This automatic reset switch stills a baby’s crying and is truly a baby’s (and parent’s) best friend. Why did nature choose imitating the uterus as the trigger for this blessed reflex? The reason may surprise you: As important as it was for our ancestors to be able to quiet their babies, it was triply important for them to be able to quiet their fetuses!
Just imagine what it would feel like if your fetus threw a temper tantrum inside you. Not only could pounding fists and kicking feet make you sore, they could damage the fragile placenta or rip the umbilical cord, causing a fatal hemorrhage. Perhaps even more deadly than the risk of accidental injury was the chance that a squirming baby might get stuck sideways in the uterus and be unable to slide out, thus killing herself and her mother.
I’m convinced that the survival of our fetuses, and perhaps even the survival of our species, depended on this ancient calming reflex. Over millions of years, fetuses who became entranced by the sensations inside the uterus didn’t thrash about and thus were most likely to stay alive. Our babies today are direct descendants of those “Zen” fetuses who were so easily pacified by the womb.
The 5 “S’s”: Five Steps to Turn On Your Baby’s Calming Reflex
How is a vacuum cleaner like a lullaby? How is a Volvo like a flannel blanket? They all help switch on your baby’s calming reflex by imitating some quality of your womb.
Although our ancient ancestors intuitively understood how to turn off their baby’s crying and turn on their baby’s calming, recognition of the calming reflex itself remained completely overlooked until I identified it during the mid-1990s while studying the characteristics of hundreds of crying babies in my practice.
I was struck by the fact that many traditional baby-calming methods failed to work unless they were done exactly right. I realized that, similar to a doctor setting off a knee reflex with a precise whack of a little hammer, the calming reflex could only be triggered by certain very specific actions. When presented correctly, however, the sounds and feelings of the womb had such a powerful effect that they could carry an infant from tears to tranquillity, sometimes even in mid-cry.
Parents and grandparents traditionally have used five different characteristics of the womb to soothe their babies. I refer to these time-honored “ingredients” of calm as the 5 “S’s”:
1. Swaddling—tight wrapping
2. Side/Stomach—laying a baby on her side or stomach
3. Shushing—loud white noise
4. Swinging—rhythmic, jiggly motion
5. Sucking—sucking on anything from your nipple or finger to a pacifier
These five methods are extremely effective but only when performed exactly right. When done without the right technique and vigor, they do nothing. (Detailed descriptions of how to perform each “S” are in Chapters 8 through 12.)