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How to calm a crying baby

Did you know that it was possible calm almost any crying baby in about a minute or less? I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.

Just before Fiona was born, I went to a presentation by Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block. It was a room full of crying babies and he went from baby to baby, instantly calming each one, while at the same time giving his presentation. It was like watching a magician and I was so excited to learn his techniques (and at the same time wondering why I hadn’t learned them when Isabela and Diego were babies!)

According to Dr. Harvey Karp’s research, babies are born with 5 calming reflexes that they carry over from the womb. They need them in the womb so that they stay calm and basically in one position, with their head down, so that they can be born without major complications.

So to calm your baby, you need to re-create a womb-like experience for them. He describes the process as the 5 S’s.

The 1st S – Swaddling

Babies are used to being snug and cozy inside the womb, so swaddling re-creates this. It also helps them to sleep better, and longer, because they oftentimes wake themselves up with their hands. Dr. Karp said that people usually use swaddle blankets that are too small, so the baby can squirm out of it. I made a great swaddle blanket sewing together 4 receiving blankets.

The 2nd S – Side/Stomach

Turn your baby onto it’s side or stomach (though when you put them down to sleep, you need to lie them on their back to prevent SIDS.)

The 3rd S – Shushing

The sound inside the womb is louder than a vacuum cleaner, so making a loud “Shhhhhhhh” sound triggers this calming reflex. You can also use external white noise, such as the static sound from a radio, vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, etc. The sound needs to be as loud as the crying, otherwise they won’t hear it.

These are two videos showing shushing. The first is with a hair dryer and the second is with the “shhhhh” sound.

The 4th S – Swinging

Dr. Karp described this as a head jiggle, and never a shake, which could lead to Shaken Baby Syndrome (which was, in fact, why he was here in Vancouver – presenting calming techniques to doctors at a Shaken Baby Syndrome conference. When parents can calm their baby quickly, they don’t get overwhelmingly frustrated by the cries and then shake their baby, which can lead to brain damage or death.)

The head and neck always need to be supported, but allow the head to do a Jello jiggle. Remember, the head was jiggling already for 9 months in the womb!

The 5th S – Sucking

Babies have a strong need to suck and it is very calming for them. In other cultures around the world, babies nurse 50-100 times a day, not just for the milk, but also for the need to suckle.

Crying babies can create exhaustion, insecurity, interfere with nursing, create marital stress, postpartum depression, SIDS, Shaken Baby Syndrome, and child abuse. Handing out a copy of Dr. Harvey Karp’s DVD, the Happiest Baby on the Block, to all new parents seems like a simple solution for preventing many of those issues.


Dunstan Baby Language

The next amazing discovery to calm your crying baby is by Priscilla Dunstan, creator of the Dunstan Baby Language.

She discovered that there are 5 sounds that babies make when they cry. The reflex lasts until they are 3 months, but will continue if their cries have been attended to.

Neh – hunger

The sound comes from the sucking reflex, when the tongue is pushed up to the roof of the mouth.

Owh – sleepy

The key to this sound is looking for a wide open mouth, that looks like a yawn.

Eh – burp

This sound means the baby needs to be burped and has an air bubble caught in the chest.

Heh – discomfort

The key to hearing this sound is to listen carefully for the “H” sound at the beginning. The discomfort could be too hot, too cold, or needing a diaper change.

Eairh – lower gas

This sound is produced when air is unable to be burped and moves down to the stomach and intestines, creating upset stomach and gas.

The cry sound that I have found the most helpful with Fiona is the “Eh” (needs to be burped). Oftentimes I feed her and then she passes out, only to wake up a few minutes later needing to be burped. Listening for the “Eh” sound has helped me to distinguish between her funny sleep sounds (when I can just leave her and she’ll go back to sleep) and her actual need to be lifted up to be burped.

Good luck calming your baby!


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