5 WAYS TO SOOTHE YOUR FUSSY BABE | Columbus Ohio Newborn Photographer
Let’s face it, having and taking care of a newborn is not always your favorite sunshiny, happy unicorn moment. We totally love our sweet little squish, that is... until... that sleep deprived moment when we are overwhelmed and just don’t know exactly know how to make this precious babe happy again. We’ve fed, changed, bathed, cuddled, burped and sang to him but nothing is working! I have totally been there.
That is when knowing the 5 S’s becomes a complete Godsend!!! Dr. Harvey Karp developed these amazing techniques and shares them in his book The Happiest Baby On The Block.
The 5 S’s are valuable tools for every parent and caretaker to have when it comes to soothing a baby. I am going to share with you
The First S: Swaddling
A comfortable snug wrap is a great way to calm a fussy babe. Keeping their arms wrapped to his side helps decrease startling, keeps him nice & warm and induces sleep. You can achieve a nice swaddle with a long piece of stretch cloth, just as I do in my newborn sessions (I love a soft jersey knit, about 12 inches wide and 36 inches long) or with a receiving blanket. There are 3 basic types of swaddles and Mama Natural provides a wonderful explanation.
One of these types is sure to be helpful and work for you & your babe. These instructions and the drawings were inspired by those from Dr. Harvey Karp's excellent book The Happiest Baby on the Block.
1. The diamond swaddle
- Lay a blanket down on a safe, flat place for baby in a diamond shape/position with the top-most corner folded down 4-6 inches for baby’s head.
- Lay baby down on their back in the center of the blanket with their neck on the folded corner.
- Pull the left side over and snugly tuck under baby, making sure to keep baby’s hips loose. Never pull their legs straight or force their joints as this could cause hip dysplasia.
- Pull the bottom corner up and over baby’s left shoulder and then wrap the last corner all the way around baby and tuck into the little blanket pocket you’ve created on their front.
1. Make sure the swaddle is as tight as possible so your baby can’t get out. Loose blankets are a suffocation hazard, and a loose swaddle won’t calm your baby down.
2. Don’t let the blanket rub your baby’s cheek and lead your baby to think it’s meal time.
3. Make sure your baby’s arms are straight. Otherwise, the swaddle won’t keep the baby confined for long.
2. Square swaddle or quick swaddle
- Lay a blanket down in a safe, flat place for baby in a square shape/position folding the top right corner down about 4-6 inches for baby’s head.
- Lay baby down on their back on the blanket with their neck at the top of the fold; baby will be diagonal across the blanket.
- Pull the right side over and snugly tuck under baby (always making sure they have frog legs/loose hips).
- Pull the left side over, and snugly tuck under baby.
- Tuck the bottom of the blanket behind baby and you’re good to go.
Similar to this illustration, except tucking the bottom of blanket behind your baby.
3. Sleep sack swaddle
This is the easiest method and requires an actual sleep sack, you can purchase these easily on amazon here.
- Put baby in sleep sack like you would a onesie or footie pajamas
- Zip sleep sack
- Wrap and Velcro
These steps will vary depending on which product you purchase and prefer. This is an excellent option if you are in a hurry and need a simple method to calming your babe.
The Second S: Side or Stomach Position
Help your fussy babe calm down by holding him on his side or belly. This is a temporary help, since only sleeping on his back is best for a newborn. There are 3 basic holds with instructions provided below.
Images provided by wiki how mom.
The Reverse Breast Feeding Hold
This is an easy, comfortable position to hold a crying babe and
1. With your baby lying on his back (swaddled is best), place your palm on the front of his diaper.
2. Roll him onto your forearm, so his stomach rests against your arm (your upper arm and elbow securely supporting the head and neck) and bring him in to your body, lightly pressing his back against your chest. Use your hand to make sure his head is supported too.
Photo © Sally Anscombe/Getty Images
The Belly Hold
Soothing babies, mid-squawk, with the belly or "football" hold. This position is great for gassy babies. Lay the baby chest down over one of your forearms. Use your other arm to lay across baby's back to hold him securely. You can also do this across your lap or use it for burping. The comfort of this position depends on how long your arms are. A variation is to place the supporting hand between the baby's legs for a more secure grip. You can also bounce your legs a bit for added help in gas relief.
1. Begin with your baby lying on her back (swaddled if fussy).
2. Gently roll her onto your forearm, snugly cushioning her chest and stomach against your arm so that she is lying on her belly. Let her cheek rest on your palm or forearm. Her groin will be near your elbow while her legs will dangle, straddled over your arm.
