How 'The Happiest Baby on the Block' Worked for Me

When my first child was born, I had a number of home-grown "tricks" for soothing him. Putting him near the utility room while the washing machine was running, for instance. Vacuuming near him, or setting him next to me in a bouncy seat while I blow-dried my hair. The nearly foolproof method was to wait until 6 p.m. when my husband walked in the door, and after 12 hours of wriggling and crabbing and demanding attention, my child would instantly fall into a beatific sleep, and his father would be all, SO WHAT'S FOR DINNER. At which point I would kill him with my bare hands.

It wasn't until Riley was a few months old that I started embraced the baby-soothing teachings—nay, the RELIGION—of Dr. Harvey Karp.


Who is this Dr. Karp, you ask? Only the baby whisperer to the stars, that's all. He's the mastermind behind the Happiest Baby on the Block; the book, the DVD, the Hollywood-approved philosophy. Just check out famed actor Pierce Brosnan's completely unscripted declaration of support which is printed across the book: "Dr. Karp offers insightfulness into parenting by combining ancient and modern wisdom."

If a second-rate James Bond said it, it must be true.

Essentially, Karp preaches some methods to get babies to stop crying and sleep longer. Kind of a slam-dunk topic choice when you're selling something to new parents, right? I can personally attest to the fact that those particular challenges were almost always inhabiting every section of my physical brain, including both the pineal gland and thalamus, for the entire first year of my son's life. Riley wasn't even an epic cryer, but seriously, even five minutes of crying is about four minutes and forty-seven seconds more crying than anyone wants to hear.

While Karp managed to produce a full-sized book, a video, and presumably about a million speaking engagements out of the Happiest Baby stuff, it basically boils down to a few techniques that he calls "the 5 S's": Swaddling, Side/Stomach position, Shushing, Swinging, and Sucking.

One of his methods of soothing a baby is the no-duh technique of feeding them or giving them a pacifier (because babies suck. What? THEY TOTALLY DO), but the others are less intuitive. One is to tightly swaddle them, which wasn't as popular a few years ago as it is now. As you probably know, swaddling involves wrapping your child like a burrito so their arms can't flail around like mindless squid tentacles. We used to unwrap Riley the minute he started struggling under his swaddle blanket, because we sort of felt as though we were treating him like a mini Hannibal Lecter, lying there in his straitjacket and all, but the first night we left him cocooned and immobile, he slept FIVE HOURS. In a ROW.

Dr. Karp also recommends "shushing," which is making a SHHHHHHH sound near the baby's bleating little head like you're in a movie theater and right in front of you there's some jackass talking on a cellphone saying how he's totally seen this movie like four times now, and hey, the part where the guy gets killed is coming up. That's the kind of loud-ass shush noise you're supposed to make (something about making babies think they're back in the womb, where apparently they are constantly SHH'd by tiny intrauterine librarians). I was highly skeptical of this, but in fact it did work, if only by distracting Riley from whatever he was complaining about: if I shushed him in the midst of a cry-fest, he'll go all saucer-eyed and stare off into space, probably wishing I'd brushed my teeth first.

The shush thing didn't work for very long, though, so we'd typically move straight ahead into the jiggling. Jiggling, or swinging (fourth "S"!), is moving the baby rhythmically, like bouncing them on your lap or jiggling them in your arms or making them do The Robot.

Note that I am not talking about shaking the baby; as you know, babies should never be shaken. Unless, of course, you're putting them in a plastic bag for the purpose of coating their delicious, delicious skin with some ranch bread crumbs, then baking them at 375 until they're fork-tender and juicy.

(Oh, not really. Plastic bags can be harmful to babies! Try a paper bag. And spray the baby with butter-flavored PAM first.)

Anyway, the jiggling/bouncing was like infant Demerol. Riley would be blaring away at top volume, and if one of us put him on our lap and started bouncing him a little—well, it worked like a charm. He especially liked it if he was tipped sideways (second "S"!) and jiggled gently.

I'm telling you, I was a BIG fan of Dr. Karp in 2005. I'm sure he just collected together bits of tried-and-true baby calming methods that millions of parents have figured out on their own and slapped a marketing-savvy catchphrase on it, but for clueless new moms like me, the Happiest Baby stuff was awesome.

I should note, however, that absolutely NONE of it worked on my second son. So ... there's that. Ah, parenthood! Just when you think you have it figured out, you're knocked right back to square one.

Did you try the "5 S's" on your baby? Did it work?

Image via Linda Sharps

Read More >