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Ten years ago, Harvey Karp was a Los Angeles-area pediatrician known primarily for his gentle, child-centered approach to parenting. Now, thanks to the phenomenal success of Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD and book, his name has entered the national lexicon. Though best known as the way to calm fussy babies, his techniques also play an important role in helping to prevent child abuse and postpartum depression (PPD). “Teach parents how to soothe their babies,” Karp says, “and you eliminate the No. 1 trigger for PPD and shaken baby syndrome: crying.”
In the U.S., 1,500 cases of shaken baby syndrome are reported annually; 25 percent of those babies die, and 80 percent of the ones who survive are left with permanent brain problems. “Yet research shows that those 1,500 cases represent only about 1 percent of all kids who are shaken,” Karp says.
Karp first became interested in baby soothing in 1980, when he was a pediatric consultant to the child abuse prevention team at the University of California, Los Angeles. Disturbed by the number of infants brought into the emergency room after being abused by their parents, he began searching for a way to calm fussy babies. A study of families in a particular African tribe eventually led him to develop The Happiest Baby program. “I learned that parents in this tribe are able to soothe their infants in under one minute 95 percent of the time,” Karp says.
Benefits for both of you
The cornerstone of Karp’s program is the “5 S’s,” which include re-creating the soothing environment of the uterus through tight swaddling, swinging and making “shushing” noises. Besides helping babies sleep, the techniques also help women breastfeed longer and avoid PPD.
“Faced with continued crying and growing concern about her ability to feed her baby, new mothers often just give up trying to breastfeed,” Karp explains. The effect of the program on PPD largely stems from the woman’s increased confidence and her ability to help her baby sleep. “This, of course, translates to more sleep and peace of mind for the mother, which reduces the risk of postpartum depression,” Karp says. Interestingly, he adds, once dads learn the “5 S’s,” they often become the best calmers in the family!
After 30 years in practice, Karp no longer works in the office; today, his professional life is dedicated to writing, teaching and introducing his techniques to hundreds of parenting groups, hospitals, universities and military bases in the U.S. and abroad.