Even if you haven't heard of Dr. Harvey Karp, chances are you have heard of his expert advice from relatives, friends and your child's pediatrician. Dr. Karp is a pediatrician, a child development specialist, and a bestselling author. He's most known for his book The Happiest Baby on the Block, which he has been featured in many articles and TV shows.
In the book, Dr. Karp tackles an area that a lot of new parents find challenging — trying to calm a crying baby. Here are some of his top tips how to do just that and have made him become a household name:
1. Think of the first three months as your fourth trimester For the first three months of life, babies still have what Dr. Karp calls the “calming reflex.” You can soothe infants by reminding them what it was like to be in mommy's tummy.
“If you imitate a baby's experience in the womb — the sound, the motion, the rocking — you're able to flip on this reflex and often bring your crying baby from screaming to calm in minutes,” said Dr. Karp. “And you can also use that same reflex to improve the baby's sleep.”
2. Use the 5S’s Developed by Dr. Karp, the 5 S's takes advantage of a baby’s calming reflex. They stand for Swaddling, the Side position, Shushing (or white noise), Swinging, and Sucking. Dr. Karp explains, “Some babies need two or three kinds [of the 5 S's] joined together, and some need all five. So you have to test it out and find out what works the best.”
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Swaddling - when you wrap a baby snuggly with his arms down on his sides (see our step-by-step guide here)
Side position - try carrying your baby in a side or tummy-down position. You can also roll your baby over to his side or stomach. Once he’s asleep, put him on his back
Shushing (or white noise) - your baby heard noises in the womb so try saying a consistent, rhythmic “shh” to your baby that's as loud as her crying. Lower down the volume to match your baby as she quiets down
Swinging (or rhythmic motions) - your baby was jiggled and rocked in the womb as you moved around. “When they're upset, you need fast tiny jiggles. When they're sleeping, slow rocking is perfect,” says Dr. Karp
Sucking - babies are born with a vital sucking reflex that enables them to feed and provides comfort. If your baby takes to sucking, giving her a pacifier is okay
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3. You can’t spoil an infant For babies 5 months and below, there’s no such thing as “masasanay sa karga.” Pick your baby up whenever you feel the need to and carry her for as long as she needs it, says Dr. Karp. “Every time you are picking up your baby when she is hungry, or tired, or needs her, you're encouraging her confidence. You're making her feel safe and loved. And that's going to be the foundation of her feeling loved for the rest of her life.”
4. Colicky babies are tougher to calm down “Colic is a medical term that describes babies who cry for more than 3 hours a day,” says Dr. Karp, and around 15% of babies are colicky. According to Mayo Clinic, colic occurs for no apparent reason in an otherwise healthy infant. It peaks at around 6 weeks old and lessens after 3 to 4 months of age.
The 5S's can calm a fussy baby, but it can be more difficult, says Dr. Karp, and you may need several of the techniques at the same time. If you can't calm the baby down, and you suspect there’s more to your baby’s crying than colic, don’t hesitate to consult with a doctor.
5. Take a break when needed Parents can and do get tired and frustrated when they've seemingly tried everything to calm a baby and nothing's working. It's okay to put your baby down, and take a break. Leave the room (with someone else with your baby) if you have to.
“One of the things that can happen when you get frustrated or angry is that you take it out on the baby. There's this thing called Shaken Baby Syndrome which is quite dangerous,” he says. When a baby is vigorously shaken it pitches the baby's brain back and forth inside his skull which can cause serious damage such as bruising, bleeding, and ruptured blood vessels.
“Take a little break if you feel you’re getting upset,” advised Dr. Karp.