Book Review: The Happiest Baby on the Block


The Happiest Baby on the Block (2004) is a self-help book for new parents to help soothe fussy babies recommended to us by several of our fellow new parents. Harvey Karp, M.D., whom our pediatrician calls a “goofy genius,” puts together a package of skills to help calm even the fussiest of babies.  While he often refers to his methods as a “new way” they are rooted in ancient human traditions and the physiological needs of the infant.  The cumulative effect is to make the baby experience the feeling of a safe and comfortable womb.  This is due to the fact that due to evolutionary changes in the birth canal and the size of the baby’s head, human infants are actually born three months earlier than the ideal period of gestation (read Thumbs, Toes, and Tears to find out why).  Dr. Karp refers to the baby’s first three months as “the fourth trimester.”

The means of inducing the calming reflex in a fussy baby are the 5 S’s:

  • Swaddling – tightly wrapping the baby to replicate the womb and prevent him from upsetting himself.
  • Side/Stomach position – while holding the baby, not when putting the baby to bed.
  • Shushing sounds – a natural talent for a librarian that recreates the constant white noise in the womb.
  • Swinging – steady but vigorous jiggling that creates a soothing motion for the baby.
  • Sucking  – on a pacifier or a parent’s finger, soothing in the same way that he feeds.

I’ve found this book very helpful with our baby, although sometimes you have to do the 5 S’s for a long time to prevent fussiness from returning.  While the content of the book is useful, the presentation needs work.  A lot of the book reads like an infomercial (“soon you’ll find out the NEW method that will calm your baby!”) complete with testimonials from happy customers (“I can’t believe our baby calmed down right away. Thank you Dr. Karp!”).  While some of the parents’ comments are useful as case studies much of that and the infomercial set up could be cut out and the whole thing could be made into more of a workbooks with lots of illustrations on how swaddle, swing, and otherwise soothe your baby.  We also have the DVD of Happiest Baby on the Block which is useful for seeing how to do it, but I think a workbook version of the book would be a great resource.

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