Using Dr. Harvey Karp 5 S’s Method To Soothe A Baby

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Your life changes the moment your newborn arrives. In fact, you are probably extra careful around them, especially when they are asleep, because calming them down is a challenge. When it comes to calming babies down, the 5 S’s method to soothe a baby can be your savior.

There may be times when your baby may get cranky and cry for hours. Nothing may seem to soothe them even though they are well-fed, warm, and comfy. In such situations, try applying this effective trick, which can soothe your baby and ease them into a state of restful sleep.

Read this post to learn more about the 5 S’s technique for soothing babies.

What Is The 5 S’s Technique To Soothe Your Baby?

The well-tested 5 S’s technique is the brainchild of a reputed pediatrician, Dr. Harvey Karp, an associate pediatrics professor at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical School. Dr. Karp’s Happiest Baby aims at recreating the sensory experience within the womb to soothe the baby (1).

The method is based on the understanding that babies are born with a calming reflex that lasts through the first three months of their life. The 5 S’s trigger that reflex to calm down a cranky baby. While these work best for infants between the ages of zero and three months, they also have calming effects on older babies. Once your baby is calm and sleeps well, you may get rid of your sleep-deprived nights, short tempers, and anxiety issues.

The 5 S’s To Soothe Your Baby

The 1st S: Swaddle

Swaddling a newborn is a simple and effective way to handle the newborn’s sleep issues and to calm them down when they are cranky. It mimics the comfort inside the womb and calms the baby to soothe them quickly.

Research shows that swaddling brings better neuromuscular development, better motor control, and greater self-regulation even among pre-term infants (2). Swaddling even appears to offer better pain relief to infants. Swaddled babies wake up less frequently and sleep soundly. If your baby is crying uncontrollably after immunization shots, swaddling could do the trick and calm them down far more quickly than you can imagine.

New parents can take advantage of the technique when their babies are irritable. However, keep these points in mind:

  • Swaddle in a way that the baby has room to move their hips. They should be able to bend their legs freely.
  • Swaddled babies (just like other babies) should always be made to lie on their backs.
  • Learn the technique properly so that the swaddling cloth does not become loose. If the cloth gets loose, it could cover the baby’s face and restrict their breathing.
  • Avoid swaddling with thick blankets or over too many layers of clothes to prevent overheating.
  • Stop swaddling once the baby can roll over.

Once the baby is swaddled nice and snug, you can move on to the second S to calm them down even quicker.

The 2nd S: Side or Stomach Position

Babies tend to calm down and sleep easier when they are on their tummies or their side. An easy way to calm a cranky baby is to put them over your shoulder or forearm, either on their tummy or side, and pat them to sleep. Once they doze off, gently put them in the crib, but remember to place them on their back.

Placing the baby to sleep on their back is essential to prevent the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Babies could be twice at risk of SIDS when put to bed on their stomachs (3). By making sure your little one is on their tummy or side only when you are carrying them, you can address the SIDS concerns.

But what do you do if you are unable to calm the baby through swaddling and the stomach position? Then, you try the third S.

The 3rd S: Shush

Shushing the baby to soothe them is something that all mothers do instinctively, but Dr. Karp explains how it could make the baby’s calming reflex get into the action (1). Remember that the baby has spent months inside your womb listening to various sounds. They have been exposed to 70 to 90dbs at any given time (4). That’s about the same level of noise that a vacuum cleaner produces. Yes, it’s pretty loud, which means you don’t need to stay quiet when the baby is asleep. They’ll sleep better with noise, but of the right kind.

Mimicking the sounds inside the womb makes the baby feel safe. You can make a shushing sound that is loud enough to be heard over her crying. Get close to her ear and make a gentle shush to soothe them. It becomes easy if they are over your shoulder. Many parents also play white noise on their phones (though it might be better to avoid exposing the child to mobile radiation, try using some other device like a music system) to give the baby the feeling that they are surrounded by the same sounds they heard for months while inside the womb.

White noises could be low-, medium-, and high-frequency sounds played simultaneously while maintaining the same intensity (5). This kind of noise masks other sounds that could disrupt sleep. Studies show that you can also produce white noise through devices, such as a vacuum cleaner, to soothe the irritable baby (6). However, make sure the noise is not uncomfortably loud for the baby.

The 4th S: Swing

When you were carrying your baby inside you, you had an active life—going to work, doing your household chores, shopping, having fun with friends, and exercising. That’s why your little one had a nice jig inside of you, moving in tandem with your activities. Babies get accustomed to the quick rocking movements they experience in-utero. Post-delivery, if rocking your little one gently is not calming them down, swing them at a slightly faster pace.

Here is what you should keep in mind when following the 4th S of soothing your baby:

  • Support your baby’s head and neck when swinging them.
  • The swinging should be fast but not jerky. Also, do not shake the baby.

A careless shake might result in shaken baby syndrome, resulting in severe consequences. Estimates from the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome show that 600 to 1400 infants suffer from this syndrome every year in the U.S. (7). While it usually occurs due to a violent, anger-driven response to a crying baby, it could also happen if you swing the baby hastily.

A good way to ensure your baby’s safety is to put them in a well-designed hammock or infant swing. Short-range swinging motions, just an inch to and fro, work best. If you are holding the baby in your arms while doing it, add a little bounce to your step. It replicates how the unborn child feels inside the uterus when you were doing your daily chores. To make it even more fun, maintain eye contact with the baby, and smile at them while you are swinging.

