- Pediatrician Harvey Karp wrote “the happiest baby on the block” and invented Snoo.
- He was inspired by an anthropological mystery: Why do babies cry so much?
- Karp believes we’ve come a long way with sleep, but there’s more work to be done.
When Harvey Karp went to medical school, he thought he wanted to be a cardiologist. But he couldn’t give up working with his youngest patient.
“I realised how great it is to work with children and young families. They are very positive,” Karp said.
Karp’s career decision is a good move for millions of families. Despite never raising a baby—his stepdaughter was 7 when he entered his life—Kapp has become the “godfather of sleep” to American parents. If you’re familiar with the five Ss—swaddling, flank position, booing, wiggling, and sucking—and the term “third trimester,” you have Karp to thank.
Twenty years after he shared his work with the world,”The happiest baby on the blockHelping babies and their parents sleep better can prevent problems such as marital conflict and accidents from exertion, says Karp, 70.
“Helping people learn these things could save billions of dollars in health care costs and employer productivity costs associated with tired parents and crying babies,” Karp said.
Early in his career, Karp became fascinated by why babies cry so much.Colic Effects quarter American Babies. This makes no sense to Karp, especially when he learns that in some African tribes, babies cry for only a few minutes a day, not hours.
He had something else on his mind: “Most adults and adult doctors recognize that most of us fall asleep in trains, planes, cars, hammocks listening to the ocean,” he said.
Cultures around the world use the “shh” sound to silence people. People who meditate use deep, vibrating sounds and rocking, flowing movements. But no one has ever explained why these are such common experiences. Carr speculates that mimicking the womb — with deep voices and movements — explains something about human sleep and how it can help babies get more sleep. Five S’s were born.
Giving knowledge back to society
Five S’s aren’t new, Karp said. In past generations with larger families and more intergenerational lives, people just passed this knowledge on. In fact, he even warned his publishers: Sell a lot of books now, because soon people won’t need them anymore.
“Once we bring it back to the community, they will learn from their friends,” he said.
He was right and wrong about this. Merriam-Webster added “Season Four” to the dictionary last year, but “Happiest Baby on the Block” remains a bestseller.
The power of the five S’s is not only that they put babies to sleep, but that they make parents feel more confident and competent. According to Karp, movie star Ashton Kutcher once told him, “Now I love baby crying because I can be a magician.”
A modern twist on the 5 S
In 2016, Karp launched the Snoo Smart Sleeper. The cradle mimics five S. It helps soothe babies and give parents an extra hour of sleep each night, Karp said. It’s hailed as an expensive must-have baby product, but for Karp, the Snoo is a safety device.
“It can help parents avoid the tragedy and pain that happens when you’re not using this thing,” he said.
This rate Since 2000, the proportion of sudden and unexpected infant deaths has been roughly the same. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in 2020, 27 percent of cases were caused by accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed — when parents are tired and babies are restless, Karp said. Karp is studying how Snoo can reduce sudden infant death syndrome and postpartum depression, and improve brain development.
“For small babies, rhythmic stimulation is as important as calories for development and physical growth,” he says.
Employers including Under Armour, JPMorgan, and the National Air Traffic Controllers Union now offer Snoo leases as an employee benefit. Karp hopes that with more research, insurance companies and state governments will continue to make Snoo easier to use.
Karp didn’t forget the toddler
Even if your baby doesn’t sleep in the third trimester, you can get through, Karp said. But a bigger challenge looms: the toddler years.
“Between eight months and six years old, you create a person,” he said. Sleep, soothing and communication become more important. And Karp doesn’t think the modern idea of talking through emotion doesn’t work.
“If you’re mad at me, words are meaningless,” he said.
Rather than speaking out about how a child is feeling, Karp said parents should use short phrases and repetitions to reflect a third of their child’s emotions.
“You can’t pull them out of the emotional jungle,” he said. “You have to go in and guide them out.”