The Over-the-Shoulder Hold
Simply lifting your baby to an upright position can often have a strong, soothing effect.
1. Hoist your fussy baby up onto your shoulder.
2. Let the weight of his body press his stomach against your shoulder. (You can even turn him more on his tummy and higher up so his head rests over your shoulder than shown here.)
That extra tummy touching makes this hold doubly comforting. (Swaddling your baby before putting him over your shoulder will give you better control and help him stay asleep when you move him off your shoulder into his bed.)
The positions above are great suggestions, you will find what works best for you and your babe.
Important note: While side and stomach positions are fantastic for soothing, you should always place infants on the back when he is out of your arms. And babies should sleep only on the back. Begun in 1994, the AAP’s Back to Sleep campaign has reduced SIDS deaths by more than half, just by advising parents to sleep on the back.
The Third S: Shushing
Have you ever been told to run the vacuum cleaner while your baby sleeps? White noises like this are similar to what your baby was experiencing for 9 months in womb. Remember your ultrasound sessions, the whooshing sound? That was constant, as well as your heartbeat pounding and the sound of your voice. Your baby is comforted by these noises because this is what she listened to for 9 months.
The Fourth S: Swinging
In womb your babe was in amniotic fluid, floating around as you walked down stairs. He was bobbing up and down as you went about your day. Try simulating this, always supporting your babes head/neck, keep your motions small; and move no more than 1 inch back and forth. Then transition into long and calm swaying. I find it is BEST in combination with the sounds of the ocean. Nice and calm, likely to put you asleep too. Beware.
Another great option is an actual baby swing. I remember when my twins were wee babes we had 2 swings in our living room. Those were a Godsend for this tired mom. One had a sound machine attached to it, they would be swinging back and forth and listening to water sloshing back and forth. Feels like yesterday. Now there are swings that rotate baby directions and serve as a dual purpose as a bouncy seat. Our house was filled with all types of contraptions to help make things easier, and comfort those sweet babes. Now there are swings that are multi functional. The Fisher-Price My Sweet Swan 2-in-1 Deluxe Cradle 'n Swing is definitely a must have, with 16 soothing noises, rocking motion & vibration my babes would have loved this swing!
The Fifth S: Sucking
Sucking is “the icing on the cake” of calming. Many fussy babies relax and go into a zoned state of relaxation with a pacifier.
Whether suckling at mom’s breast or sucking down a bottle, babies get their nutrients from sucking. Fortunately, babies are born with the ability to suck and swallow; it’s an inborn reflex that is vital to a baby’s survival. Thankfully, they can do it from day one, because can you imagine trying to teach a baby how to suck? How would you even begin to describe to this tiny creature the multiple muscles and steps in properly sucking and swallowing milk?
TURNING ON THE CALMING RESPONSE
Sucking not only satisfies a baby’s hunger but it can also turn on their calming response. Studies have shown “non-nutritive sucking” (i.e., not sucking to eat) can lessen stress by decreasing blood pressure and heart rate while also stimulating the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals into the brain. Sucking can helping premature babies grow faster and also decrease the risk of SIDS! All in all, sucking is a highly sophisticated tool babies use for self-calming and self-preservation.
Sure, some babies need a few days or weeks to really get proficient at sucking, swallowing, and breathing while they eat. If you’re a mom who’s had trouble breastfeeding, you know this all too well—babies may know how to suck but they aren’t always great at it! Fortunately, they do learn without much input; it just takes patience and practice and they’ll ultimately be able to do it in their sleep—literally and metaphorically!
Even in the womb, babies know how to suck and can sometimes be seen on ultrasound with their hands up by their mouths at the 28 week mark! But once baby is born, they are no longer snuggly packed into the womb with their hands conveniently in front of their mouth. Instead, even though baby may want to be sucking on her hands, just trying to move them up into the right position causes them to go flailing, rarely making their mark and sometimes even frightening themselves with a bump on the head!
This is why swaddling with arms down to keep them snug and safe from their own flailing arms is a very useful tool to keep baby calm. But with arms pinned to their sides, how else can babies enjoy the sucking they so desperately wants? A pacifier is what we all think of, but it’s not the only way to give babies exactly what they want!
