The Happiest Baby on the Block: Soothing a Fussy Baby

Learn all about how to implement the 5 S’s from the Happiest Baby on the Block by Karp. These tips help for soothing a fussy baby.

Mom soothing fussy baby

In Happiest Baby on the Block, Karp talks about 5 S’s to soothe a fussy baby. These are:

  1. Swaddle
  2. Side-Stomach Position
  3. Sush
  4. Swing
  5. Suck

This post discusses the last four of the Five S’s. Read all about swaddling in How to Help Your Baby Sleep Better With Swaddling.

Side-Stomach Position

In Chapter 9, Karp discusses the side/stomach position. This is the second S. After you have swaddled your baby, you place him on his side or stomach. He says this triggers the calming reflex and turns off the Moro reflex (page 130). Karp warns that these positions are not for sleeping, but for calming the baby.

Here are some ways to hold baby on side/stomach (starting on page 133):

  • Reverse-Breast-Feeding Hold: Swaddle baby. This is basically like the standard hold mom’s use to breastfeed, but with the head facing out rather than facing the parent’s body. Baby is on his side.
  • Football Hold: Baby is not swaddled for this hold. Baby is on his tummy, with his head in your hand and his torso on your arm. His legs hang over the sides of your arm.
  • Over-the-Shoulder Hold: Swaddle baby. Your baby’s tummy is on your shoulder.


Chapter 10 is all about the third S, the Shh… Karp points out that a Shh…. is calming even for an adult. One reader told me that the 5 S’s worked for her son, though only the Shh… lasted. Last month when Brayden had surgery, he came out of anesthesia quite confused and upset, as most children do. My husband held him and Shh…’d him. I remember noticing that because I had been reading this book.

The Shh… can be any loud, white noise (page 140). White noise switches on the calming reflex. To Shh… effectively (page 145):

  • Place your mouth 2-4 inches from baby’s ear
  • Shh….
  • Raise your volume of Shh… to match the level of noise your baby is crying at.
  • Don’t soften the Shh… until her crying noise level decreases.

Karp says at first, it might take your baby a minute or two to react to the Shh…, but as you get good and your baby gets used to it, it should take seconds.

He also says the noise doesn’t need to be a Shh… necessarily. It can be a hum or a chant. He also lists ten other ideas (page 147):

  • A noisy appliance like a blow dryer or vacuum
  • Fan, microwave fan, or bathroom fan
  • Running water
  • White noise machine
  • CD with white noise sounds
  • Toy bear with a recording of uterus sounds
  • Static on radio or baby monitor
  • Clothes dryer with sneakers or tennis balls inside (but don’t put baby on the dryer)
  • Dishwasher
  • Car ride


The fourth S, as discussed in Chapter 11, is Swinging. “Swinging refers to all manner of rhythmic motions” (page 158). Karp says the swinging is another item that turns on the calming reflex. Here are some ways he lists for swinging (page 156):

  • Baby slings and carriers: Karp states, “Babies adore infant carriers” (page 156), but I have to say, both of mine hated them.
  • Dancing
  • Infant swings
  • Rhythmic pats on the back or bottom
  • Hammocks
  • Rocking in a rocking chair
  • Car Rides
  • Vibrating bouncy seats
  • Bouncing on an exercise ball
  • Brisk walks

Karp says for a really fussy baby, the swinging must be fast and jiggly. To successfully apply the swing (page 158):

  • Start out fast and jiggly.
  • The movement of the head, not the body, turns the reflex on. But please, be cautious of damaging baby’s head. Remember, tiny movements. Do not whip head around, which would cause shaken baby syndrome (page 160)
  • Follow baby’s lead. Just like with the Shh…, the intensity of the jiggling should reflect the intensity of the crying.

Swings (page 168):

  • Karp says babies can easily be weaned from swings by 5 months of age.
  • Karp says a swing will not calm a screaming baby, but it keeps a baby calm and lulls him to sleep.
  • Karp says to swaddle, buckle baby in, recline seat as far as it will go, and use the fastest swing speed.


Tips for pacifier use and how to avoid common pitfalls associated with pacifiers and baby sleep.

The 5th S talked about by Karp is Sucking. He calls it the icing on the cake. Karp lists reasons sucking makes baby happy (page 174):

  • It satisfies hunger: I actually would see that as a danger to sucking. If they are hungry, they should eat. But I don’t know that sucking satisfies hunger so much as their desire to simply suck. But Karp later says that if your baby is hungry, she will suck for only a minute before demanding real food, but if what she wanted was non-nutritive sucking, she will happily suck.
  • It turns on the calming reflex.

Tips for Pacifiers (page 176-177):

  • Try different nipples until you find the one your baby likes best.
  • Don’t force it. If she refuses, don’t try to force her to take it. Use the other four S’s first.
  • When your baby is calm, offer her the pacifier. When she starts to suck, give it a tug (but not so hard it comes out). She should respond by sucking a bit harder. Do this again 10-20 times, each time you give the newborn the pacifier.

Pacifier Pitfalls (page 177-178):

  • Avoid the pacifier for the first 2-3 weeks in order to avoid nipple confusion if breast-feeding. If you are having breastfeeding problems at 2-3 weeks, wait longer.
  • Get rid of the pacifier by 4-5 months old. Stopping after 6 months is much more difficult.

Weaning from 5 S’s

Karp points out to only have baby sleep on back and that a pacifier can help baby fall asleep, but not stay asleep (page 217). Karp recommends you only use these S’s until three months of age, then it is time to wean baby and put him to bed awake.

