Friday, January 05, 2007

Today's Book

The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp Believe it or not, I only read this book this week! I've heard of Dr. Karp, of course - he's the swaddling doctor - and I was curious. I rarely buy a reference book without reading it first, so I went to the library, and discovered that I was number 48 on a wait list! Popularity doesn't always mean Good Book, however, but it did increase my curiosity. I was able to read it in less than a day. WHAT a well-edited book!! You know, a clearly-written, well-edited book makes reading such a joy. I was a bit skeptical when in the introductory chapter, he said "I was struck by the fact that many traditional baby-calming methods failed to work unless they were done exactly right." "Humph!" I thought. "If that's not a universal cop-out, I don't know what is." When I read his suggestions, descriptions, and instructions, however, I found myself saying, "Well, yes. Of course. Oh, yeah. Every time. That's right." In short, just about every suggestion and observation Dr. Karp makes are things I've noticed and learned myself over the years. Don't you just love it when what you knew all along is "discovered" by an "expert"?? Seriously, though, it is nice to have your opinions confirmed by an expert. In very brief, Karp suggests a "Cuddle Cure" for crying. Specifically aimed at babies under 3 or 4 months old, it can be used for longer; aspects of it can be used for much, much longer. The Cuddle Cure consists of five S's: 1. Swaddling - tight wrapping 2. Side/Stomach 3. Shushing - loud white noise 4. Swinging - any rhythmic, jiggly motion 5. Sucking He shows just how to do each of these: he provides lots of examples; diagrams are blessedly clear (though I suspect it probably helps that I already know how to swaddle); anecdotal support is cheerful and brief. He has a warm manner. I like his common-sense attitude. For example, he cites those who disparage baby swings - "Babies should be in their mother's arms, not in a machine... It shouldn't be called a swing, it's really a 'neglectomatic'!" His response made me laugh: "All this is silly. Thinking you're a better parent because you never use a swing is like thinking you're a better cook because you never use an electric can opener." I wholeheartedly agree. He reminds us, "throughout time, parents have had kith and kin to lend hands of support. In today's mini-families, a swing can help replace that missing extra pair of hands." Indeed. I wouldn't hesitated to give this to any expectant parent; in fact, this book, along with Weissbluth and White, will be my shower gift to a friend who's expecting next month. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P


Blogger bubandpie said...

I saw Harvey Karp on Dr. Phil when Bub was six weeks old, and it was a godsend. None of that stuff was second nature to me - it helped so much.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his book about toddlers. Even if you can get past the incredibly annoying toddlers-are-prehistoric-apes governing metaphor, his advice is to empathize with toddlers by speaking to them in "toddler-ese": an exaggerated, loud mimicry of their emotion: "I am MAD!" In the spirit of fairness, I did try it once, and it made Bub even angrier. (It would make me angry too!)

1/05/2007 12:08:00 p.m.  
Anonymous laura said...

I kind of lost my respect for Dr. Karp over the "toddler-ese", I must admit. A little over the top. It's possible to validate toddler emotions without being quite so dramatic, methinks.

1/05/2007 12:39:00 p.m.  
Blogger Jenorama said...

I am looking for books to give a young expectant mother. This was perfect! Thank you!

And no, I didn't read Middlemarch (I don't think!) in college. I am a baaaad English major.

But it isn't too late.

1/05/2007 12:48:00 p.m.  
Blogger Candace said...

I would have jumped off the roof of our apartment building if we hadn't used a swing in Christopher's infancy. And Sophie used to nap in hers. All the swing haters can bite me, because my kids are lovely.


Regarding Dr. Karp's toddler method: it worked quite well for Christopher. Then again, he was not your average toddler, so maybe the extremeness only really works for extreme kids? Those loud, empathetic responses were the only thing to get through to him during his "black rages".

1/05/2007 01:33:00 p.m.  
Blogger Mamacita Tina said...

I have this book, and it definitely helped us with both our babies. Easy read, logical thinking in helping parents.

1/05/2007 04:30:00 p.m.  
Blogger L. said...

Dr. Karp was one of our pediatricians when we lived in LA and our older two were babies -- really. He used to hvae a small practice in Venice, and then was (still is?) in a bigger practice in Santa Monica.

And none of his common-sense techniques ever seemed to soothe our irascible older son.....aka The Baby From Hell.

1/05/2007 04:51:00 p.m.  
Blogger Julie said...

Thanks for recommending books like this, Mary. We're going to be first-time parents in a few months and there are so many "self-help" parenting books out there, it'll make your head spin. Hearing someone who is so involved in childcare praise a book really helps steer me in the right direction when deciding what books to get!

1/05/2007 05:22:00 p.m.  
Anonymous Harvey karp said...

Hi Mary P. Thank you so much for your kind words. I know it sounds so rigid to say these techniques need to be done exactly right...but that is imperative especially with really fussy babies. That is because they are based upon a reflex...and as you know if you hit your knee reflex but are off by an looks like you are doing it right...but nohing happens!

I don't know if you have heard about The Happiest Baby DVD, but it is the best way to learn these slightly counterintuitive techniques. The DVD + our CD of soothing white noise can help parents in 30 mintes!...and add 1-2 hours to a baby's sleep (the CD is a critically important part of the success of this program...and even can help toddlers sleep better!).

This method helps prevent breastfeeding failure, depression, SIDS, child abuse...adn it helps improve a parents feeling of competence. It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, La Leche League, the former Surgeon General, and now there are over 1400 of educators who are teaching (or soon will be teaching) Happiest Baby classes in hospitals, clinics, military bases, etc all across the US (all parents taking those classes are given a DVD + CD).

