Dr. Harvey Karp is famous for his insights of the 5 S’s explained in his book The Happiest Baby on the Block. Many parents use or have used this method to soothe their baby in those difficult first weeks or even months. The 5 S’s have become so ingrained In the baby sleep world that it’s fair to say it will be around for a while.
The 5 S’s if you don’t know are Swaddle, Side or stomach position, Shush, Swing and Suck. I agree that they do work as long as there is not an underlying health, feeding or sleeping problem. Let’s give parents a bit of credit here. When you hear your baby crying your motherly instinct kicks in, you immediately pick your baby up and attempt to soothe him or her by shushing, patting and rocking? I believe following your motherly instinct should really be the focus of solving most baby sleep problems. Mothers loose this ability when they follow rules. For example, when the 5 S’s are not working they lose their confidence and creative problem solving skills. Start questioning themselves, it must be something I am doing wrong? Am I not swaddling tight enough?
So let’s break this down: Where can the 5 S’s fall short?Swaddle:Swaddling is important in the first 3 months to prevent the moro or startle reflex. However, there is no evidence that swaddling reduces unsettled behaviour in babies and we need to be careful not to swaddle to tightly as this can increase the risk for hip dysplasia.
Side or Stomach Position:Side or stomach position aids digestion so can beneficial when there are tummy troubles. When a baby is not receiving enough cream from the breast the milk travels through the intestine so quickly it causes your baby to feel bloated with explosive stools, excessive wind and crying. Creamy milk helps babies turn on the ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system so that they become relaxed and settle to sleep easily. Putting your baby to sleep on its side or tummy is not recommended by health professionals nor the World Health Organisation as it is associated with Sudden Unexpected Death of and Infant (SUDI). Not worth the risk!
Shush:Shushing is more commonly achieved by playing white noise. Large doses of white noise can be an unhealthy sensory stimulation for your baby: especially if played too loudly it can damage your babies hearing. Healthy sensory stimulation includes a lot of physical contact with loved ones.
Swing:Swinging or rocking won’t work if the barriers to sleep have not been removed such as if your baby is generally still hungry or if it is not tired enough (you will be rocking for a long time!)
Suck:Some babies love to suck and as long as feeding had been established and mothers are feeding on demand then dummies are fine. If you are ignoring cues that your baby is hungry then this can lead to unintended outcomes such as inadequate milk supply and weight loss.
If the 5 S‘s are not working for you and your baby contact The Baby Sleep Practitioners for advice.
Amy and Elspeth