‘5 S’s System’ May Help Colic Symptoms

When your baby cries for hours, and you feel like joining in, colic may be to blame. For years, parents and physicians have struggled to discover a cause and cure. Finally, one doctor has developed a system he says can help distressed parents cure their crying baby. Dr. Harvey Karp, a Santa Monica pediatrician, has developed the “5 S’s System.”

Karp’s system initiates and maximizes a babies natural calming reflex through swaddling, placing the baby on its side or stomach, using “shushing” sounds, swinging and sucking.

Colic occurs in approximately one out of ten babies. It usually begins a few weeks after birth and is defined as crying on and off for more than three hours a day, three or more days a week. The crying is characterized as screaming, complete with a purple face and flailing arms. The fits typically happen in the late afternoon or evening. Colic generally peaks at about six weeks and improves around three to five months.

Colic is not considered a disease or physical condition. While many people use the term “colicky” to describe a fussy baby, a truly colic baby is an otherwise healthy infant with specific symptoms. The Mayo Clinic defines these symptoms as:

  • Predictable, recurring crying episodes: A colicky baby cries around the same time each day, usually in the late afternoon or evening. Colic episodes may last from just a few minutes to three hours or more on any given day, although babies with colic are likely to cry as long as two to three hours several days a week. The crying usually begins suddenly and for no clear reason. Your baby may have a bowel movement or pass gas near the end of the colic episode.
  • Activity: Colicky babies tend to draw their legs onto their abdomens, clench their fists, tense their stomachs, or thrash around and appear to be in pain during crying episodes.
  • Intense or inconsolable crying: Colic crying is intense, not weak or sickly. Your baby’s face will likely be flushed, and he or she will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to comfort.

Experts are unclear on what causes colic. A number of explanations and possibilities exist including:

  • Milk allergies or milk intolerance
  • An immature digestive system causing unusually strong intestinal contractions
  • Food backing up into the esophagus – the passage connecting your baby’s mouth and stomach
  • Increased intestinal gas
  • Hormone changes in your baby
  • Your baby’s temperament
  • Maternal anxiety
  • Postpartum depression
  • Differences in the way your baby is fed or comforted

What Parents Need to Know

Are some babies more susceptible to colic? A number of theories exist, but none have been proven conclusively. Infants of both sexes, bottle-fed and breast feed, all experience colic in the same numbers. According to the Mayo Clinic, increased risk of colic is not linked to:

  • First-time parents: First-time parent are no more likely to have a colicky baby than experienced parents, although colic may be especially stressful for new parents.
  • Breast-feeding: If you are breast-feeding, your baby’s colic probably is not the result of something you are eating.
  • Formula feeding: Formula is usually not the cause of colic, although special formulas can help some babies.
  • Lactose intolerance: Most babies have some degree of lactose intolerance, but the connection to colic is not clear-cut.

Colicky babies are extremely hard to comfort. There are no medical remedies, but several traditional techniques may help. The Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital recommends:

  • Try rocking, cradling or cuddling your baby close to you.
  • Use a close fitting infant carrier or gently swaddle your infant in a baby blanket.
  • Rock or swing your baby rhythmically in an infant swing.
  • Take the baby for a car ride with the child securely fastened in a car seat.
  • Play soft music or sing to them in a soft, soothing voice.
  • Hold your baby and bottle upright so that as little air goes into your baby as possible.
  • Switching from breastfeeding to formula, or vice versa, rarely helps; but if you think changing the formula might help, discuss it with your doctor.

If you have tried these techniques with little success, you may want to consider Dr. Karp’s “5 S’s System.” According to Dr. Karp, to sooth a crying infant, recreating the womb environment helps the baby feel more secure and calm. Dr. Karp recommends:

  • Swaddling: Tight swaddling provides the continuous touching and support your baby is used to experiencing within the womb.
  • Side/stomach position: The infant is placed on their left side to assist in digestion, or on their stomach to provide reassuring support. “But never use the stomach position for putting your baby to sleep,” cautions Karp. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is linked to stomach-down sleep positions. When a baby is in a stomach down position do not leave them even for a moment.
  • Shushing sounds: These imitate the continual whooshing sound made by the blood flowing through arteries near the womb.
  • Swinging: Newborns are used to the swinging motions within their mother’s womb, so entering the gravity driven world of the outside is like a sailor adapting to land after nine months at sea. “It’s disorienting and unnatural,” says Karp. Rocking, car rides, and other swinging movements all can help.
  • Sucking: “Sucking has its effects deep within the nervous system,” notes Karp, “and triggers the calming reflex and releases natural chemicals within the brain.”

Written by Mandy Rider, CWK Network, Inc.

7 Responses to “‘5 S’s System’ May Help Colic Symptoms”

  1. CARRIE Says:

    The swinging works like magic for colic and crying, take it from me. Anytime shed start a fit, wed jump in the car, or even just sit on the dryer. Its amazing – the last thing that youd expect, but car rides thru the hills can do wonders.

  2. greg fitzsimmons Says:

    Yes – the 5 Ss really ARE like magic. They work DRAMATICALLY WELL for babies with colic. Take it from me. Our family was in real turmoil and the 5 Ss transformed everything.

  3. Arlene64 Says:

    I strongly believe that the best way to learn these 5 Ss is to read the book AND watch the dvd. Ive talked to lots of friends who are parents who did one or the other and you always get the best results by combining the visual with the deep understanding you get from the book.

  4. charna Says:

    Agreed. The 5 Ss are the only thing Ive ever heard of that really worked to stop all the crying caused by colic. I read the book first, so I really got a lot of background info that made me feel like an educated parent, and then we did the dvd together as a family. I think theres a sixth S and thats SHOCK because thats how we felt when we saw the effects it had on our sons colic.

  5. Kishore Etikala Says:

    It (5S) worked like a magic for our new baby. Thank you so much Dr.Karp.

  6. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Vaishavni,

    I recommend using white noise (as loud as a shower) for all naps aand nights…for the entire first year…then you can wean her off of it (as described in my new sleep book).
    All best,

    Dr. Karp

  7. Dr_Karp Says:

    Hi Vaishnavi, Plan on using the swaddling for at least 4 months and the sound for all naps and nights for at least 1 year…many of us use it longer than that…even into adulthood! (Just as we use pillows as a sleep aid…our entire lives.)
    All best, Dr. K

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