08 Nov

Book Review: The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp

The Happiest Baby on the Block, The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp is an interesting book, with quite a few useful ideas both for parents and people supporting parents; but it did also raise a few concerns for me. It was recommended by a colleague and I was curious to learn about the “5 Ss.” This is Karp’s technique for calming an unsettled baby, and when he says unsettled he is referring to anything that might be even loosely described as colic. Karp believes that babies have an innate calming reflex, and certain activities will trigger this. I haven’t found any further research on this matter, and think he might be over-sciencing what is basically a set of instructions to cuddle and comfort a baby.

As with most parenting books, Karp uses an Expert Voice and includes many quotations from parents to demonstrate how great his method is. There must be a fascinating PhD topic in exploring the way parenting authors instil their authority; for example by referring to research (but in this case giving absolutely no references at all), and developing catchy acronyms. Interestingly, he warns at one point that his method may not work immediately (sound familiar, Ms Ford?) and parents may need to commit to it over several days before they see results. This supports my own theory that a bad situation will nearly always start to get better soon.

The good stuff in this book includes a detailed section on the evolutionary and physical reasons why babies cry, some really nice stuff on babies’ reflexes, and a logical debunking of the Top Ten Theories of Colic (p29). Unfortunately most of his information about breastfeeding is fairly inaccurate, compounded by the fact that this is the fifth “S;” he refers to this as the “icing on the cake” but in effect it comes across as the last resort, even after pacifier use.

I might offer this book to parents, perhaps after a method of feeding has been established; I would certainly recommend it to colleagues as it inspired some interesting thoughts for antenatal education. I would dispute whether cuddling and feeding are really “new” ways to calm a baby.