The Baby Soothing Cheat Sheet
MAY 2019 - If you find yourself, as I did 9 years ago, with a colicky (or even just fussy) baby on your hands and no idea what to do, you will likely begin hearing tell of Harvey Karp MD’s indispensable book, The Happiest Baby on the Block. While the solutions in the book are not 100% failsafe, my experience is that they work and work WAY better than anything else. In this doc, I will turbo you through the book’s key points, adding a few tips and anecdotes of my own.
Please know that I have SO much empathy for you and what you are going through. I promise, you are not alone and you WILL get through it.
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Karp starts from the premise that human babies really need a 4th trimester in utero before they are ready to greet their public. This being impossible, due to their growing size and Mom’s human body, they come out after three trimesters not fully “cooked.” He proposes the 5 S’s of baby soothing – ways to comfort the baby by recreating aspects of the womb experience as closely as possible. Here they are:⠀
The instant baby becomes fussy, DO NOT STOP, DO NOT PASS GO...swaddle FIRST. “Swaddling recreates the snug packaging inside the womb and is the cornerstone of calming,” says Karp.
For my family, this was true. However, it only works if you do it right (challenging when the baby in question is screaming its face off😮). It takes a little while to get this down, but I PROMISE, you will soon be expert at this particular jiujitsu. In and of itself, swaddling may not stop the crying, but it preps baby to be able to respond to the other S's.
Tip 1: Click here for a free YouTube video demo of Karp's DUDU swaddling method (yes, DUDU - stands for Down, Up, Down, Up). Click here for The Happiest Baby on The Block website where the streaming video version of the book is available for $8.95. (Note: This endorsement is based purely on my subjective opinion. I receive no benefit from it - monetary or otherwise.)
Tip 2: Don’t worry if your baby resists swaddling. It is no more confining than the womb. Once they are firmly packaged up, they will relax into it.
Tip 3: We swaddled in layers i.e. a lightweight cotton swaddle topped with a blanket swaddle to remove and add as needed (note: our Beloved Blankie Classic is perfect for this).⠀
2. SIDE OR STOMACH POSITION
Not for sleeping but for fussiness, hold your baby on his/her side or stomach (some Dads can do this single handedly – God love them). I have to admit that achieving this “S” never quite worked for us (though I know it does for others). Our boy benefited most from being in a relatively upright position - due, I believe, to digestive issues, which seem to be at the root of almost everything that ails a babe. The only way he would sleep was slanted at an angle with his head high (in a bouncy chair). So, give side-stomach a whirl but don’t feel bad if you don’t stick the dismount.
Apparently, the sound of blood flow in the womb is louder than a vacuum (who knew?). So, babies snuggle right down to loud, white noise. You can run a vacuum or hair dryer until you blow a fuse (as we did), get a white noise CD or track on your phone and/or invest in a white noise machine if your serious about you're sleep & sanity. We once listened to a loud rainstorm for 40 days and 40 nights (maybe an exaggeration but now accepted family lore) when my son was an infant. We’d lost the remote and couldn't shut the CD player off. The beauty of shushing is that once you stop swaddling (around 3-5 months), you can continue with the white noise to ease baby back to sleep when he/she wakes up in the night. We ultimately got a white noise machine and I brought that thing with us on every trip we took until my son stopped using it at around age 6.
Tip 1: The sound machine also saves you from feeling like you have to tip toe around the house after the little one goes to sleep.
Hang in there baby! While nothing is a panacea for an upset babe, swinging works pretty well. A bouncy chair (admittedly, not exactly "swinging") worked OK but my husband strapping our son into his car seat and swing him in it wildly up and down the halls of our apartment complex was the real charm. (Try at your own risk). Ultimately, that was unsustainable and, much as we did not want another large, plastic-y baby thing in our living room, we broke down and bought an electric swing. This turned out to be a good investment. Our boy would nap in it fairly reliably during the day. We didn’t use it for sleeping at night.
It’s time to touch on the final and, perhaps, most powerful of Karp's 5 S’s of baby soothing…sucking. My son was THE MOST devoted binky kid EVER, from the day he was born until he finally let go of them completely and for good at around 6 (don’t judge). Say what you want about the pros and cons of binky’s, I maintain that he was the cutest kid ever with a bink in his little grille. His LOVE of them was so pure and so deep that the sight of him with one in his mouth would swell your heart to bursting.
For self-preservation, we indulged him for a long time, putting full bowls of them on offer around the house like beer nuts and sprinkling them throughout his crib at night to assure he/we would never be caught without one. Every so often, I would do a sweep of the house gathering a great pile of them and conducting what I called, “a good old fashioned binky boil” i.e. sterilizing them. I still have a gallon-size Ziploc full of them that I’ve never had the heart to throw away.
6. YOUR BONUS "S"...STROLL (My addition to Karp's 5)
A baby in motion tends to stay, well, calm or blessedly asleep. We’ve all heard tales of bleary-eyed, new parents pushing prams aimlessly through city streets or circling suburbs in their cars, destination-less in the night. My husband and I used to hop on the highway for its magical calming effect on our boy. (Note: resist the urge to drive and drive and never come back.) Motion works to soothe sleepless, crying infants.
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I guess the bottom line is that every kid and family are different. You have to give yourself the grace to do whatever it takes to survive those early months (years), even if it’s something you thought you would never do. Believe it or not, someday you’ll be nostalgic for every fraught, scary, sleepless moment of it. So hang in there and hold your Snuggle tight.
Written by Nikki Gersten McAvity, Founder of Robot Bunnies - a brand of chic, creative and beautifully crafted baby goods.
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