Swaddling is a skill, but it is also an art. Once you have your little one snug as a bean burrito, they don’t always stop crying right away. When I teach parents the 5 S’s as part of a Happiest Baby on the Block consultation or class, I try very hard to explain that most children need more layers of love. Parents aren’t doing it wrong if they keep crying, and babies aren’t resisting the swaddle. They just need more support because they have little brains and few experiences in this world. Once you figure out what combo of moves your child needs, you have success!
Once you have done a good-enough swaddle, use the side or stomach-down calming move right away. As a pediatric occupational therapist, this is my favorite, since it is using the neurology of the vestibular (balance) system to help your child chill out. Really. They aren’t thinking “Gee, I love the view in this direction”, or ” I am much calmer looking at the floor”. Their brain is getting some calming signals from their inner ear, diminishing that arching from the Startle Reflex and helping them pull together. Try both positions, and make little adjustments in the exact tilt. Everyone’s brain is a little different, so your child might need side-plus-slightly face-down to hit that calm point.
Think of it like this: when you sleep, why do you think people curl up on their sides? Because the bed is too short? It is relaxing, naturally relaxing, to many people. No one told them to sleep that way, they just do. The number of back sleepers is far fewer, yet pediatricians insist on back sleep for safety and give you no idea how to convince your child to chill in this position. That seems unfair, but then, many pediatricians aren’t baby care experts, they are baby health experts. We just want them to be.
Now you can do all the gentle swinging, shushing and sucking layers you learned in Happiest Baby. They all work well, and you will quickly learn which one is the most powerful for your unique little baby. As your child grows, the layers aren’t as needed as much, but you may find that one of them really makes a difference. Often it is the white noise of shushing. Now you know why. It’s their neurological sleep signal.
Sweet dreams, and remember to layer it on!