Remember that a faster-paced swing works to calm down a crying infant who seems inconsolable. When they calm down and get sleepy, slow down the pace and make it more of a gentle, rocking motion. If you have family members or other caregivers who take turns with the baby, educate them about the right way to swing the baby safely.

The 5th S: Suck

Babies are proficient at sucking. An unborn child usually learns to suck by the 14th to 15th-week of pregnancy (8), and you might have seen it in an ultrasound already. It is a calming action for the baby, and it rounds up your list of 5 S’s for soothing infants. Non-nutritive sucking, that is, sucking when she is not feeding, is calming too. The go-to option for many parents is the pacifier. Don’t worry, as most babies do not form a habit of it. That said, do not use a pacifier as a replacement for breast . You must introduce pacifiers only after the age of four to six weeks when breastfeeding or bottle-feeding is established and pacifier use is unlikely to cause interference (9). You can keep a pacifier handy when outdoors with the baby to tackle any bouts of crying.

How To Practice The 5 S’s?

Now that you know what the 5 S’s of soothing, you should put them into practice. Start by swaddling the baby in a comfortable, warm, soft blanket and then following it up with the rest of the S’s in the order. Sometimes, one of these will work well enough to soothe the baby immediately.

It also depends on why the baby is crying. For example, if the little one is tired and wants to sleep, swaddling or the sensation of being cozily encompassed with warmth will work. If she is hungry, sucking at the breast or bottle may do the trick. Sometimes, you will need to try them all and slowly get calm down little by little through each step until they finally fall asleep or stop crying.

As you practice these with your infant, you will soon learn what works the best for your baby. Maybe a little humming along with swinging works well, maybe they’ll calm down faster with a pacifier, or perhaps they’ll sleep in a hammock swing than in your arms. Try different variations, and you will soon discover what works best for your baby.

The 5 S’s calm babies and help them fall asleep and ensure they stay asleep for longer and get better and more restful sleep. Good sleep is essential for development, and the 5 S’s ensure babies achieve their milestones by helping them get adequate rest.

What If The 5 S’s Do Not Work?

The first thing to do is figure out if you are doing them right. These steps work when you do them exactly the way they are meant to be done. You should learn from your pediatrician or nursing staff and get them to watch and correct you as you try the 5 S’s. Remember that these work best for babies up to three months old, although many of these techniques may help older babies, too.

If you are sure that you have done them all right and the baby still won’t calm down, it could indicate another problem. Consult a pediatrician to determine the underlying cause. A doctor may check for common reasons, such as allergies and acid reflux. In most cases, treating the underlying cause improves the baby’s condition and makes them less prone to colic.

Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s method to soothe a baby is considered effective for babies younger than three months. Swaddling, side or stomach-soothing position, white noises, swinging, and letting your baby suck on the breast or pacifiers help mimic the placental environment and calm the baby. But, these methods need to be practiced patiently for maximum benefits. Once you have the right technique, you can expect fewer crying sessions and lesser sleepless nights. However, if your baby continues to be irritable, consult your pediatrician.

Key Pointers

  • Swaddling helps babies gain better neuromuscular development, improved motor control, and increased self-regulation.
  • Putting a crying baby over your shoulder or forearm, either on their tummy or on their side, can calm down a baby.
  • A comfortably loud shushing sound can help calm a fussy or crying baby.
  • Most babies enjoy smooth and supported swinging.
  • Sucking onto the mother’s breast or a pacifier can help the baby soothe and calm down.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. L. Möller, W.Vente, and R. Rodenburg; Infant crying and the calming response: Parental versus mechanical soothing using swaddling, sound, and movement; PLOS (2019)
2. B. E. Sleuwen, et al.; Swaddling: A Systematic Review; Pediatrics Official Journal of the Academy of Pediatrics (2007)
3. C McCarthy; Should you swaddle your baby?, Harvard Health Publishing (2020)
4. J. J. Parga et al.’ A description of externally recorded womb sounds in human subjects during gestation; PLOS ONE (2018)
5. D Pacheco,What Is White Noise; Sleep (2020)
6. J.A.D. Spencer et al.; White noise and sleep induction; US National Library of Medicine (1990)
7. Shaken Baby Syndrome; American Association of Neurological Surgeons
8. N Reissland et al; Prenatal Mouth Movements: Can We Identify Co-Ordinated Fetal Mouth and LIP Actions Necessary for Feeding?; International Journal of Pediatrics (2012)
9. Pacifiers: Satisfying Your Baby’s Needs;
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Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo did MBA from Osmania University and holds a certificate in Developmental Psychology from The University of Queensland. The zoologist-botanist turned writer-editor has over 8 years of experience in content writing, content marketing, and copywriting. He has also done an MBA in marketing and human resources and worked in the domains of market research and e-commerce. Rohit writes topics... more

Dr. Pooja Parikh

Dr. Pooja Parikh is a pediatrician whose medical journey has taken her from Rajkot (PDUMC) to Vadodara (SSGH) to Mumbai (Hinduja & Breachcandy Hospital). Currently she is actively involved in critical, intensive and general care of 0 to 18-year-olds in the port town of Gandhidham, where she was born and brought up. She believes that a doctor should be involved... more