December 17, 2003
Dr. Harvey Karp is a board-certified pediatrician, associate professor of pediatrics at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of the book and video, The Happiest Baby on the Block. He dispels a series of myths about newborn babies and shares the five techniques to calm a crying baby:
Myth: The baby is ready to be born after nine months.
Babies are born too soon. Sure, every mother is ready to have her baby after nine months, but babies are not like horses. A horse is ready to run the first day of life. Our babies are fetuses the first few months. They are not ready for the world until three months when they are smiling, cooing and ready to interact. Of course, they have to be born, it’s not an option. But what a parent has to understand is that for the first few months the babies are like a walking uterus. They still need an environment that simulates what they experienced in the womb. Ever notice how a crying baby can sometimes be soothed when you drive them around in your vehicle? The vehicle is like an imitation of the uterus. There is a rhythmic calming sensation that turns on their calming reflex. Other ways to imitate the uterus: holding, dancing, rocking, swinging, white noise or singing.
Myth: Parents know what to do from the beginning.
It's intuitive to want to calm your baby, it's not intuitive to know how. That's a skill. It's not a hard skill, but it's something that requires skill. Babies have a calming reflex, like an "off" switch for crying, and it can be triggered by doing the five "S's." (Read on.)
Myth: Babies cry because they have gas.
Babies don't cry because of gas. Sometimes a little gas will trigger the crying, but they don't go on and on and on because of it. And you know it couldn't be gas if taking them for a car ride makes them quiet. Pain wouldn't come and go like that. Pain wouldn't go away if you turn on a hair dryer, and yet, that noise can calm them.
The 5 "S's": How to Turn on Your Baby's Calming Reflex
1. Swaddling: Wrapping makes your baby feel magically returned to the womb and it will keep your baby from flailing his/her arms. If not done correctly, the baby may cry even harder. Remember to swaddle snuggly. Loose blankets may be a choking risk. Also, don't overheat your baby. (Babies should never be sweaty and flushed.)
2. Side/Stomach: Newborns are easier to calm when they're lying on their side or stomach. This triggers the calming reflex by imitating your baby's position in the uterus. Lying a baby on his/her back can sometimes trigger a falling reflex and make your baby feel insecure. Keep in mind the side/stomach position is great for calming crying, but babies should only sleep on their backs.
3. Shhhh: "Shhhh"ing your baby imitates the sound he/she heard in your uterus, which was as loud as a vacuum cleaner. Place your mouth two to four inches from your baby's ear and make the "shhhh" sound. It must be loud enough to match the sound of your baby's crying, or he/she won't hear it.
4. Swinging: Rhythmic moving imitates the jiggling your baby felt inside the uterus and activates the calming reflex. Ways to use motion are: baby slings and carriers, dancing, infant swings, rocking, car rides, bouncy seats.
5. Sucking: Putting a pacifier, finger or breast into a baby's mouth satisfies hunger and turns on the calming reflex.
For more information about Dr. Karp and his techniques for calming crying babies, go to www.thehappiestbaby.com.