So you’ve just been handed your brand new baby and it’s time to go home. So now what? Unfortunately babies don’t come with instruction manuals and it can be hard to figure out what works for your baby in terms of sleep and settling. In the early days your baby is still quite sleepy as they're high from their maternal melatonin (sleep hormone). The question is what to do once this wears off and your baby starts waking up more?
I still remember being up in the middle of the night, after feeding, burping, changing and rocking my newborn daughter only for her to still be awake crying hours later. This feeling of not knowing how to make the crying stop and how to help her go to sleep.
So you see I’ve been there and I know how you feel. Which is why I decided to put together this guide on how to turn on your newborn’s calming reflexes so you can say goodbye to hours of crying.
The 5 S strategy pioneered by Dr. Harvey Karp is an excellent way for you to recreate the womb environment and trigger your baby’s calming reflexes. And here’s how you do it:
Swaddle baby tightly in the torso area, ensuring to leave enough room for the hips. This makes them feel calm and helps to reduce their arms and legs flailing around. Some babies will fight the swaddling but this does not mean that your baby doesn't like to be swaddled. Your baby is fighting it because they cannot control their flailing arms. Swaddling alone is often not enough to calm down your baby but it will be enough for them to pay attention to the next S.
Putting your baby on their side can turn on the calming reflex as it makes them feel like being back in the womb and avoids setting off the moro reflex (falling reflex, switched on when your baby is startled). Very important to move your baby on their backs when they are ready to sleep.
Shushing is so effective in calming down your baby because it mimics the sounds of the womb which is a very noisy place. Shush next to your baby’s ear and ensure it is louder than the baby’s crying. Never shush directly into your baby’s ear and it is important to match the volume of the shushing to your baby’s cry. Once your baby starts to calm down, lower the volume of the shushing.
Swaying also mimics the sensation of the womb and in order to calm your screaming baby the motion will have to be quite vigorous at first (fast, tiny jiggles) and once your baby starts to calm down gentle swaying from side to side will be sufficient. Best to do this while your baby is positioned on their side in your arms.
The last of the 5 S's is sucking and is the cherry on top of calming your crying baby and helps to keep the calming reflex turned on. You can use a dummy or breast if breastfeeding and your baby will calm down in no time.
This calming reflex remains until your baby is about 4 months old and using the 5 S's is an excellent strategy to calm your baby when they’re crying even after a feed, burping, and nappy change and can be used anytime not just for nap and bedtime.
Shush Pat method
To settle your newborn baby to sleep I recommend the shush pat method as this method allows you to gently settle your newborn to sleep in their cot or bassinet.
This method is great for newborns and can be used up to 16 weeks of age since it is not a sleep training method but sets your baby up for great self-settling skills as they get older.
How it works
Start by holding your baby in your arms, offering a dummy, and shush and pat at the same time.
Shush just past baby’s ear and pat rhythmically on the bottom. Once your baby is becoming very drowsy and their eyes are beginning to close, lay your baby down in the cot on their side, ensuring to never stop the patting.
Should your baby get upset when you lay them down in the cot, give it a few minutes of patting in the cot before picking them back up. As too much picking up and putting down can be overstimulating.
As your baby falls asleep, start to very slowly push your baby on their backs, continuing both shushing and patting. You can now start to slow both your shushing and patting and stop completely once your baby is deeply asleep.
Keep your hands on your baby for a few minutes and resume patting if your baby starts to wake up again. Once your baby is deeply asleep, you can leave the room.
Check out this video for a shush pat demonstration from me.
What is so amazing about this method is that you can fully assist your newborn baby to sleep, which is often necessary as newborns don’t yet have the skills to self-settle. Once your baby is older and you wish to work on self-settling, you can simply pat until drowsy and let your baby drift off to sleep.
Need more guidance on how to establish healthy sleep habits with your newborn baby? Do you feel lost and overwhelmed when it comes to feeding and settling your baby? Check out my comprehensive newborn feed and sleep guide, jam packed with tips and tricks on how to establish great sleeping habits from the start without any sleep training.