and is comforting for small babies. Conveniently, Karp sells a white noise CD for this purpose. You can also download free white noise online.
The 4th "S" is swinging - or movement in general. Once a baby is born, he misses the constant movement he experienced in the womb. This is why babies are calmed by being walked around or placed in a baby swing. The book also recommends bouncing and car rides.
Finally, the 5th "S" is sucking. All babies are born with a sucking reflex - it's nature's way of making sure they eat. It also releases endorphins that help a baby calm down. A breastfed baby may be offered the breast to soothe him - even if he's just had a full meal. All babies may be offered a pacifier or the tip of a clean finger to help satisfy this powerful urge.
Many babies can be calmed using a combination of two or three "S's," but some babies will require a combination of all five. Karp calls this the "Cuddle Cure." One example would be to put a baby tummy to tummy in a sling, offer him a breast or pacifier and go for a walk while shhhhh-ing him. Or you could swaddle him up and breast feed while bouncing on an exercise ball next to a fan. Sound crazy? Then you've never been a sleep deprived parent hanging out with an inconsolable baby!
The Happiest Baby on the Block is overflowing with helpful tips and suggestions for implementing each of the 5 "S's." Dr. Karp's approach is entirely friendly to the principles of attachment parenting and parents swear by the effectiveness of his techniques. This is a "must have" for any parenting library and makes an excellent baby shower gift. And if you don't have time to read the book, the DVD is also available and provides great visual demonstrations of the techniques.