Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

With the impending birth of my son (due in a mere 3 days!), I am open to suggestions on what child rearing methods are effective for a happy baby. I'm pretty sure my "figure it out as I go, trial and error" method could use some fine-tuning. Luckily (?) for me, there is no shortage of "experts" out there offering their advice and opinions on the subject. From popular books like Baby Wise (which I haven't read but keep hearing about), to Time magazine's provocative issue on breastfeeding, to not-so celebrity endorsements of attachment parenting, there is a wide spectrum of advice and views on parenting. Dr. Karp's book addresses the specific issue of how to calm a crying child. (I guess there are more productive methods than pleading, begging, crying myself, and bribery.)

Dr. Karp's method is the "cuddle cure." This consists of 5 steps to calming a child who can't be calmed with basic methods like feeding, rocking, and well, whatever else people do to calm crying children. The five steps to the "cure" are swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, and sucking. In addition to explaining each step in full detail, Dr. Karp talks about why each step is important. He discusses the idea of a "fourth trimester" and focuses on a child's first three months when using his method. His theory is that children are born a trimester too early and each of his 5 steps helps recreate the sensation of being in the womb. He gives examples of why each step is important and effective, using lessons from other cultures and history to back up his points. Speaking of children being born too early, does it annoy anyone else that other mammals are born with the ability to walk, climb, and do other really useful things, while children are completely helpless for YEARS? And kids need all kinds of crap...their own strollers, seats, food, and on and on and on. But I digress.

There is no shortage of advice out there on what is effective for taking care of a child, so you can take this book or leave it. But I am an eager proponent of having as many tools in my arsenal as possible. And I feel like his advice made sense and is easy enough to implement. And fortunately for me, it doesn't make me want to throw up in my mouth (thank you, Alicia Silverstone). The best thing about this book, however, is that there are numerous youtube videos of Dr. Karp demonstrating the "cure" on fussy babies. These videos are pretty hilarious and you really get a sense that Dr. Karp is a kind of baby whisperer. They are also a good companion to understanding what he is actually describing in the book. But if you just want to be entertained, they serve that purpose as well.


  1. The reason that mammals are born able to function (or if not, do not take as looong to develop after the womb) is that they, unlike us, have small brains. The amount of brainpower it takes to run a thinking, feeling human being means our heads have to be correspondingly large to hold such a big brain. But if they got TOO big, women wouldn't be able to give birth due to the size of their babies' heads! So during pregnancy we develop the brain itself, and all the stuff we do differently from other mammals –– speaking, learning, etc –– we have to learn AFTER being born. Happy Parenting and Best of Luck!

  2. Now that my son is born, I am happy to report that many of Dr. Karp's tips work (although it's not like he's the only one singing the praises of swaddling and swinging babies). And yes, his head is amazingly huge.