Stories and thoughts from day to day life in the Bullard Family

Book Review: The Happiest Baby on the Block May 12, 2011

Filed under: Book Review — parentsong @ 11:14 pm
Tags: , ,

The Happiest Baby on the Block By Harvey Karp

This book is written by a pediatrician and father of one child. His approach is playful and comical, but compassionate and gentle at the same time. He clearly has spent a significant amount of time working with young children and parents.

The book is pretty thick at 267 pages, but a quick read. There are two basic sections: 1) Why babies cry and 2) How to soothe them. This is not a parenting philosophy, so no matter what parenting approach you take, the information in this book will not likely go against what you are doing.

The first section about why babies cry proposes that infants are in their “fourth trimester” during the first three months of life. He gives some anecdotes of new parents dealing with their sweet, adorable, crying baby. This is to illustrate how his approach to calming babies works. He goes into further depth about theories of colic, what it is, what it is not, and myths that cause colic. He writes about putting different parts of the picture together, which include brain immaturity, temperament, big tummy troubles (allergies and acid reflux), tiny tummy troubles (constipation and gas), and maternal anxiety. I like this view because it is often so difficult to tell what exactly is troubling an infant.

The second section goes into detail about the technique for calming the colicky baby. These are the five S’s. These are as follows:

  1. Swaddling: Wrapping your baby tightly in a blanket or sheet to keep him or her from flailing about. There is a certain way to do this so that the baby cannot get loose. The book details the method for swaddling the baby The idea behind swaddling is to allow the baby to actually take notice of what the parent / caregiver is doing to calm him or her. It also puts the baby closer to the womb environment, which is comforting.
  2. Side / Stomach: Positioning the baby in your arms so that he or she is on his or her side or stomach does two things: 1) It triggers the calming reflex by putting the baby in a position most similar to the one he or she was in in the womb and 2) it keeps the baby from setting off the moro reflex, or the startle reflex.
  3. Shhhhing: Literally, saying shhhhhhhhh. This one actually takes some practice and you may need to work up your mouth muscles to maintain the shhh long enough to calm the baby at first. Karp suggests holding your mouth two to four inches from the baby’s ear and starting out as loud as the baby is crying. This can seem alarmingly loud at first, but the baby has to hear it over his crying. Then, back off as the baby’s cry diminishes. Follow the baby.
  4. Swinging: Karp reminds the reader of the five senses and goes on to mention the sixth: movement in space. Swinging here refers to any rhythmic motion: rocking, swinging, bouncing, jiggling, vibrating seats, walking, etc. The baby must never be shaken and the head should always be supported, though not necessarily held still. There is a part in the book that breaks down all the steps to “successful motion.”
  5. Sucking: This refers to eating to satisfy hunger and sucking for comfort (non-nutritive sucking). If the baby is not really hungry, the use of a pacifier can come in handy here. Karp suggests trying a pacifier once the baby is calm (to keep her calm) and to try different brands to find the shape of nipple that best suits the baby.

These five steps are revisited several times throughout the book. This is clearly the most important message to take home. Beyond this, Karp discusses other issues that may be affecting the infant, such as reflux. He also gives a plan for weaning the baby off of these “props” so that eventually, the baby will be able to go to sleep (an stay asleep) on his own.

Much of this information can be found on the Happiest Baby website. The book is nice for making the frazzled parent feel better and does provide some  support for parenting the colicky baby. It made me feel better, which can only be a good thing. The baby won’t be colicky forever, so I know I am not avoiding something that will creep up on me later in life… or am I?

My take on the book:

Personally, I have found these techniques to be gentle and effective. We use all five of these tools, though we keep the baby on our shoulder because he is not happy on his side or stomach when upset. And that is just the thing: you have to play with these things until you figure out what your baby responds best to.

While I do not plan on using Karp’s plan for getting the child to sleep (such as use of a white noise machine, which does not keep our little Tasmanian devil asleep any longer than without the noise), I do use these techniques to keep the baby calm and he does eventually go to sleep and I can put him down. Sleeping through the night* has yet to happen.

I’ll be getting ready for sleep training soon, unless he magically starts sleeping on his own. I just believe in sleep training. I think it is a good habit to have and one I wish I had. Of course, we won’t start until we think the baby is ready. We don’t want to make his life too hard, now.

*Sleeping through the night is considered to happen when the baby sleeps 5 consecutive hours according to Dr. Sears.