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Did you know that compared to most other mammals humans are born one trimester early? The earlier exit is actually perfectly timed — any longer in the womb and babies’ heads would be too large to travel through the birth canal! This also means that the first three months of a newborn’s life is a critical period of development. During this time, it is vital that babies establish healthy and consistent routines.
Establishing sleep routines and helping your baby sleep can feel impossible. Luckily, Pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp1 popularized the easy to remember 5 s’s: swaddle, side/stomach, shush, swing and suck. These 5 soothing strategies can calm your baby and help them sleep better.
Swaddling imitates the cozy, secure feeling your child experienced during their nine months in the womb. This is a great step to try early and in combination with the other soothing strategies, since it may help your baby settle down faster and stay calm longer.
It’s important you swaddle your baby correctly. Here’s how to do it:
Moving your baby to their side or belly while they’re fussing can recreate this sensation and deactivate the startle reflex. This orientation feels unnatural to your newborn, who is used to moving more freely while supported by amniotic fluid in utero. This strategy is meant only to soothe the baby outside of the crib. The only safe position for your baby to sleep is on their back, since it significantly reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).2 Unfortunately it’s not a great position for calming babies that are crying.
To try this strategy, hold your baby on their tummy, their side, or over your shoulder (always being careful to support their head and neck).
You may think your baby needs absolute silence to sleep. But the truth is, your baby was constantly surrounded by noise during their time in the womb. They could hear the constant sound of your blood flow, which is louder than a hair dryer or vacuum cleaner. A similar type of white noise can help your baby sleep during the fourth trimester.
Mimic the rumbling white noise your baby experienced in the womb by loudly saying “shhhhhhhhhh” in your baby’s ear as you hold them on their side or stomach. You want your volume to match your baby’s crying here — so don’t be afraid to get close to their ear and be loud! As your baby begins to calm, slowly decrease the volume of your shushing.
Life in utero wasn’t quiet for your baby, and it wasn’t static either. They were constantly moving in the womb, afloat in a fluid-filled environment that shifted and swayed every time you took a step. Movement was often quick and small, so while gentle rocking works on an already calm baby, a different type of motion is required to soothe a crying one.
Use fast, tiny movements to soothe your upset newborn. It’s critical you keep your rocking small — shaking your baby can lead to permanent brain damage. Learn how to swing here:
Without the innate sucking reflex, babies would have a pretty hard time eating. And even though they’re fed via umbilical cord, babies begin sucking in the womb, often practicing on their fingers until they’re born. This is why sucking has such a comforting effect on newborns — it focuses their attention while reminding them of the safe, cozy womb.
Offer your baby a pacifier. This is a great one to combine with other soothing strategies. Pacifiers can be introduced after breastfeeding is well established and have been proven to reduce the risk of SIDS in the first three months.3,4
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