How To Calm A Screaming Baby: The 5 S’s


We have all been there.

It’s 4 AM,  you are working on three and a half hours of sleep from the night before and your little one is losing her mind. She is crying hysterically and it seems like nothing we do can calm her. We have all been there!

You ask yourself over and over the one question…WHY? 

Why is my baby crying and why can’t I get her to stop? You run through the checklist in your mind of what could possibly be wrong.

  • She has been fed.
  • She has a clean diaper.
  • She is no obvious pain.
  • She is neither cold nor too hot

So why won’t she calm down and go to sleep? Your friends and family all tell you that you just have to tough it out and that your baby will eventually grow out this phase.

The problem is that this waiting out strategy just leads to exhaustion for you and the baby!

The exhaustion created by a babies persistent crying can lead to all kinds of family problems and stress. It can be a major contributor to marital conflicts, maternal and paternal depression, increased irritability of the other children in the family, and lead to an overall sense of anxiety in the household that negatively affects the whole family.

The Good News Is There Is A Solution…

According to Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, there are two key concepts to remember about newborns when trying to discover the best calming techniques.

  1. All babies are born 3 months early. He calls these first months outside of the womb the fourth trimester. During this period it is vital to recreating the womb-like sensations (soft touch, jiggly motion, snug holding, etc.) your baby had experienced for the last nine months whenever she is fussy and you know there are no other influences such hunger, cold, or discomfort.
  2. The rhythms experienced inside the womb trigger a reflex that keeps babies relaxed. This calming reflex is a virtual off-switch for crying and on switch for sleep.

In his book and the accompanying CD he lays out 5 key techniques that used in conjunction with one another triggers the calming reflex which naturally exists in every baby. No newborn can resist this reflex any more than they can resist the startle reflex when presented with a sudden movement or loud noise.

Dr. Karp calls these calming exercises the 5 S’s. First, you Swaddle the baby, then you turn her on her Side, next you Shush in the babies ear while gently Swinging the baby back and forth. Finally, you provide a pacifier for the baby to Suck.


Swaddling mimics the secure and snug home of the womb. This has a benefit of reducing the chance for the startle reflex and allows the baby to respond more positively to the other four S’s. When swaddled babies are more likely to soothe faster and sleep longer because their arms can’t wiggle around and accidentally wake or startle themselves.

This is such an important step and everything else in the process builds off the swaddle. It’s so important to get this right so please check out the video below for how to safely and properly swaddle your little one.

Side-Stomach Position

The next step is to hold your baby in the side-stomach position. Medical experts agree that the back is the safest position for an infant to sleep but it is probably the worst position for comforting your newborn.

Sometimes, simply cradling your baby on her side or stomach is all that is necessary to trigger the calming reflex and you will see the tension and stress melt away from your child in no time.


This is the technique most parents may have the hardest time with. Experts say that the noise in the womb is as louder than a vacuum cleaner.  In order to activate this S you must shush loudly in your babies ear.

Dr. Karp assures us that you can’t shoosh too loud and no harm will come to your babies little ears. It may seem really loud to you but to your baby, it is the most comforting and soothing sound she could ever hear.


Life for a baby suspended in the womb’s amniotic fluid is full of gentle swaying, jiggles, and swings. Slow rocking or swings are great to keep a calm baby sleeping but you need to use quicker and smaller but very controlled movements to trigger babies calming reflex mid-squeal!

If done properly it should resemble the quivering of a bowl of Jell-O. Always ensure that you support the child’s neck and head and jiggle the baby no more than an inch back and forth. This motion is like magic, soothing even the most agitated and upset baby.


Sucking is like the secret weapon of soothing. It naturally triggers the calming reflex. It is pretty much impossible for a crying baby to also feed.  Unfortunately, you will not be able to feed your child every time they begin to cry. In this case using a pacifier is great for these times and allows your infant to self-soothe through sucking.

Don’t Give Up!

Don’t get discouraged if you can’t instantly soothe your child like one of the Kung San Kalahari Desert queens. While these techniques are tried and true and will work it may take a few tries for both you and your baby to figure things out.

Stay the course, keep using the 5 S’s, and be patient. Soon both you and your little one will be sleeping better and avoiding all the unnecessary tension and exhaustion from an overtired and screaming baby.

What Else Can I Do To Help My Baby Sleep and Remain Calm?

Honestly, the keys to blissful sleep for your baby are swaddling, white noise, and a great crib and crib mattress. Check out the rest of my blog for additional helpful information and advice on the essential baby products for your nursery!

Sleep Well!