AVOIDING NIPPLE CONFUSION
Many breastfeeding moms are afraid to use a pacifier because of the dreaded “nipple confusion,” which is difficulty breastfeeding after introduction of a rubber nipple, either in pacifier or baby bottle form. In many ways, it makes sense that babies might get confused between the two types of nipples. One is a firmer, synthetic material, designed with a simple hole for milk to exit through. The other is softer with multiple ducts where milk comes out of; mom’s breast, although natural, requires a much more coordinated sucking effort than feeding from a bottle or sucking on pacifier.
Hold a bottle upside down and eventually some milk will leak out. Aside from mom’s initial “let down” where breast milk wets her nipple (and sometimes her bra/shirt), milk only flows from a breast when massaged and sucked by baby’s feeding. So in some cases, a baby gets confused between the two and prefers the easier, synthetic nipple! This may lead to baby weaning earlier than mom or pediatrician may desire.
Fortunately, as long as you wait just a few weeks for breastfeeding to become established, most babies can switch between a synthetic nipple and mom’s breast without a problem. In these cases, feel free to start using a pacifier as early and often as your baby wants some non-nutritive sucking! If, however, after introducing a pacifier or bottle nipple, baby has difficulty latching, staying latched, or feeding efficiently during their next breastfeeding session, the pacifier may be the problem and may need to be avoided.
AN ALTERNATIVE TO A PACIFIER
In the case where baby can’t use a pacifier or can’t quite seem to use it effectively, a clean finger may work as a great alternative! In many cases, a finger is softer and fleshier than a pacifier so it’s easier for baby to use. Letting baby suck on your finger is actually a really enlightening experience for most people as it helps them to feel how coordinated baby’s sucking efforts are and just how strong their suck can be! To use this technique, follow these simple steps:
- Clean and wash your hands properly with hand hygiene techniques. Ensure the nails aren’t too sharp or too long.
- Be sure to select a finger that’s approximately the same size as mom’s nipple which will differ based on mom’s anatomy and the person whose finger is being used—for example, dad might need to use his pinky finger while mom or grandma might be able to use a pointer finger.
- Place the finger into baby’s mouth with the finger pad towards the top of the mouth and the finger nail by baby’s tongue.
- Once the finger is in babies mouth, you want to tickle the soft part palate in the back of baby's mouth. This part is pretty far back on the roof of the mouth but you can feel it in your own mouth with your finger or tongue first. By tickling this soft palate, you automatically stimulate baby’s suck reflex and you’ll then notice baby starting to suck on your finger!
- Sit back and watch baby calm down and become soothed!
Note that if baby sucks on their pacifier or your finger just for a few minute before starting to cry again, chances are baby is hungry! It’s almost like baby is protesting—“Wait a minute, that’s not milk!” In this case, a feeding is obviously in order.
This is different than a baby who's sucking effects diminish as they fall asleep and the finger/pacifier falls out of their mouth. When this happens, it is a more gradual realization that they want to suck but don’t have the pacifier anymore which wakes them up and they start crying all over again. To help babies with this problem, you can train them to keep sucking even as they sleep by slightly tugging the pacifier or finger out of their mouths while also tickling the top of their mouth. This will encourage them to suck the pacifier back into their mouth and begin sucking anew. All of this helps them learn how to not lose their pacifier when they do fall asleep.
TIPS FOR SOOTHING
Just a few more tips can ensure you're giving baby the best soothing possible:
- Make sure to never dip a pacifier into a sweet syrup to encourage them to suck. Honey and maple syrup can put your baby at risk for botulism!
- Wash the pacifier with soap and hot water to keep in clean. You don’t need to be obsessive about cleaning because babies do need to come into contact with some germs as they grow and build their immune systems, but it does still need to be cleaned!
- Use a proper pacifier clip and never a string or ribbon to prevent the pacifier from hitting the ground. Strings and ribbons can pose a choking hazard and also get wrapped around tiny fingers and toes, cutting off circulation!
- Once baby reaches 4-5 months old, it’s time to get rid of the pacifier. At this point, baby is old enough to be able to bring their own hands or other objects to their mouth to suck on. They have also grown and learned other self-soothing techniques. Trying to get rid of a pacifier after 6 months is much more difficult as by that point baby will have developed a close emotional bond with their “paci” and just like a favorite teddy bear or security blanket, may not want to give it up!
So remember, sucking is a natural soothing technique that can be used anytime and anywhere with any baby! Combine it with the other soothing S’s and you’ll have a baby who is calm and happy!
All of the 5 S’s help increase a babies mellow state of relaxation making it easier for them to let go and sleep. Sleep is very important for a baby, so keep in mind the 5 S’s when trying to soothe your baby back into a deep sleep, especially for those late night wake up calls.
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