5 things I learned about newborns from Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp’s clients rely on him to put them to sleep. But when the Los Angeles-based pediatrician spoke at Chicago’s Best of Bump Club and Beyond, he had the opposite effect on audience members.


A crowd full of baby bumps was at rapt attention as the Happiest Baby founder busted through myths related to babies and child rearing. Or, at least, one very important part of child rearing: teaching your newborn to sleep, thus keeping your sanity intact.


Karp is the inventor of the hyper buzzed-about Snoo—an $1,16o bassinet that’s marketed as a personal night nurse of sorts. He’s is also behind a popular method of baby soothing known as the “Five S’s:” swaddle, side or stomach position, shush, swing and suck. (Learn more about that here.)


In short, the affable doc is regarded as something of a sleep whisperer. And if anyone has the power to lure out pregnant women and new parents in 30-degree April weather, it might just be Karp.


In case you missed it, here’s the knowledge he imparted on Chicago parents and parents-to-be during a 45-minute talk.


Parenting has changed


Well, duh: Raise your hand if you have a great aunt who brags about drinking and smoking her way through pregnancy — and her kid was fine. But, Karp pointed out that today’s generation of parents has less experience with babies than those that came before. In earlier times, new parents had generations of family members around to help them.


Not (necessarily) so today. Instead, a pediatrician or OB/GYN will often be parents’ go-to source for guidance and general info. “I joke that I’m half pediatrician, half grandma,” Karp told the crowd.


Humility is key


Parenting, Karp argued, is best learned by watching and doing. (In fact, he even joked that he’s one of the few authors who wouldn’t recommend reading his book, Happiest Baby on the Block. Watch the DVD instead, he said). Many new and expectant parents have a pile of books related to raising newborns, but this whole parenting thing is best learned on the job.


“A myth is that you automatically know how to care for your baby,” he said. In fact, “parenting is a [learned] skill. It’s not intuitive, and much of it is counterintuitive.”


Keep it simple


So, sure, it’s overwhelming to raise a little nugget. To keep you from getting too overwhelmed, though, Karp suggested focusing on these three top tasks: Feeding, calming and sleeping.


When it comes to feeding, Karp pointed out, there are a ton of resources. (Lactation counselors, for example, are readily available and relatively affordable.) There are fewer resources to help new parents calm their babies and send them off to dream-land.


Crying and fussing isn’t inevitable


Though getting newborn babies to sleep seems like a product of witchcraft, it actually is achievable. “Babies don’t cry for no reason,” Karp said. “They actually have an off-switch for crying and an on-switch for sleep.”


“There really is a fourth trimester of pregnancy. Babies are born three months before they’re ready to be out in the world.” Your role, he says, is to act as “one big, walking uterus” for baby’s first three months.


This is when Karp referred back to his five S’s: nail the art of swaddling, shushing and the rest of the steps, and a baby should be calmer within a minute. (He adds that the Snoo takes care of three of the S’s — swaddling, shushing and swinging — all through the night.)


All the steps are intended to make the baby feel like he or she is back in the womb, which brings great comfort. If the little one doesn’t stop fussing, it’s likely that she or is hungry, needs to be changed or needs to be checked out by a doctor.


Co-sleeping is NOT OK


For sleep-deprived parents, bringing the baby in bed is tempting. This controversial method of soothing, Karp argued, is simply not safe. He points out that most parents wouldn’t dream of sleeping with a baby in their bed if they’d been drinking; being sleep-deprived is effectively the same as being drunk.


To keep a baby safe, Karp naturally recommended his Snoo first. But really, any bassinet or crib is safer than risking rolling over on your wee one or covering his or her face with a blanket during the night.


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