Regarding my toddler work...I also strongly recommend that your readers watch the DVD first. We all get more primitive when we get upset (that's why we say someone goes "ape") it's just that toddlers start out kind of uncivilized and when they get upset they get almost prehistoric! The technique is very don't exxagerate their emotion... you mirror only a bit of their emotion....and if it is done incorrectly it doesn't work. But, when done correctly it can eliminate 50-90% of toddler tantrums within a week AND immediately increase patience, respect and cooperation...and it's fun! This helps form a much healthier foundation for a child based on loving effective communication...not intimidation. This work too is endorsed by pediatric leaders, preschool teachers, and infant specialists across the US.

Sorry if it sounds like I am bragging. But, it is my mission in life to help parents get this information so they can do the great job we all want to do with our kids!

1/05/2007 10:57:00 p.m.  
Anonymous Harvey said...

PS You can get more information and see a short video at (I tried to get the happiestbaby.calm...but it was impossible!)

1/05/2007 11:01:00 p.m.  
Blogger kittenpie said...

I saw him on tv somewhere when pumpkinpie was a few months old and found myself nodding along and going, "Yeah, that's totally what works for her too!"

1/06/2007 09:12:00 a.m.  
Blogger Mary P. said...

bubandpie: I'm not sure how much of it was second nature to me, either. I did discover with some startlement how vigourous babies like their rocking to be. I also discovered the joys of jiggling. I didn't learn the swaddling till ten years later, and the loud shushing till after that! Most people just don't get that many years of practice on babies.

I haven't read the toddler book - though I think now I will! - so I can't really speak to it. I can comment that my first, mild-mannered child would have been frightened if I'd gotten Big and Dramatic in her face. However, I've worked with children for whom that was exactly what was necessary, and it has worked very well. (Is this the sort of thing Dr. Karp is suggesting? No idea - I haven't read the book!)

And are toddlers 'prehistoric apes'? Well, I think I've referred to them as 'barbarians' and 'uncivilized' in my time...

I really must read that book.

Laura: Oh, please don't throw the baby out with the bathwater! Even if you disagree with the toddler book, THIS one is bang on. It would be a pity to deprive yourself (or a friend) of the great techniques in this book because of something that applies in a completely different set of circumstances.

Jenorama: This is a great book. Did you catch the two links at the bottom? White also has another good new-parent book, called "The First Three Years".

I'm thinking I might go give Middlemarch another read. It's been years.

Candace: Heh. I love your feistiness! And I'm totally with you on the baby swings. I had a baby sling that I loved, but my eldest was colicky and there was only so much my back could take. That swing saved my sanity.

Here you prove what we're all supposed to know and agree with: different techniques work for different children.

It can also be noted that different techniques work for different adults, too: I might have a certain pattern with a child that the parent just doesn't have any success with - because, effective as it is with the child, my technique doesn't fit the adult.

Doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the technique, however. Or the parent!

Mamacita Tina: I wish this book had been around when my kids were babies, especially for my colicky eldest. (Who was, as I've said elsewhere, in all other respects the perfect 'starter baby'.)

Swaddling "didn't work" for Haley, but that's because 1) I was bending her arms at the elbows (as I'd been instructed in the hospital) and 2) not making the blanket nearly snug enough.

I figured it out - but not for about ten years, on other peoples' babies!

L: "The Baby from Hell." Heh. I like your lovingly irreverent take on your kids. No Earnest Mommy, you.

Too bad the techniques didn't work on him! Did you ever see Dr. Karp do them on your son? Did you try them on your other two?

I ask, because when swadding 'didn't work' for my eldest, I didn't bother to try it on my two younger kids (typical mom mistake). Now that I know how, I've only found one kid it didn't help, at least a bit - one, in twelve years. (Hmm... You weren't living in Ottawa eight years ago, were you??)

Julie: This is a good book, and immediately useful for new parents! I've done reviews of other books along the way, and was going to give you links to those posts, but I couldn't find them when I hunted!

HarveyKarp: Wow, you found this FAST. I want YOUR search engine!

Your first paragraph made me laugh. I'll bet in debates, you note the points of divergence first, rather than points of concurrence, don't you? Because all in all, this was a pretty glowing review.

Not to worry - as I said, that one line made me raise my eyebrow a bit at first (I have two; only one goes up when I'm making my skeptical face), but I also said that I was in solid agreement once I started reading.

It could have been a cop-out, except your instructions are so clear and explicit, it would be hard to get it wrong!

Years of working with babies and toddlers have taught me these things. I'm delighted to have them all put together in this neat package, complete with logical theoretical framework (the Fourth Trimester, which I should have mentioned in the review!) to give to new parents.

Thank you.

(Oh, and I can certainly see how a DVD would be useful as well. Maybe next month, when my bank balance will have recovered from Christmas!)

Kittenpie: You're a quicker study than me, then - I didn't discover some of these things till after my kids were babies! And aren't they great?

1/06/2007 09:44:00 a.m.  
Blogger stefanierj said...

I told you about a year ago that I LOVE Harvey Karp, and I stand by that. He's the only one I trust as much as you! :) His toddler book is, if anything, equally amazing. D will actually now say "MAD! MAD!" or "WANT IT NOW!" instead of screaming at random when he's upset. While it's not perfect, it IS communication, and I am grateful for it. Toddlerese sounds dumb but it totally. totally. works.

Rock on, Mary!

1/08/2007 11:45:00 a.m.  
Blogger Andie D. said...

I heard about this book and would go to the book store to read it on the sly. Never actually bought it, but consulted it several times. It really worked for me, even with a colicky baby.

Especially with a colicky baby. When Sophia was swaddled, she'd sleep better and longer. We swaddled her until she was about five months old. We only stopped because she outgrew any blanket that would hold her.

1/08/2007 01:43:00 p.m.  

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