You’ll be able to soothe your baby quickly once you become skillful at using the 5 “S’s.” However, the first few times you use these methods you may notice something peculiar: Your baby may ignore you or even cry louder.
This is normal, so please don’t worry. His brain may be having a little trouble getting your new message:
Augie was dozing angelically when I arrived at his hospital room to examine him. However, the moment I unwrapped him and the cool air touched his skin, he began to howl. I quieted him with some intense rocking and shushing, but as soon as I stopped and began probing his soft, marshmallow belly, he began to cry again. Were my hands too cold? Did I hurt him? No, he just hadn’t fully recovered from his prior upset, and my touch rekindled his protests.
Augie bellowed and flailed, then suddenly he became stone silent. I looked down to see him staring out into space as if he were trying to ignore me. The calm was only momentary, however. In seconds, his frantic cry cycled through him once more.
I snared his hands and held them to his chest. Then I leaned over his struggling body, rocked him, and simultaneously made a harsh shhhh sound in his ear. Within seconds, Augie was again completely at ease.
Five seconds later, however, his cry surfaced one last time, like an exhausted boxer trying to get up off the mat. After just a few more seconds of vigorous shushing and rocking, Augie finally gave in and his little body relaxed for good.
As you can see, even if your “S’s” are perfect, you may have to patiently wait a few minutes for your crying baby to fully respond. Three particular traits of an infant’s nervous system can fool you into thinking the 5 “S’s” aren’t working:
1. Baby brains have a hard time shifting gears.
If you think your baby is screaming loudly, you should hear what’s going on inside his head! Chaos so distracts and overloads your newborn’s immature brain that he has a difficult time escaping his frenzy to pay attention to you. It’s like when your good buddy is in a fight. You try to pull him out of it, but he struggles against you to keep slugging away. It’s not until later, when he finally calms down, that he admits, “Thanks, you’re a real friend. I just couldn’t stop myself.”
So expect your baby to resist the 5 “S’s” until he calms down enough to realize that your shushing and jiggling are exactly what he needs from you.
2. Baby brains are very s-l-o-w.
When your baby is four months old, his eyes will quickly track you as you move around the room, but for now his brain is a little too undeveloped to do that. During these early months of life, it takes a couple of seconds for messages from his eyes (“I just saw mom move!”) to travel to the part of his brain that gives out the commands (“Okay, so follow her!”).
This dragged-out response time is even more pronounced in colicky babies. All the tumult going on inside their heads overwhelms their brains, making their processing time even slower.
3. Baby brains get into cycles of crying.
When your crying newborn does start responding to the 5 “S’s,” he may only settle for a minute before he bursts into crying all over again. That’s because your baby’s distress from crying is still cycling through his nervous system like a strong aftershock following his just ended “baby earthquake.”
Your baby may need you to continue the 5 “S’s” for five to ten minutes—or more—after he calms down. That’s how long it may take for his upset to finish cycling through him and for the calming reflex to finally guide him into sleep.
These cycles can be confusing. They make it seem as if your baby has experienced a jolt of pain, but that’s rarely the case. Instead, what’s occurring is like what happens when you catch a fish. The fish struggles, gives up for a few moments, then suddenly fights again. With persistence you’ll find that the 5 “S’s” help your baby’s cycles of crying gradually diminish and melt into a blissful peace.
Calming baby Frances reminded Suzanne of her job as a teacher. “It’s like quieting a classroom of yelling five-year-olds. At first you raise your voice a little to get their attention. Then, as they begin to settle, kids who are still revved up from before have occasional outbursts. Gradually, the excitement cycles down and all the kids become still and focused.”
The next six chapters will teach you exactly how to switch your baby’s crying reflex off and his calming reflex on. Once you have mastered these skills, crying will no longer be a cause of frustration. In fact, as odd as it sounds, you may even start appreciating your baby’s wails as a great opportunity for you to help him feel loved—and to help you feel like a terrific parent.