Karp recommends you first wean the sucking (page 218). Second is swinging. Third is swaddling. Finally, the Shh… (white noise).

The Cuddle Cure

Chapter 13 is about the Cuddle Cure, which is combining all of the 5 S’s and using them simultaneously. Karp says for a mildly fussy baby, one S might suffice to calm him (page 186). Fussy babies, however, require 2, 3, or 4 S’s to be calmed. Really colicky babies require all 5 (page 187).

Karp says you probably will need to continue the cuddle cure after baby is settled, and even after baby has fallen asleep (page 189).

 purchase or not. Also, I know I say this a lot, but you might be more interested in the DVD than the book, especially if you learn better by watching someone do it than by reading about how to do it.

Once you are sure you have the method down, Karp encourages you to practice. He says it is good to practice on a doll or on your baby while he is calm (page 192). Through practice, he states both you and your baby will get better at the Cuddle Cure.

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Reader Comments

Maureen said: When William was a baby (over 4 years ago), my DH created a CD with a water faucet noise. He put several tracks on the one CD and we just put it on repeat. I guess we were a little ahead of our time. There are now machines and CDs you can buy that have this sound. I agree that the shh’ing is a great way to calm a baby.

My DH and I found a great method for movement when William was colicky. DH started bouncing on the edge of the bed while holding William. Then he bought one of those big exercise balls. We would sit on it while holding him (swaddled, shh’ing, etc.) and bounce. It worked like a charm. It kept him calm and it was pretty much the only way he would sleep. We still have the ball but never had to blow it up for Lucas!

Jamie said: Did you add the “don’t put the baby in the dryer” or was that in the book?!? We have Tre sleep with white noise. Not only does it calm him down and help him put himself back to sleep, it blocks out house noise. It’s great!
Plowmanators said: Jamie, Don’t put baby ON the dryer…I am pretty sure that was in the book. I guess if you are going to suggest a dryer you need to protect yourself from lawsuits, you know? lol thanks for your thoughts!

The Cleary Family said: I am a huge advocate for white noise machines… my friend suggested we borrow hers for Peyton and it helped push her through the 45 minute sleep intruder the very first day! Ever since then her naps have been awesome! I got the Sleep Mate off Amazon and it is worth the $45 or so bucks I spent! Her naps have been longer and she falls asleep faster with this thing on. It sounds like a fan and blocks all outside noise out. My dog can bark, I can vacuum or whatever and she does not wake up.

Amanda said: I’m also a big believer in a simple “shh” sound to calm a baby, along with rhythmic, firm pats on the back. Both do wonders for calming upset kids, soothing crying babies, and getting both to get to sleep. This is the same reason young babies usually fall right to sleep on airplanes, the white noise and steady vibrations just soothe them to sleep.Btw, I love the blog’s new look, very feminine and modern/classic!

Bradysmom said: I agree with everyone – the shhing really works. We’ve always used a fan in Brady’s room and it definitely helps to block out ‘outside’ noise. And I’ve always shh…d him if he was upset and it immediately calms him. Thanks for the post!

Janelle said: White noise can definitely help a baby with naps, but it can also become a prop. Just a warning: My 10 month old has slept with a fan in his room almost since birth. Now whenever we go anywhere and we need him to take a nap in someone else’s house we have to take a portable fan if we expect him to sleep at all!

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7 thoughts on “The Happiest Baby on the Block: Soothing a Fussy Baby”

  1. My 9mo old has not been napping well (30mins) during his afternoon nap. He’s always been a reliable, 2+hr afternoon napper. Developmentally, he’s trying to pull to standing, but this only happens a few minutes out of the total awake time he’s in his crib. He will sit, quiet as a mouse, for over an hour! No toys, no distractions. He sleeps 12-13hrs at night, and takes a 1.25hr morning nap, both with no issues. For the past 2 days, I’ve gone in and told him firmly that it’s time to nap, and would lay him back down. I’ve done this probably 15 times. All that happens is he cries and immediately sits back up. Thank you in advance!

  2. BTW – I love the site. It looks very pretty!!We used the paci when we were trying to get Brady on his schedule. I used it if I needed to hold off eating by maybe 5-10 minutes, to help keep him on schedule. It would satisfy him until I fed him and I feel it also helped him to not be so frantic when it was time to eat.We also had to use it for naps. Nothing worked with him for sleeping past 45 minutes. Brady was always an extremely alert baby, and as soon as he woke, that was it. CIO didn’t work at all – it only made it worse. After trying everything else, the only thing was the paci. I figured that if I only had to use it at nap times and the 1 or 2 occasions that i needed to hold him out a little bit – oh well. Considering that we tried everything else, I had to just go with what worked because I know those naps are so important to them!

  3. I think it is important to mention that the use of a pacifier during sleep correlates to a reduction in SIDS deaths among infants. Why, they are not sure, but studies have shown it to be true. Because of this I started giving my daughter a pacifier when she sleeps. The possibility of a power struggle and meltdowns when the pacifier is taken away pales in comparison, for me, to lowering the SIDS risk for my daughter. A fan running in their rooms also reduces SIDS.

  4. Lewis Farm,I would consider a possible need for longer waketimes in the day. If you going in doesn’t lead to him napping, I wouldn’t do it.Also, be sure it isn’t teething or some other sickness.

  5. Jessica,Yes, the AAP says that pacifier use might reduce the risk of SIDS. They state that they believe it is because the infant does not sleep as deeply while using a pacifier. This is the same reasoning they suggest you share a room until 6 months of age.


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