New Techniques to Calm a Crying Baby
Imitating the Rhythm and Noise of the Womb May Stop Baby's Crying
WebMD News Archive
Oct. 11, 2005 (Washington) -- A California pediatrician says he may have
found the "off switch" for crying infants.
"This may be the solution to a 3,000-year-old medical mystery of what
causes colic," said Harvey Karp, MD, associate professor of pediatrics,
University of California at Los Angeles Medical School, and author of The
Happiest Baby on the Block. "There is a lot of advice on baby feeding,
but almost nothing on how to help crying babies."
The term "infant" means without a voice in Latin, he says. "So
how is it that a 7-pound baby's cries can get a 130-pound mother off the toilet
running with her pants down? Sometimes there is an emergency; but most of the
time the baby merely wants attention."
Babies Miss the Womb
Karp contends that babies are evicted before their "fourth
trimester," before they are fully developed and still needing the gentle
stroking, holding, and shushing of the womb. An infant's crying, which can last
from minutes to hours, may actually be the result of missing the constant noise
and stimulation of the womb, he told pediatricians attending the American
Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition.
Past studies have shown that the average infant at 6 weeks of age cries
about 3.5 hours a day, he says. "This results in nursing problems, marital
stress, postpartum depression, unnecessary emergency room visits and even
shaken baby syndrome."
The Answer to Colic?It has been thought for years that the
main cause of colic in infants was due to gastrointestinal problems, but this
may not always be true, Karp says, adding that colic appears to stop after 3
months of age and in preemies it only begins two weeks after the original due
date. Pediatricians have also associated colic to temperament, environment, and an immature nervous
The 5 S's
But now a new system that involves the 5 S's -- swaddling, side/stomach
holding, shushing, swinging, and sucking -- can calm squalling infants, he
says. This, says Karp, activates the baby's calming reflex during the first
three to four months of life by mimicking the experiences in the uterus.
- Swaddling. Wrap your baby tightly in a receiving blanket
to duplicate the feelings of warmth and protection, and the "tight
fit," in the womb. Swaddling also stops your baby's uncontrolled arm and
leg flailing that can contribute to hysterical wailing. Karp says your baby
will be calmer if she's swaddled 12-20 hours a day in the beginning.
"Twelve hours may seem like a lot from our point of view, but to the
newborn, it's already a 50% cutback on the 24-hour-a-day 'snuggling' in the
uterus," he explains.
- Side/stomach soothing. Lay your baby on her side or
stomach, which Karp believes shuts down the baby's "Moro reflex," or a
sensation of falling, and thus helps keep her calm. (He adds, however, that a
baby should never be put to sleep on her stomach, since this may
increase the risk of SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome).
- "Shhhing" sounds. There is a whooshing noise
within the womb, caused by blood flowing through the mother's arteries. You can
recreate this sound with a "white noise" machine, a tape or CD with
these "white noise" sounds, a dishwasher, a car ride, or a hair
- Swinging. Rhythmic movements in an infant swing, hammock,
moving automobile, or baby carrier can keep your baby content.
- Sucking. Occupy your baby with a pacifier, infant bottle,
or a mother's nipple (which Karp describes as "the all-time, No. 1 sucking
toy in the world.")