At just 5 weeks old, Emerson Thein was crying relentlessly, and her frantic parents believed that something was terribly wrong with their baby girl, whom they had nicknamed Emmy.
"I'm desperate for help and someone to tell me how to help this little baby be a happy girl," Dhari Thein, 34, said in a video diary she recorded for Good Morning America, as she tried to quiet the crying infant. Her husband wasn't having much luck either.
"She's hungry," Dan Thein, 29, says on the tape. But even though they fed the baby, burped her, changed her, rocked her and held her, Emmy did not stop crying.
Her parents told Good Morning America's parenting contributor, Ann Pleshette Murphy, that Emmy had screamed and cried for as long as nine hours at one stretch, and neither of them got more than four hours of sleep a night. Even the family's neighbors in Altadena, Calif., could hear Emmy's piercing shrieks, which actually register on a decibel meter at the same noise level as a lawn mower.
The baby has colic, a condition that is the terror of new parents and somewhat of a puzzle to doctors. Colic is "persistent fussiness that appears for no obvious reason," said Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician who wrote the book The Happiest Baby on the Block, which is also available on video/DVD.
Karp's solution is that parents should learn to swaddle their babies. A study released in the December issue of Pediatrics magazine agrees, saying that swaddling a baby may help them sleep better in a supine position (lying on their back), which is the position recommended to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The study notes that a safe form of swaddling allows the child's chest wall to move in and out as they breathe, and allows babies to move their hips back and forth comfortably.
Your Baby’s ‘Calming Reflex’
Karp cannot always diagnose why a baby cries, but he says parents can stop it by tapping into what he calls the baby's calming reflex.
"I've been doing it for 20 years and I've never had a baby that I couldn't calm," Karp said.
Emmy's parents were skeptical.
"I kind of believe he may have met his match with Emerson — I'm not sure it's going to work," Dhari Thein said.
Karp taught the Theins five steps that he insisted would quiet Emmy and other babies in just five minutes.
"I call them the five S's," Karp said. "The first is swaddling. The second is the side or stomach position. The third is shushing. The fourth is swinging or jiggling movement and the fifth is sucking."
It is important to have a blanket that is large enough to keep the baby tightly bundled, so that he or she cannot kick out of it.
"None of these things will work well if the baby's not tightly swaddled," Karp said.
Swaddling entails tightly wrapping the baby in a blanket. The baby may struggle against it, but the swaddling will control the flailing and turn on the calming reflex.
Side or stomach position means holding a baby so that he or she is lying on the side or stomach. The more upset the babies are, the unhappier they will be lying on their backs. (When the babies is sleeping, he or she should be placed on his back.)
Shushing means providing some type of loud, white noise to soothe the baby into slumber. In his book, Karp suggests a radio turned to loud static, a tape recording of your hair dryer or a white-noise machine.
Swinging entails creating a rhythmic and energetic jiggly motion for the baby. As you support your baby's head and neck, wiggle the head with fast tiny movements, kind of like you are shivering. You can then move the baby into a swing for continual, hypnotic motion.
Sucking entails having the baby suck on anything from the mom's nipple to a finger or a pacifier. It works best after you have already tried the other techniques.
Sleeping at Last
Good Morning America watched for several days as the Theins tried their techniques.
"The hardest part about this whole thing is the swaddling," Dhari Thein said. She seemed to have the "shushing" part down pat.
"She will just go off to sleep. It's super!" Dhari Thein said. "It's really working well!"
Before they learned Karp's techniques, the Theins quieted little Emmy by breast-feeding her, and driving with her in the car. They even tried putting her in her car seat on top of a clothing dryer while it was in spin cycle to see if the motion might soothe her into slumber.
Karp says it is a myth that babies should be in a quiet environment. They were jostled around in the womb, which, he says, is as noisy as a vacuum cleaner, so there is no need to keep them in a silent environment after they are born. You can even keep the lights on while they sleep, Karp says.
This story appeared on Good Morning America on May 30, 2002.
Find out more about Dr. Karp's techniques on his Web site, www.thehappiestbaby.com