Parents expecting a baby will undoubtedly be excited. However, there are always people who see it as their job to put a bit of a dampener on their excitement, reminding them that babies scream, that they keep you up at night and that it can be impossible to comfort them. This often fills parents with a certain amount of dread. In our culture today, it seems as though everyone has a slightly different take on how to comfort a baby and get it to sleep in the early months and parents often feel confused.
Dr Harvey Karp is a nationally renowned paediatrician, child development specialist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine. He encourages parents to use certain techniques when comforting babies based on his theory of ‘the fourth trimester’. He believes that although babies are born after three trimesters in the womb, they could actually do with one more. However, as humans have such large brains, their heads would physically be too big to give birth to if they were actually born after 12 months gestation.
So, in order to cope with the first three months of a baby’s life – the time when parents often complain of ‘colic,’ which is a catch all word for a crying baby that seems difficult to comfort – he recommends parents doing what they can to recreate a womb-like environment. His strategy is called “the five Ss”.
The first S is swaddling. Parents swaddle the baby in a lightweight blanket or a specially designed swaddling blanket. As adults we cannot imagine it feeling nice to be all bound up, but for babies who have been comfortably wedged in the mother’s body for nine months, they can often find being swaddled to sleep comforting. They do not have any real control over their limbs at this point; their arms moving in front of their face seem like giant tree trunks and they have no concept that they are part of their bodies.
The second S is swinging. Babies in the womb are used to the mother moving about. Often, pregnant mothers notice that at night when they lie down to sleep, the baby suddenly wakes up and starts kicking. So many babies prefer to be on the move during the day. Parents often find the baby settles to sleep in a pram, or more often, in a baby swing or a baby sling or baby carrier.
The third S is sucking. Babies need to suck. You often hear people chastising a breastfeeding mother saying “oh don’t let him just use you as a dummy.” Well, that is exactly what small babies need. So a breastfeeding mother should feel no guilt as she relaxes on the settee while her baby continually feeds and sucks. This is exactly what it should be doing. However, for bottle feeding mothers or for mothers who want a bit of a break, a dummy can suit this purpose. Many parents fear introducing a dummy, but the child can often make use of one for the first three months before being gently weaned off it when they are ready.
The fourth S is the side position. Babies often feel more comfortable on their sides or stomachs. This can aid digestion as well as aid windy tummies. However, babies should never be left to sleep on their tummies for a moment as this has been linked with SIDS.
The final S is the ‘shh’ sound. All over the world parents use little noises to comfort their children. The most well-known is the ‘shh’ sound. The reason for this is that babies like noise. The womb is actually a very noisy place where there is a lot of activity and constant sound. Babies can find a completely quiet environment frightening, so using white noise and ‘shh’ in the baby’s ear can often calm them.
Dr Harvey Karp has helped thousands of parents around the world, including several celebrities. His methods can give new parents hope and help them to feel equipped to cope with the challenges of a new baby.