The 5 S's - The key to calming your baby's crying

How to calm your baby with the 5 S's

OK. Time to talk about the 5 S's.

These are the awesome techniques that Harvy Karp talks about in his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block (click on that link to see my review). They simulate the sounds and feelings of the womb which turns on what Karp calls the calming reflex. They can send a baby from crying to content in a matter of seconds. A dream for parents of a fussy or colicky baby. They have even shown to help ease vaccine pain.

One key to these techniques is that they pretty much need to be done exactly right to trigger this calming reflex. This very well may be why doing these techniques in the past has not worked for you.

That doesn't mean that your baby won't calm while doing these techniques in your own way (this is certainly what I did with 99% success with my youngest), but if you have a really fussy or colicky baby, you may need to do all these techniques correctly and at the same time--something Karp calls the Cuddle Cure (cute huh?).

Remember to firs make sure your baby isn't hungry, wet, uncomfortable (hot, cold, itchy) or gassy before trying these methods. They may not work well if that is the case. Preventing over tiredness will also go a long way in preventing fussiness.

The 5 S's:
  • Swaddling: The Cornerstone of Calming. Swaddling helps a baby feel nice and snug and stops all the flailing limbs. And it'll help prevent overstimulation. You can see more on swaddling on my post swaddling. Remember to swaddle nice and tight while giving the hips and legs room to move.
  • Side/Stomach. This position also helps control the flailing (by stopping the moro reflex). I like to hold baby tummy down on my arm with his head either in my hand or the crook of my arm.
  • Shushing. Shush 2 to 4 inches from baby's ear (not into baby's ear, but past it). The more upset your baby, the louder your shush. Loud and harsh shushing is best, even though instinct may say otherwise. Once baby starts to calm, you soften your shushing. Some babies will need continual shushing or white noise to stay asleep and pretty much all babies will sleep better with it. I suggest getting a white noise machine so you don't faint from shushing, and also because baby will sleep better with one)
  • Swinging or Rhythmic Movement. Some common rythymic movements include: rocking, dancing, baby swings, baby bouncers on vibrate, rythmic pats on the back or bottom, baby carriers, car rides, baby squats (my favorite and I'll explain later), back and forth movements of your knees while baby rests on them, and walks. Start out fast and jiggly with your movement and get calmer and slower as baby calms down. Once he is calm, you may need to continue the moderate movement for some time to keep him calm. Make sure you let his head jiggle a tiny bit too while supporting it. It is this tiny amount of Jello-like jiggling of the head that helps the most. All this movement can get pretty tiring--hence the beautiful swing. I recommend this swing. You can even add the tiny head jiggles in yourself while baby is in the swing.
  • Sucking. Whether it is the bottle, breast, finger or pacifier, babies like to suck. It is extremely soothing to them. Sucking will help keep a baby calm and will even cause him to become more calm. It is much easier to get a baby to take a pacifier etc. when she has calmed down which is why sucking comes last with the 5 S's. If you're having a problem keeping a pacifier in, you are not alone. It takes time for a baby to learn to do this. Trying out different pacifiers to find one they like and tugging on it slightely while they are sucking on it can help move this process along. 
 My oldest asleep on his side/stomach (it was a weird position but it worked for us--excuse the purple gentian violet lips).

How to do the 5's all together for a Cuddle Cure:

Start of by swaddling your baby and then by placing him either on his tummy or side. Next, start the shushing and immediatly follow this by swinging. Lastly comes sucking. This will likely happen once baby has calmed down and it will help keep baby nice and calm.

You'll need to do each method vigoriously for it to be the most effective. Match your baby's level of intensity. Watch your baby closely and mirror your actions with his crying.

Be warned. Some babies may cry harder when you first start the 5 S's. They may also cry on and off for a while and many babies will need you to continue the methods for several minutes (shushing may need to continue even longer) after they are relaxed otherwise they'll start up all over again. Just giving you a heads up!

Lastly, remember that practice makes perfect--for you and baby. Don't be upset if you can't figure it out right at first. Try giving someone else a chance (like your spouse) to try the techniques because I've noticed that some people seem to have more of a natural talent for it than others. Over time you'll both get better at doing and recognizing these techniques and calming will happen sooner (for the both of you!)


  1. Jean @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    Great tips and oh my, what an adorable baby!! :)

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Thanks Jean :)

  2. Sharon @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    Joshua looks cute. My what memories of that Buckle shirt! :) I remember my doctor teaching me these 5 S's when Alex was being fussy as an infant--he had just gone to a conf and learned all about them.

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      My doctor taught me these 5 S's with Joshua too. Actually, he just told me to get the book and skipped the teaching. He was only half helpful which is one reason why he isn't still my pediatrician right now ;) And I have had many a memories with that buckle shirt. It must be like 15 plus years old now.


  3. Guest @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    I worry that the loud shushing might harm his hearing long-term, but my baby won't fall asleep without it. I know people say noise in utero is louder than a vacuum cleaner and his own screaming is louder, but still... it seems like this might be damaging if kept up. What do you think?

    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide -Says...

      For hearing damage, you have to have the noise above a certain decibel. The louder and longer you listen to the noise, the worse it is. Most of the time you have to listen to a noise for at least X time at a certain level for it to cause damage. Often it has to be for hours for the more often heard noises. How far you are from the noise makes a difference too, of course, since the noise will be less loud. So if you have a sound machine, it is good to know the decibels, but you need to know how far they are testing that from. I've tried to find out with some machines, but customer service hasn't been too helpful so I try to go off of charts like this one to give me an idea and� I keep significantly lower than what seems safe. Newborns can have fluid in their ears which makes it harder to hear but they also have sensitive ears so you may have to be more careful than you would be with an adult.

      Interesting topic. I've thought about this a lot too but haven't had conclusive information to share yet.

  4. Guest @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    What about hearing damage from the loud, harsh shushing?

    1. Guest @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      oops, never mind - you answered... thanks!

    2. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Mainly try not to shush into their ear but past it and only do the super loud shushing when they are loudly crying and decrease as they decrease in stamina.

      This post talks a little bit about this too: