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Review: Night-time Parenting with Dr. Karp's "Happiest Baby on the Block"

D.r Harvey Karp's Happiest Baby on the Block

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There are seemingly endless books on Infant Sleep Methods currently out there. Hmm, who can read a two hundred page book when you are trying to get some shut-eye with your newborn in the middle of the night? Hence, here is a review of Dr. Harvey Karp's “Happiest Baby on the Block” DVD and book.

Dr. Karp's Gentle Methods Help Night-Time Parenting
Istock/KellyRichardsonPhotography

Dr. Karp adapted his methods from the study of both modern research and also observation of baby care in tribal societies. The basic take-home messages from Dr. Karp are: become educated about the fourth trimester, the discovery of the Calming Reflex (or what he jokingly calls the “off switch!”), and learn the Five “S”s which trigger the Calming Reflex.

Dr. Karp first educates people about the reality of the fourth trimester. He opens the discussion about fourth trimester with a quote from Dr. Arthur H. Parmalee. Dr. Parmalee (1977) says that most parents dream about receiving a baby that resembles a smiling, social, four- month-old! But what they, of course, instead receive is a fussy, fetus-like newborn! He asks parents to adjust their expectations and understand the true nature of newborns.

Think about the profound developmental changes that occur in the first three months of life. A four month old baby is very different than a newborn! And then think about how parental expectations are powerfully shaped by modern advertising! In ads, the babies are usually sitting up and smiling, if not walking. The thing is, the babies in ads are not newborns, but are usually at least four months old.

Dr. Karp suggests human physiology causes our babies to be born in an immature state. He stresses that there are huge physiological and psychological difference between a four day old newborn and a four month old baby and a lot of those differences have to do with nervous system and brain maturation and size.

Dr. Karp considers a newborn to be very much like a fetus. In fact, he wistfully wishes that humans had pouches like kangaroos! But because we don't have pouches, we need to learn behaviors that imitate the uterine environment in order to keep our newborn fetuses happy! Hence, Dr. Karp believes the first three months of a baby's life is actually a fourth trimester where a lot more maturation takes place. He suggests we need to re-learn how to parent babies in the fourth trimester.

Think about this: a newborn's brain is 20% smaller than a four-month-old baby's brain. Because of this more mature brain, a four-month-old baby has more mature capabilities than a newborn. Some such capabilities are: processing sensory input faster than a newborn can, smile and interact with her parents, focus on objects across the room, and has more mature control of body movements, such as being able to roll over and move her head.

In contrast, a newborn has behaviors that are largely driven by survival reflexes, such as the Moro reflex and the well-known Crying Reflex. And from the study of tribal societies, Dr. Karp has rediscovered the Calming Reflex.

Dr. Karp believes the Calming Reflex evolved from conditions created in the uterus. He also posits ancient mothers needed to know how to calm their babies quickly in order to quiet them and keep the entire family group safe from predators. The Calming Reflex works quickly. The Calming Reflex depends on mimicking conditions within the womb. Dr. Karp calls these conditions the five “S”s. The five “S”s are: swaddling, side or stomach lying (but not for all night sleep), a loud SHUUSSHHIINNGG sound, swinging and sucking.

Initiation of the remarkable Calming Reflex can be watched on Dr. Karp's DVD, “Happiest Baby on the Block.” It is truly remarkable to watch Dr. Karp teach parents the Calming Reflex and to see how quickly and easily a baby falls asleep when enacting the natural human Calming Reflex. Anyone who has cared for an infant will be awestruck by the footage on the DVD!

One other message Dr. Karp has for parents is that colic usually fades around the four-month mark. Dr. Karp believes colicky babies are babies who are are more sensitive to being born early than other babies. Dr. Karp believes the “cure” for a colicky baby is the use of the Calming Reflex.

Dr. Karp's Calming Reflex works so well that he is now partnering with various agencies across the nation in order to design and implement interventions intended to reduce the sad abuse called Shaken Baby Syndrome.

The take away message from this method

Dr. Karp's methods are so easy and natural to use and so caring of babies and families that everyone interested in parenting a baby should read this book. The fourth trimester and the Calming Reflex are major discoveries and contribute hugely to parenting literature. Parents in need of sleep can easily learn his methods and get the sleep they need to be emotionally healthy for themselves and their family.