On an airplane I once watched a new grandmother calm a crying baby so swiftly and gracefully.

Halfway through the flight, the infant in her arms suddenly erupted into intense crying. After a few piercing wails, the grandmother picked up her frantic traveling companion and launched into a ritual repeated by adults around the world…since time began!

She nestled the little girl’s stomach against her shoulder; made a continuous “Shhhhh” sound in her ear; rhythmically thumped her bottom and simultaneously swayed her torso, side-to-side, like a snake working its way uphill. In less than a minute, her tiny bundle was sound asleep.

It’s tempting to believe someone who’s good at soothing babies has “the gift.” But calming babies has nothing to do with special talents and everything to do with understanding a simple, yet totally counterintuitive, fact about babies…they are all born 3 months too soon!

New Grandma and Grandpa Tips: Understanding The 4th Trimester

Allow me to explain. Humans are very immature at birth. Baby horses are able to walk, even run, on their first day of life. Our newborns, by comparison, need our help even just to…burp.

Consider their first 3 months as an extension of fetal life, a virtual 4th trimester. That’s why our job in caring for babies is to imitate the uterus – a confining space where there’s lots of jiggly motion and sound louder than a vacuum cleaner!

Most first-time grandparents instinctively rock and embrace their crying tiny grandchildren. It works because these sensations can turn on the calming reflex, nature’s “off-switch for crying!

First Time Grandparent Tips for Calming Babies

There are 5 different ways of turning on a baby’s calming reflex, which I’ve dubbed the “the 5 S's”: 

  • swaddling (tight with the arms down)
  • side or stomach position (the back is safest for sleeping but it is not the best for calming crying)
  • loud shushing
  • swinging (or fine, jiggly movement)
  • sucking 

Some babies only need 1 or 2 of the S’s to calm, but the fussiest babies need all 5 simultaneously.

Try it as first-time grandparents. It’s a fantastic way to bond with your grandchild and help out your son or daughter as they find their groove as new parents!

Did you know? Happiest Baby invented SNOO, a bassinet that mimics the 4th trimester sensations described here. It stretches sleep longer to give exhausted moms and dads a little more rest. It can’t cook a mean lasagna, but we sometimes joke that SNOO is like an extra set of hands, to help out after the new Grandma leaves!

Have questions about a Happiest Baby product? Our consultants would be happy to help! Submit your questions here.

Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.