What are the 5 S's? Sooth Your Baby

Babies get fussy for many reasons, often struggling with self-soothing and regulation during their first few weeks or months out of the womb. This adjustment period to the loud and new world outside their mommy is often referred to as the fourth trimester and brings stimulus difficulties for the tiny tot. Figuring out how to calm down temperamental babies is a rite of passage for every parent. Fortunately, Pediatrician Harvey Karp developed a time-tested plan for soothing your child. Karp pioneered the 5 S's, a sure-fire bundle of tricks certain to ease your newborn's distress, and he organized them into an easy mnemonic list to help you remember: swaddle, side-stomach, shush, swing, and suck.

Related: How to Get a Baby to Sleep Through the Night

What Are the 5 S's Used For?

Babies get fussy for many reasons, from being hungry to feeling tired and everything in between. So whether it's a dirty diaper, too much gas, or overstimulation, deploying the 5 S's can save parents a lot of distress. Here are two particular situations the 5 S's were developed to alleviate.


Falling asleep can be one of the most challenging endeavors for a baby, especially so, ironically, if they're overly tired. Fatigue makes them cranky, which can be counterproductive to a quick trip to dreamland. But 5 S's can replicate the sensations experienced in the womb, helping parents lull their newborns into a restful sleep. Studies show allowing babies to sleep on their tummies can raise the risks of SIDS significantly. That's where the Side-Stomach position of the 5 S's comes into play. Holding your baby on their side can help them get to sleep and keep them safe in the process.


Colic is considered frequent, intense, and prolonged crying or agitation in a healthy newborn. Sounds like a common symptom for babies, right? That's because Colic gets used as an all-encompassing label for fussiness, a distracting state for any parent that's just a symptom of a baby getting used to their new environment and the stimulus that comes with it. The umbilical cord feeds babies while in the womb, so adjusting to a fully functioning digestive system can take some getting used to. Bright lights and new noises can upset the little tyke, too, but thankfully, the 5 S's are here to help.

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Sucking on a pacifier can calm a baby quickly.

The 5 S's: Explained

Some newborn distress can be easily identified with the sniff of a diaper or the warming of a bottle. But what about when solutions to the obvious don't curtail the crying? Remember to add the 5 S's to your daily arsenal for calming your child, and the entire family can find relief.


Swaddling is when you wrap up your baby to make them feel snug and is the cornerstone of calming. Swaddled babies sleep longer and better than ones who aren't. The reason for this is because when your baby's snug and warm, it reminds them of the comfort of the womb. It can also reduce the likelihood of the babies waking themselves with their Moro reflex, which is when they flail their little arms when feeling startled at sounds or movement. It's also suggested wrapped babies respond quicker to the other 4 S's and can stay soothed longer. Babies shouldn't be swaddled all day, and you'll want to stop the practice once they can roll over onto their stomach, but when it's time to alleviate fussing or help them sleep, here's how to do it:

Swaddle Like a Pro

  • Lay your baby down on soft fabric that's folded into a diamond. 
  • Fold one side of the fabric over the child and tuck it under their arm.
  • Leave space between the swaddling fabric and your baby's chest - about two fingers worth - for wiggle room. 
  • Lift the baby's bottom and tuck in the fabric. 
  • Be careful of tight swaddling around the hips and legs that could cause hip development issues. 
  • Fold over the second side and tuck that end into the fabric wrapped around your baby's backside. 
  • Avoid bundling your baby in too many warm layers, and never cover your baby's head.

Related: When to Stop Swaddling Your Baby

Side or Stomach

Laying on their back is the only safe position for newborns to sleep in, but it's also the worst position for calming a child's fussiness. Babies who sleep on their tummies significantly increase the risk of developing SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), but babies can be quickly calmed in this position. The solution to this contradiction is where the Side or Stomach Position 'S' comes in. Put your baby on your chest with skin-to-skin contact not just for bonding but for a peaceful influence on your child. Additionally, when you lay a child over your shoulder or forearm with your hand supporting their head, you can position them on their tummy or side without risk. Holding babies in this prone position stimulates a calming mechanism within the child that soothes their system. Just remember to place them on their back once they've calmed down and are about to doze off. Regardless of how early they learn to flip themselves over, be sure to keep putting them to sleep on their backs until their first birthday.


Babies don't need total silence to sleep. It sounds strange to them. Your child heard plenty of sounds while growing inside their mother. From the pumping of Momma's blood to the rhythm of her breathing and the rumbling of her digestive system, the womb is a concert of stimulating sounds during your child's development. Making a loud shushing ("Shhhhh") can simulate the blended sounds your baby became used to. In addition, research shows that controlled in-and-out breathing sounds can alter a baby's heartbeat and improve sleeping patterns. A trick for successfully deploying the shush technique is to put your mouth close to your baby's ear then shush to the volume of your child's cries. As the baby settles, reduce your shushing to match until both the baby and you are quiet.


Movement can calm a fussy baby. They felt a lot of it inside their mother during development. When parents carry a child, their heart rate often decreases, and their crying subsides. Add swinging to the mix, and your baby will be happy in no time. Additionally, you can turn these opportunities into bonding experiences by keeping your baby facing you while smiling. It will also teach your baby how to focus and communicate. 

Swing Like a Pro

  • First, remember to always support your baby's head and neck.
  • Next, sway back and forth. No need to be extreme about it -- an inch will do. 
  • Then, add a touch of bounce.
  • A slow rock helps an already calm baby fall asleep, while a faster pace can calm a child who's being fussy. 
  • Keep your movements small. Once your baby calms, you can put them in a swing; just remember to never leave them in it unattended.
  • It's vital you never - ever - shake your baby. Shaking can cause brain damage or even lead to death.


Sucking is a natural reflex for babies. They start sucking as early as the 14th week of gestation, which many an ultrasound has caught. Encouraging your child to suck for comfort is backed by hard data. Babies enjoy sucking and find it calming even without feeding. This is where pacifiers come in handy but should only be implemented once the child and mother have developed a successful breastfeeding routine. After that, don't worry about holding back a pacifier, thinking he'll use it forever. Habits don't get formed until around six months of age, so thumb-sucking becomes the more problematic action to break. Speaking of fingers getting sucked on, Mom and Dad can offer one of theirs for the baby to suck on when a pacifier isn't present. Keep the pad of your finger turned upward against the roof of the child's mouth. 

Related: When You Should Stop Using a Pacifier

Swinging a baby can recreate sensations felt in the womb.

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Relief Has Come

A crying baby isn't fun, but the 5 S's technique can bring both the baby and the child's parents relief. Be sure to practice these steps early and often; then, you'll be able to adapt each one to what suits your infant best. Congratulations on your newest family member, and enjoy this special time with your child.

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