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5 Tricks for Soothing Your Newborn Baby

By Jen Garcin

Congratulations! You just brought home your precious new baby and your life is forever changed.

When your heart is full and your energy depleted, there is nothing worse than struggling to soothe your newborn. The day after I gave birth to my daughter, I stumbled into my hospital’s lactation group ten minutes late. The baby was screaming and I was like a deer in headlights: classic first day of motherhood. The hero nurse and lactation consultant smiled and welcomed me in saying, “let’s all practice the 5 S’s for a happy baby and happy mama.” She picked up 12-hour-fresh Eloise, expertly swaddled her, held her against her chest, made a loud shushing noise, and started swaying back and forth. My screaming baby was instantly calmed—in less than 30 seconds! She passed the baby back, and I was able to nurse her properly and calmly for the very first time. The next day she guided me, and I was able to soothe Eloise on my own. I never wanted to leave.

New moms know that sleep deprivation is part of life with a newborn. It felt like absolute torture to be so insanely exhausted and unable to soothe my screaming infant. If there was a Guinness Book of World Records for number of times “how to soothe a newborn” was Googled, I might hold the record. I kept reading and practicing the 5 S’s and my swaddling technique over and over. Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty magical.

The 5 S’s comes from Dr. Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block. With the exception of swaddling, we still use this technique almost a year later with our daughter, and it works beautifully.

1. Swaddle

For newborns, a tight swaddle is the first step in the 5 S’s. Babies who are swaddled respond to the other four steps more effectively. When it comes to swaddling, the technique is everything. We spent many a 3 a.m.-wake-up swaddling and re-swaddling over and over until we got it just right. It was worth the diligence because once we did, our newborn was calm and slept for much longer stretches. There are several techniques you can follow. You may have to try a few to see what your baby prefers. The most important things are that the swaddle goes over baby’s shoulders but not the neck, face or head, and is tight in the arms and chest, but has give in the hips so that baby can bend and move their legs freely. Your little one may cry harder as you’re swaddling. That’s okay! They don’t yet know the relaxation that’s coming their way. Here is a great swaddle technique video. Drop the swaddle at 12 weeks or when baby shows signs of rolling. There are some great transition sleep sacks to choose from.

2. Side/Stomach

The only safe sleep position for babies is on their backs. So before putting baby down to sleep, try holding the baby on their stomach or side against your chest, arm, or over your shoulder. All babies are different, but once you find the position your little one loves best, they will calm in no time.

3. Shush

Being inside the womb is loud, like way louder than a vacuum cleaner loud. Using your mouth to shush is helpful in a pinch, but Guidepost at Home nannies recommend getting a great white noise machine. The Hatch Baby Rest is a great option for the nursery as it is app-controlled, includes an okay-to-wake light for when they’re older, and can be turned up loud. Not all white noise is created equal—the TV static setting on the Hatch is closest to the sound baby heard in the womb. Look for true white noise; ocean sounds and fans don’t do the trick because the noise is too dissimilar. When my little one gets a boo boo, I still use shushing to soothe her, and she sleeps soundly with her white noise machine in her nursery and on the go. The minute I turn it off, her eyes pop open.

4. Swing/Sway

The womb was quite a bumpy ride for your sweet baby. They’re not used to being still. Swaying and rocking is great for soothing your baby just before bed, but if your little one is in hysterics, using quick, smaller motions is much more effective. Just make sure you’re not shaking baby. Use one inch, rhythmic movements with baby in your arms. You can also try jiggling the bassinet when they wake from sleep if you have something like the Halo Swivel Bassinet. If you can invest in a Snoo, it will do the work for you. While watching your baby, a swing is a great option for keeping your little one calm while you scarf down a meal.

5. Suck

Sucking can come in many forms: nursing, bottle feeding, offering your finger, or a pacifier are all perfectly good options. When babies suck, they fall into a deep relaxation. Dr. Karp describes sucking as “icing on the cake.”

The reason these soothing techniques are so effective, is because they mimic conditions in the womb. The first three months of your baby’s life, or the newborn stage, is also referred to as “the fourth trimester”. During the fourth trimester, your little one is adjusting to the world outside of the womb. They are experiencing bright light, loud noises, temperature changes, hunger, and long periods of stillness and being alone for the very first time. It is normal that they cry a lot. In fact, they’re crying more now than they ever will. It gets better. Until then, the 5 S’s provide comfort that is similar to how baby felt when they were cradled safely inside their mother’s belly.

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Try developing a nighttime routine as soon as you feel ready. Some of our Guidepost at Home mom tribe love using infant massage followed by the 5 S’s as part of their routine. In my house, we use a calming Spotify playlist of music the adults love as we diaper change, massage, bottle feed, and then rock. It helps everyone relax. When baby goes in their crib, turn your playlist off and sound machine on.

These soothing techniques are not just helpful for getting more zzz’s, research has found the 5 S’s to be super effective in calming babies after they receive immunizations as well. We have continued to use this technique (all but swaddling) through teething, leaps, boo boos, and sickness.

The newborn phase is as challenging as it is amazing. Remembering that everything is a phase and soon I would be missing the newborn snuggles helped me to breathe and stay present. Equal parts love and frustration are totally normal, and having some helpful tools to get through the more frustrating moments can be a game changer.

Jen Garcin is a proud mom of a human baby and two kittens. She had an exciting and fulfilling career in criminal justice reform before transitioning to her favorite job ever, being a stay-at-home mom to her daughter & boss, Eloise. She is also a certified yoga instructor. Jen is passionate about all issues related to motherhood, social justice, and dabbles in freelance writing and marketing consulting. She is super active in her local community, and hosts a monthly cookbook club

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