It's challenging enough to tend to the needs of a newborn. It's
quite another to tend to the needs of a crying, whiny and
inconsolable newborn. Enter Dr. Harvey Karp, nationally renowned
pediatrician and child development training specialist who happens
to be the creator of the country's most popular program for calming
Karp's methods revolve around the premise that our culture is
not as advanced as one would think when it comes to soothing a
crying baby. By looking at other societies more primitive than
ours, Karp came up with four key principles to help parents comfort
their babies and promote sleep: The Missing 4th Trimester, The
Calming Reflex, The 5 S's and The Cuddle Cure.
Recently, Chicago Baby got the opportunity to chat with Karp
about his New York Times best-selling DVD and book, The Happiest
Baby on the Block (Bantam Dell), which contradict common
perceptions of new parents and teach innovative ways to help stop
CB: Many parents I know have read your book,
watched your DVD and used your techniques. What is the most
important part of your program?
Karp: The fourth trimester concept is the most
important thing to understand. Once you appreciate the concept of
the fourth trimester, you realize that just by being born, babies
are already getting a 25 percent cut of the rocking and holding
they are used to inside the uterus. Then you can appreciate why
they need to be swaddled, have white noise and swinging motion.
It's a whole lot easier than parents think it may be to calm your
baby, but it's like getting your driver's license. You need the
CB: Your program contradicts some things I've
heard about baby calming and sleep training. What are some common
misperceptions about calming babies and how can new parents
Karp: There are dozens of myths about calming
your baby that get perpetuated because people don't understand. For
instance, people think you should put a newborn baby in a quiet
room. In reality, the babies don't want quiet. I have found through
my techniques that using white noise is a critical step in boosting
sleep and quieting babies. In some cases, if you use white noise
from the start, it can increase a baby's sleep time by one to three
hours at a time. But the quality of the white noise makes a
difference. A fan or air humidifier isn't strong enough. CDs are my
preference because they are portable.
Also, some experts say you can't sleep-train a baby until it is
4 months or so, but I've found that sleep-training can start in the
first week of life. It turns out that it's easy to teach babies to
sleep better by swaddling and having white noise all night
CB: That would be a dream for many
sleep-deprived parents. But what if your baby is colicky?
Karp: Colic is just the extreme level of normal
for a baby who isn't ready to be in the world. It's almost never
the case that babies have terrible gas pains or acid reflux. Babies
have sensations in their stomachs, but it's not pain. It just bugs
them and they don't have capacity to calm themselves. They need
In our culture, it's normal for people to say "all babies cry"
and "they'll get over it." On average our babies will cry an hour a
day, some up to three hours a day. Then I researched the !Kung San
tribe in Africa whose mothers can calm their babies in under a
minute. All babies, even those super fussy ones, can calm down once
you learn some specific techniques. The revelation is that babies
have a calming reflex you can induce by using the steps in my
program. You have to faithfully adhere to it and do it just right,
but if you hit that sweet spot, it really works.
CB: Your program doesn't just help nervous
parents, but also ones in need. Can you explain?
Karp: Baby crying is a nuisance, but it's a bigger problem than
that. Crying and fatigue are primary triggers for marital stress,
child abuse, breastfeeding failure, SIDS, over treatment for acid
reflux, maternal obesity and maternal car accidents. There are tons
of things associated with crying and fatigue. It is actually a
pretty serious public health concern. We started a program four
years ago to train educators to teach "Happiest Baby" classes.
They're like Lamaze classes, but what you do after the baby is
born. Now there are more than 3,000 educators nationwide. These
classes have been extremely successful.
CB: What local outlets do Chicago parents have
to access your program's services?
Karp: Prentice Women's Hospital at Northwestern
Memorial has one of the most successful parent education programs.
They offer six classes a month. If you go to
www.thehappiestbaby.com, you can find a class near you. We have
educators all over Illinois.
Sara Rontal Fisher is a Chicago mom and freelance
Sara Fisher is a mother of two living in Roscoe Village. She also blogs at selfmademom.net.
See more of Sara's stories here.
What to do with your weekend, delivered every Thursday.
Great deals and chances to win prizes, delivered every Monday.
Exclusive offers from our partners,usually delivered twice a week.
Resources for parents of children with special needs,delivered the second Tuesday each month.