When Harvey Karp walks through airports, he often finds himself being high-fived by men he doesn’t know. The pediatrician is something of a rock star to generations of American parents — his bestselling book “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” now celebrating its 20th anniversary of publication, has become a must-have item for millions of parents deep in the newborn trenches for one simple reason: He demystifies newborn babies, and tells (often sleep deprived) readers how to make their babies sleep.
“Being a pediatrician, you’re part of the family,” says Karp, who also invented the popular Snoo, the smart sleeper bassinet that automatically rocks the baby to sleep. “It delights my heart.”
Originally, the book was going to have a different focus.
“I was going to write a book about colic,” he says, describing the frequent, prolonged crying and fussiness in babies, a condition for which there is no guaranteed treatment.
“I told my marketers, ‘What do you think of the name The Karp Colic Cure? Pretty good, right?’ They said, ‘It’s nice alliteration, but we would never buy it. No one will read this book.’ They said, think of a positive name. Something bright and happy.”
And thus, a classic was born.
“The book revolves around one simple concept – the 4th trimester,” says Karp of the term, which was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary this year and which describes the first three months after a baby is born and is adjusting to life outside the womb. “You have to understand that your baby is born 3 months too soon, and that the womb is a symphony of sounds, every time the mother walks or breathes. Once you understand that, you understand that putting the baby in a bed amounts to sensory deprivation.” To this end, he has devised the 5Ss for soothing newborns: Swaddle (wrapping the baby firmly in a swaddling blanket, mimicking the feeling of being in the womb); Side or stomach position (the ideal position to calm the baby); Shush (the noise all babies are soothed by, as it sounds like the womb); Swing (small, tiny movements while supporting the baby’s neck and head); and Suck (a pacifier).
Karp is also the author of “The Happiest Toddler on the Block,” the follow-up to “Happiest Baby.” happiest toddler. “The premise of the toddler book is that toddlers are not little kids — they’re cavemen,” explains Karp. “They’re uncivilized, and they are unyielding.”
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