Shh-ing and patting


We're repeatedly told of the magical powers of shh-ing and patting to soothe a baby. But sometimes you can shush and pat all you want, but it doesn't work. There are many reasons why babies don't respond to shh-ing and patting, but it can leave you feeling hopeless and adrift. 

Why shh-ing and patting works

From the early moments of life in utero, your baby is exposed to a range of repetitive experiences that continue throughout life in the womb. Once born, that snug and somewhat noisy environment is lost to the outside world. The transition from such a warm and predictable place to one of nappy changes, burps and pooing can be very disturbing. 

When we want to calm babies, we try to offer something that they have experienced before. Something that's not disturbing or distressing.


Patting is a way of providing the rhythm they became accustomed to in utero:

  • not a rapid rhythm - just one or two pats per second is good
  • not hard - just gentle, rhythmical movement in an effort to help your baby calm.


This is the sound babies hear in utero. The repetitive sound is reminiscent of the mother's arterial blood pumping around her uterus. So it's a bit like having surround sound in your home - despite other sounds, it remains audible at all times. In the womb, it's a shh sh, shh sh, shh sh-ing sound.

The average adult heart rate is around 80 beats per minute, so that's why we recommend shh-ing quietly for a baby at around that rate. 

So how can I tell if it isn't working?

Shh-ing and patting are not working if they're not calming your baby. It really takes a very short time, 30 seconds at most, to see if it's soothing for your baby. You may see that your baby may even cry out or seem to become more unsettled.

Don't despair though! Sometimes shh-ing and patting are simply not what your baby can respond to in that moment. For some reason, it's just not meeting their particular need. Don't persist in the hope it will suddenly work. Look for alternatives. 

What else can I do?

  • Hold them in a different position
  • Change the atmosphere or location
  • Try picking them up to offer them close body comforting
  • Are they hungry - they may not need not be a full feed, but sometimes the milk and sucking action can be soothing. 

Although it can be frustrating, don't persist with techniques that aren't working. For your sake, and your baby's, try to stay clam and change it up until something works.

If you can 't find a way of soothing your baby, rather than resorting to sleep training, chat with us so we can help you find options that work for your baby and your family.

How we can help

Helen has really helpful tips and tricks for settling your baby in her new book. It's got a step-by-step guide she developed with families when helping them through their baby sleep struggles. Check it out >>