EVMS study supports '5S' method for soothing babies

Celebrity doc Harvey Karp has been called the "Baby Whisperer" for helping superstar moms like Madonna soothe fussy infants with the ballyhooed "5S" method:

Swaddling them in a blanket. Holding them on their side or stomach. Making a shushing noise. Swinging them back and forth in your arms. And letting them suck on something, like a pacifier.

Thousands of parents swear by it, and a local pediatrician at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters decided to put it to the scientific test with 240 babies facing routine immunization shots.

The journal Pediatrics released Dr. John Harrington's peer-reviewed study today, which shows that the method calms babies and reduces pain.

The babies who received the 5S treatment calmed faster than a control group of infants who received a dose of sugar solution, a known pain reliever often used in pediatric offices.

Harrington said he no longer uses the sugar solution but instead explains the 5S technique to parents.

"At first, we were thinking, 'It can't be that easy,' but it really was. Instead of telling parents, 'Here's something you can give your baby, we can say, 'Here's something you can do to help them.' "

A pacifier and a shushing noise beats giving stressed babies sugar to soothe them, a pattern no parent wants to begin with a childhood obesity epidemic raging across America.

Harrington got the idea for the study when Karp visited the area several years ago. Karp is nationally known for his best-selling "Happiest Baby on the Block" book and DVDs. The Los Angeles doctor teaches at the University of Southern California and gives workshops across the globe on how to trigger the "calming reflex" in colicky babies.

He spoke at CHKD several years ago, and Harrington asked whether there had been any scientific study of the 5S method.

There hadn't been.

"I'm an evidence-based kind of guy," Harrington said.

He was skeptical of the idea, so he set about designing a study to test it. The study was funded through the Summer Scholars Program, a research internship offered by Eastern Virginia Medical School and CHKD.

During the summer of 2010, Harrington and EVMS medical residents watched Karp's video and learned to swaddle a baby in less than 15 seconds and make the proper "shushing noise," which is supposed to mimic sounds a baby hears while in the womb.

The babies were 2 to 4 months old and received routine immunizations at well-baby visits in Norfolk. One group received a sugar solution to relieve pain. Another group received the 5S method. A third had a placebo water solution. And a fourth group had both the sugar solution and the 5S treatment.

The medical residents, who became experts at the swaddling technique, performed the 5S method on the babies. They used a scientific pain-measurement score to gauge the babies' pain at intervals up to five minutes after the shots. They also measured the length of crying.

The babies who had the 5S treatment stopped crying sooner and scored lower on the pain measurements. The children who did not receive the 5S treatment were calmer with the sugar doses than water placebos. There was no difference between the babies who received 5S alone and those who received both 5S and the sugar dose.

Dr. Ari Brown, a Texas pediatrician who was not involved in the study, said it suggests that physically soothing babies is more effective than giving them sugar.

She said she doesn't think it means Karp's method is superior to other methods that parents have been using for years, though. Brown, the author of the book "Baby 411," said she would have liked to see other options explored, such as breast-feeding after the shot.

"New parents can be taught some simple maneuvers that reliably work to soothe babies," she said in an email response. "Pediatricians all know these tricks... we just need to teach moms and dads how to do it!"

Indeed, many of the parents who watched the EVMS residents who swaddled, shushed and swung their babies said, "Wow, can you teach me how to do that?"

One of the drawbacks, though, is that the babies outgrow the method pretty quickly, Harrington said. By the time a parent perfects it, the baby's too big to swaddle.

Until then, though, Harrington said the 5S method can "help you bond with your child and make you feel like a good parent."

Elizabeth Simpson, 757-446-2635, elizabeth.simpson@pilotonline.com

Posted to: Health News Norfolk

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What a con artist !!

This article reminds me of the story "The Emperor's Clothes". Are the people he is "teaching" this to that guillible? Nothing he is teaching them is new ! Mothers have been doing those things for their babies long before this con artist decided to cash in on things his own mother or grandmother told him about. By the way, no pediatrician I ever took my children to suggestd sugar water to calm a baby.

my goodness....

how did I ever have 2 babies and use the same methods without some study telling me what to do....


This is simply common sense. My mother used this method many years ago on all five of us, my siblings and I have used it on our children and now I see my children using it on theirs. We just didn't call it the "5's" Snuggle your baby and talk quietly to him/her and usually that is the key. The method is not 100% effective all the time. Occasionally your child will have an illness or pain that hurts and calming the child takes a lot more time and patience.

240 babies?

And I suppose 240 babies are a good representation of millions of babies? And where was the group that received nothing (also called the control group? This is a classic example of a situation where society tries to dictated parental behavior, instead of letting mothers hold their children, hug them, pat them, make soothing noises and rock the babies, something that has been done from time inmemorial. Nothing new under the sun, just a man trying to make money.

It's clear...

It's clear you don't know much about how these types of studies are conducted. 1 - there is no money being made, they are mearly trying to find the best way to soothe distressed babies and the methods suggested are FREE. 2 - all of these studies are done with the full consent of the parents and they are informed of every conceivable risk beforehand. The paper work is actually outrageou. Not only that, but before they even begin, someone typically explains verbally what is going to happen as well. I don't have kids yet, but I appreciate the information. And for the person above questioning whether a sample of 240 babies is statistically significant, the answer is yes it can be.

New method is more streamlined

This supercedes the former '7S' method previously established by the renowned Drs. Howard, Fine, and Howard. Apparently the two points left off in this new "5S" method are exclaming "shaddup" to the child, and also bellowing "spread out" when attending to the little darlings.

Comment deleted

Comment removed for rules violation. Reason: Obscene, vulgar, sexual


My wife and I were doing this 20 years ago. The pilot is writing about the Dr like he is a genius or something. It is called common sense parenting. This article is stupid.

Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Karp will be the featured speaker at the CHD Birth & Beyond Baby Expo on May 20th from 12:00 noon - 3:30! His lectures are at 12:30 and 2:30 - check it out! Free and Open to the Public!

maybe it's not as much common sense as we think....

otherwise, there'd be far less dead children in this area. This 'guru' needs to be out teaching his 'method' to those who kill rather nurture infants and toddlers.

I'm gonna hit the tour

I'm gonna hit the tour circuit with my revolutionary new baby idea. I call it The Five Duh's: If the baby is hungry...feed it. If the baby is soiled...change it. If the baby is sleepy...cuddle and sing to it. If the baby is playful...play with it. If the baby is crying and you can't figure out why...address each of the items listed above.

I'm gonna make millions!!! Pilot, if you want the first exclusive interview, just let me know.


It seems like the Pilot is once again providing a helpful story but ... WOW, I can't imagine doing my job and THEN providing a forum for countless detractors to spew their hollow commentaries without them providing a sound solution to a [perceived] problem at hand. Hats off to you Ms. Simpson and to your co-workers! PS: Go to the following links and I hope this helps counter the barrage of negativity which seems all too prevalent in this and just about every other pilotonline story. Thick skins have you, indeed!



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