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Once upon a time, your bedside table was stacked with Pulitzer prize-winning novels and new issues of The New Yorker. But between round-the-clock feedings and weeks of choppy sleep, you may find yourself struggling to make it through the dizzying array of books about optimizing babies’ shut-eye. Our Big Idea series is here to help—by summarizing the essential ideas you’ll find in popular sleep books.
Harvey Karp, a Los Angeles-based pediatrician to the stars, published The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer in 2002. His (relatively) simple five-step method continues to be hugely popular, and though your mother-in-law will likely think it’s a little kooky, you’ll be hard pressed to find a parent of an infant today who hasn’t given it a shot.
Karp’s method hinges on his theory that human babies are born too early and the first three months are essentially a “fourth trimester.” Thus, while you may think babies want calm and quiet, what they actually find most comforting is a reproduction of the conditions in the womb—where it’s loud, jiggly, and confining.
The meat of Karp’s book is his “Five S’s System,” which advises parents to soothe babies by swaddling tightly, making a loud “shush” noise in their ears, rocking them in a swinging motion, holding them in a side or stomach-down position (only while awake), and satisfying their sucking reflex with a pacifier. And, yes, he advises doing all of that at the same time.
You can borrow the book from another new mom but we recommend downloading the video, since you really need a visual demonstration.
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