So, yeah… doctor Harvey Karp’s “5 S” strategy is old news to seasoned parents. After all, his film “The Happiest Baby on the Block” came out in 1993, and his book followed 10 years later. But his methods for soothing babies — outlined in a kick-ass 90s low-def video, complete with big bangs and period-specific upholstery! — still ring true in 2019. And for good reason… the Happiest Baby on the Block 5 S’s work like a frikkin’ charm.
I would’ve lost my ever-loving mind had it not been for Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s. They saved my sanity during the fourth trimester — a time of exhaustion so extreme, I was falling asleep standing up!
This article may contain compensated links. Read my disclaimer for more info.
Table of Contents
The 4th Trimester
Dr. Karp’s philosophy is that human babies are born several months before their brains and bodies are ready, because they need to fit through mama’s pelvis (their heads would never fit if they spent an extra few months in the womb!). So, once born, babies aren’t ready to be alone, still, or surrounded by silence. To best make the transition from womb to world, they need similar conditions from which they came to nurture the development of their brains and bodies.
Newborns crave the cozy, noisy, moving aquarium they just emerged from. So, their transition into the world during those first 3 months – i.e. the fourth trimester – needs to include noise, movement, and being wrapped up all cozy. If it doesn’t, they’re likely to protest about it in the form of crying… constantly!
In order to help moms and dads understand this whole 4th trimester phenomenon (especially what the hell to do to survive it!), he released the video, Happiest Baby on the Block, that walked new parents through it all, and followed that up with his Happiest Baby on the Block book.
The Happiest Baby on the Block 5 S’s
In a nutshell, the 5 S baby-soothing method consists of the following steps parents can take to mimic conditions in the womb, which should calm a fussy or crying newborn:
- Swaddling – swaddle baby tightly to mimic the restricted space inside the womb.
- Side/Stomach Holding – turn and hold your swaddled baby in your arms so he’s laying on his side or stomach (lay him this way only while you’re holding him!).
- Shushing – make shushing noises in baby’s ear; it’ll resemble the constant noises he heard in the womb.
- Swinging – make a swinging motion similar to the jostling he experienced in the womb.
- Sucking – give baby a pacifier, bottle, or boob to suck on.
So many of my peers seemed to have trouble with constantly crying babies, if the posts in my Facebook feed are to be believed! Now, some were crying because of colic, milk intolerance or other medical issues (and the 5 S’s won’t help here). But for the rest, the crying was unexplained for the most part. These poor moms and dads didn’t know why, and no baby soothing techniques or equipment they used worked.
Don’t get pissed at me for saying this, but we didn’t have that experience. I credit the 5 S process for that. We’d start the process the moment Jack started crying, and within minutes (but usually seconds!), he was calm and cooing. It pretty much made him a model baby, which is the only thing that saved me during those newborn days.
I found becoming a mom to be almost an impossible adjustment, even with a calm, content baby, so I could never imagine the added mindf*ck of a constantly crying baby. Mamas who’ve had to deal with that, I salute you!
We discovered the 5 S’s before Jack was even born, during one of the baby classes offered by the hospital. That’s where we learned that a newborn’s constant crying during those first few months (absent any medical issues, of course) was typically a result of baby adjusting to life outside the womb. It makes sense that it’d be a tough transition, after 9 months floating inside a warm waterbed!
The nurses running the class showed us the video, then walked us through practicing each of the 5 S’s on a babydoll. It was an amusing scene, watching a bunch of parents-to-be with no clue what they were doing! In any case, we were so impressed by how well the 5 S’s worked in the video, we promptly bought it and watched it several more times at home. And practiced swaddling any household item we could find!
Whenever Jack started crying, or even getting fussy, and we couldn’t find a cause for it (he wasn’t hungry, didn’t need changing, etc.) we’d start with the 5 S swaddle and go through the rest of the 5 S’s in succession until he stopped. It worked every time. It literally worked every time.
Other Dr. Harvey Karp Books
In addition to the Happiest Baby on the Block book and video, Dr. Karp has another winner – the Happiest Toddler on the Block book, published in 2002… and, yes, this one has its own low-budget video, too, made in 2012 (seriously loving these)!
It’s lauded as one of the best toddler behavior books to help with toddler screaming and tantrums. We’ve used the methods he outlines, and they’ve worked every time. Yes, its hella embarrassing to use his methods in public (you’ll see what I mean when you watch the video in full!), but if you can get past that, you might be surprised at the happy toddler that results.
I seriously can’t say enough about Dr. Karp’s methods. I’ll rave about them to anyone who will listen, because they truly made those newborn days bearable, and those toddler tantrums shorter. I will forever remain astonished at how well his process worked for us!