Ten Problems That Cause Parents to Abandon Happiest Baby on the Block

Learning to use The Happiest Baby on the Block 5 S’s can be tricky.  In addition to teaching group classes, I also teach parents privately to help them get the techniques down correctly and answer all of their questions on the spot.  I meet parents who have watched the DVD or read the book but still struggle to get the amazing results they see/read about.  Here are the biggest problems/mistakes that parents encounter when they try to use THBOTB:

  1. The Loose Swaddle.  New parents can be hesitant to use a firm swaddle, thinking that since their baby is still crying, he is crying because he hates being restrained. Why Some Newborns Look Like They Hate To Be Swaddled This is usually not the case, as newborns generally love deep pressure that simulates the womb, and parents that I work with are far more likely to do a too-loose swaddle than a too-tight swaddle.  In fact, I have never yet seen a parent that I have personally trained do a swaddle so tight that I had to gently intervene.  A loose swaddle is an asphyxiation risk when it comes undone and the fabric covers the nose and mouth.  It also allows a baby’s arms to fly up and startle a newborn, leading to more screaming.  Preemies are swaddled with their arms up to increase calm alertness and they are monitored 24/7.  Huge difference.
  2. The Too-Hot Swaddle.   Using the fleece swaddle garment in a warm apartment will sedate your child.  It looks like it works perfectly.  But newborns cannot sweat away excess heat, and if a baby is sweating, their ears and neck are warm and damp, then they need to be swaddled in something cooler.  Being overheated is a risk factor for SIDS, so if you have no A/C and your baby is too hot even with a muslin swaddle, you need to remove it.  A hot baby is a baby at risk.
  3.  Too Slow and Too Gentle Swinging.  The magic of the Swinging “S” is in the small but faster head movements that stimulate a baby’s vestibular (balance) system.  Completely different from shaken baby syndrome, this jiggling movement is calming.  Slow swing is not going to be able to stimulate a newborn’s balance system correctly.  Parents are often afraid that they will harm their baby, but if they are taught well, that little neck and brain are completely safe.
  4. Stomach/Side Positioning Errors.  This “S” is another way to dampen down the startle reflex,  so correct positioning is key.  The little secret of this move?  Every baby’s balance sense is  a little different, and yours may prefer stomach instead of side positioning to calm them, or she might need a little more of a side turn to feel “just right”.
  5. Pacifier Abandonment Out of Fear.  Many new parents are anxious that their child not become addicted to pacifiers like toddlers they see walking around town.  They are also worried that it will deform their teeth.  Well, newborns have no teeth to deform, and addiction to pacifiers is created when older children have no other ways of calming themselves down.  Parents that make a conscious plan to wean pacifier use after 6 months, well before growing cognitive skills and long-term use create a habitual need, should be OK.  Teaching a newborn to use a pacifier is easy when you get the one that fits their mouth shape and you use THBOTB training technique.  The 5 S’s can be done without a pacifier, but rejecting it out of fear is different than using different techniques for sucking.  For more information, see Prevent Pacifier Addiction With A Focus on Building Self-Calming Without Plastic
  6. Ignoring the Layer Cake Concept of the 5 S’s.  There are some babies that calm with just a swaddle and a shush.  But most need the full-on 5 S’s.  I meet more of those because parents call me when they are frantic for sleep and have tried maybe 2 or 3 of the S’s and given up.  Needing all 5 moves is not a sign of a problem.  The problem is likely that your baby is normal, has a sensitive or spirited temperament, and is right in the stage for maximal newborn crying (2-10 weeks).  Ignore this at your (sleep’s) peril.
  7. The Too-Quiet Shush.  Babies quickly calm to the right volume and pitch of shushing, but parents sometimes think that the loud shushing needed to calm them initially will harm their hearing.  Loud shush is used for a brief period when they need help to pull themselves together, and then the correct shush is the loudness of a bathroom shower.  Avoiding the loud shush is ignoring the needs of a newborn brain as it seeks organization and calm.
  8. Forgetting the Basics.  I was reminded of this when I taught my first class.  The host, a breastfeeding consultant, asked if I would mention checking whether a baby needed a feeding or a diaper change before starting the 5 S’s.  I will confess that it had never occurred to me that I would have to say that. It seemed so obvious.   I will say it here:  Before you use THBOTB to calm your crying newborn, check to see if he is hungry, soiled or wet.  First things first.  A baby that is healthy, full, and clean should be easily calmed with THBOTB.  A baby that needs those other things will not stay calm for long, regardless of your technique.
  9. Using Small Garments/Blankets for Swaddling.  The swaddle garment industry has exploded, and you can find all styles.  Blankets are often big enough for the first 2 months at least.  The biggest issue with garments, other than matching the fabric to the room temperature, is that once they are too small, they are a danger.  Outgrowing a swaddle garment means that the velcro isn’t correctly placed for a solid hold and can come undone, and the baby’s legs cannot move freely.  Legs that are stuck in an extended (straight) position are a risk factor for hip dysplasia, a condition in which the joint is not correctly formed.   If you are buying garments, better to have at least one in the next size up sitting and waiting for use.
  10. Waiting Too Late to Try HBOTB.  Some of the 5 S’s, such as white noise shushing and sucking, will help babies over 3 months calm down and sleep, but the real magic is in starting life with peace and good sleeping habits.  Parents who take a wait-and-see approach risk the development of poor sleep habits or feeding issues related to crying/poor sleeping.  Their own lack of sleep and sense of failure is a risk factor in postpartum depression.  Worst of all, they do not have the full joy of those precious first months because  they are exhausted and frustrated, struggling to calm their newborn or get just another hour of sleep each night.

By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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