Five Steps to Activate Your Baby’s Calming Reflex - Woodmam

There should be a law requiring that the 5 S’s be stamped onto every infant ID band in the hospital. For our frantic baby, they worked in seconds!

Nancy, mother of two-month-old Natalie

In the early 1900s, baby experts taught new parents to do the following when their infant cried: 1) feed them, 2) burp them, 3) change the diaper, and 4) check for an open safety pin. Authorities proclaimed that when these didn’t work, babies had colic and there was nothing else a parent could do. Today, most doctors give similar recommendations.

But for parents of a frantic newborn, the nothing-you-can-do-but-wait advice is intolerable. Few impulses are as powerful as a mother’s desire to calm her crying baby. This instinct is as ancient as parenting itself. Yet, the frustrating reality is while parents instinctively want to calm their babies, knowing how to do it is anything but instinctive. It’s a skill. Luckily, it’s a skill that is fairly easy to learn.

Peter, a high-powered attorney, is the father of Emily and Ted. When his kids were born, Pete and his wife, Judy, had very little baby experience. So, after the birth of each child, I sat down and reviewed the concepts of the fourth trimester and the 5 “S’s.” Several years later, Peter wrote:


It has been more than ten years since I was taught the 5 “S’s” as a way to quiet my crying babies. Even today, I like to share them with clients who bring their infants into my office. It’s great fun to see the amazed looks when a large, lumbering male like me happily collects their distraught baby and calms the delicate creature in seconds—with a vigorous swaddle, side, swing, shush, and suck. These simple techniques give any parent a true sense of accomplishment!


The 5 “S’s” are the only tools you’ll need to soothe your fussy infant.

1. Swaddling: A Feeling of Pure “Wrap”ture

Tight swaddling is the cornerstone of calming, the essential first step in soothing your fussy baby and keeping him soothed. That’s why traditional cultures from Turkey to Tulsa (the Native Americans, that is) use swaddling to keep their babies happy.

Wrapping makes your baby feel magically returned to the womb and satisfies his longing for the continuous touching and tight fit of your uterus. This “S” doesn’t actually trigger the calming reflex but it keeps your baby from flailing and helps him pay attention to the other “S’s,” which do activate the reflex.

Many irritable babies resist wrapping. However, it’s a mistake to think this resistance means that your baby needs his hands free. Nothing could be further from the truth! Fussy young babies lack the coordination to control their arm flailing, so if their arms are unwrapped they may make themselves even more upset.

Here’s how one grandmother learned the ancient tradition of swaddling and passed it along:

My youngest sister was born when I was nearly ten years old. I remember my mother teaching me how to swaddle her snugly in a warm blanket. That year, mothering and bundling began for me, and they have continued, without interruption, into my sixtieth year!

When my grandchildren began to arrive, I faithfully taught my kids to wrap their babies very tightly in receiving blankets. My passion for swaddling often led to some good-humored discussion: “Watch out for Bubby and her bundling!” Yet somehow it always seemed to help.

The babies in our family, although beautiful, talented, and brilliant, share a fussy, high-maintenance profile, if only for the first two or three months. But swaddling has always been a big help. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it change their faces from a scowl to serenity.

Barbara, “Bubby” of Olivia, Thomas, Michael, Molly, and Sawyer
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