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How to Soothe Your Newborn Using Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s

Updated: Jun 11

By: Sarah Bossio, Certified Pediatric Sleep Expert

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You just had a baby! Congratulations! I am so happy for you! 

And now, you’ve come across my blog because maybe your baby is a little hard to settle and you're looking for some resources to soothe them.

Enter: Harvey Karp's 5 S's. In this blog, I’ll demonstrate each one of the 5 S’s to teach you how to soothe your fussy baby.

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What are Harvey Karp's 5 S's?

The "5 S's" Harvey Karp came up with to soothe a baby, in order, are:
  1. Shushing

  2. Sucking

  3. Side-lying

  4. Swaying

  5. Swaddling

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A Step-by-Step of Each of the 5 S's

1. Shushing

Why it works:

The reason why shushing is really helpful for babies is because it recreates the loud sound that they're used to in the womb. It can produce slower brain waves, which can be calming for baby.

How to do it:

It's exactly how it sounds. You can do this in a series of bursts: shh-shh-shh-shhhhhh. Or, you can extend into one long sound: shhhhhhhh

Use a White Noise Machine
Sarah Bossio holds a sound machine

If physically shushing gets annoying to do for extended periods of time, grab a white noise machine. I really like the Yogasleep Rohm Travel white noise machine for carrying around the house.

Pro Tip: when you are carrying baby, especially if you're using a baby carrier, attach the white noise machine to you or the carrier so you can let it do the work of the shushing.

You're using the white noise and it's not effective or isn’t working, then move onto sucking…

2. Sucking

Why it works:

One of baby's natural mechanisms to calming themselves and soothing is the sucking mechanism. It is a natural, ingrained skill in babies. 

How to do it:

This can be a multitude of things. You can do this by offering a pacifier or offering the breast or the bottle, even if they're not hungry. Especially when they're little, you may see that they need to cluster feed often, and that can beef up their milk supply because their stomach is so small and they do enjoy lots of feedings frequently. But it could also be because that's how they calm down their regulatory system, so find a way to offer your baby something to suck on in order to soothe them if white noise isn't working.

3. Side-Lying

Why it works:

It provides comfort to their nervous system, part of which runs up and down the abdomen and receives light pressure in this position.

How to do it: 

Anytime your baby is super fussy, we can put them in a side-lying position. There are two different ways to do this, depending on your baby's preference:

Tummy to Tummy
Sarah Bossio shows tummy to tummy side-lying

This is the method my babies preferred. Wrap baby’s arm around your side and tuck it beneath your arm. Then, press their belly against your abdomen. Adjust their head to make sure they're breathing properly. Add a little bit of light pressure, which will provide comfort to their nervous system, part of which runs up and down their abdomen.

Baby Facing Out
Sarah Bossio shows facing out side-lying

This option is great for curious babies who like to look around and have FOMO. Take baby’s left arm and tuck it underneath your left arm. Hold baby in between the thighs and roll them onto their side. Adjust their head to make sure that it's fitting in the pocket of your elbow, and that way their belly is side lying against your arm. You support them with having their back up against your abdomen and you can even add a little pressure such as some tapping on the back or on the bottom for some extra comfort and soothing. 

A great addition to the side lying position is to sway…

4. Swaying

Why it works:
Sarah Bossio shows swaying

Research shows that movement stops baby’s voluntary movements, eases crying and decreases heart rate.

How to do it:

You can add sway to the side-lying position. You may find as you get the hang of this that it integrates into your system and next thing you know, you’re swaying with your cartons of milk in the grocery aisle.

5. Swaddling

Why it works:

Another way to comfort baby is to use a swaddle. This is very important at bedtime, whether

Baby doll in a swaddle

it's just for naps or overnight sleep. The reason why we utilize the swaddle is because babies through the ages of 12-16 weeks still have their moro reflex. This is the reflex you might see as they startle and their arms shoot right up along with their legs. This can happen frequently throughout the night, which can wake them up since our newborns don't stay in a deep sleep for very long periods of time. In order to recreate the feeling of the womb of being nice and tight and snug, as well as to help their limbs stay nice and calm, swaddles can be super helpful in the soothing process.

Swaddle height should not go past shoulder
Tucking arm in swaddle

How to do it:

I love the brand SwaddleMe because they have velcro, providing easy attachments to keep the baby in. Most of us are not professional RN's who can swaddle our babies like magicians, so this is really user-friendly. Several other brands on the market also make the velcro swaddles that you can purchase, as well.

Wrapping baby doll in swaddle

  1. Lay the swaddle out nice and flat on a flat surface.

  2. Place baby on top of the swaddle so that their shoulders line up with the top edge of the swaddle; this way, you avoid the swaddle around their neck.

  3. Put baby's legs in the bottom part of the swaddle, then bring the material up so the top velcro piece is across their abdomen.

  4. Hold one arm down, then use the other part of the swaddle to cover the one arm and velcro in place on the abdomen.

  5. Make sure the swaddle is still below the shoulder and the neckline.

  6. Take the flap and stretch it over the other side of the baby, rolling it underneath them so that it's underneath their bottom and their other arm.

  7. Finally, take remaining flap of the swaddle — again, below the shoulder line — and wrap tightly around baby’s side until we are velcroed in at the back.

Swaddle with easy diaper changing access

Pro Tip: Use a swaddle with a zipper bottom for easy diaper changing access. This is a feature I love in the SwaddleMe swaddles. Instead of having to unswaddle your baby, you can just unzip, change the diaper, pull the fabric back down, and rezipper. Voila! Your baby is nice and swaddled.

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What If the 5 S’s Aren’t Working for Your Baby?

Let's say you have tried all of these methods, you've been on Google, you’re still struggling with your newborn, and you're not getting enough answers from your pediatrician – it might be time to work on their sleep. I work with families starting at the age of 8 weeks old to establish healthy sleep foundations and to be a support system for moms and dads who are looking for more guidance on getting their kid to sleep longer stretches at night and more predictable naps during the day. 

Take a look at my newborn sleep programs. I'd love to help you troubleshoot your newborn's sleep situation.

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I regularly share fresh sleep-related content tailored for toddlers, babies, and preschoolers on my Youtube channel. Catch my recent videos by subscribing and enabling notifications—you'll be among the first to stay updated!

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Bookmark this blog for easy access! I regularly post free resources here to help you.

PS: I host free Q&A sessions every week on my Instagram. I love knowing that this information is useful for you and helping you work through your sleep issues, so send me a DM on Insta and let’s connect!

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If you need specific help or you have a quick question about what newborn sleep looks like, please reach out.

You can also learn about my sleep training packages for more assistance, or book a free discovery call with me to learn how I can help.

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Pediatric Sleep Expert Sarah Bossio sits on fun wicker chair with arms wide smiling

May your coffee be warm,


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Sarah is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Expert based in the NY/NJ Tri-State area and has helped over 400 families worldwide get their sleep back on track.

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