How to have the happiest baby?

We talk to renowned paediatrician and child development expert, Dr Harvey Karp


His celebrated Happiest Baby and Happiest Toddler books and videos have guided millions of parents and are translated into 30 languages, but Dr Harvey Karp cuts an unassuming figure – gentle, considered and dedicated to helping parents navigate the early years with his simple, practical tips and innovative products.

Dr. Karp practiced paediatrics in Los Angeles for over 25 years. His landmark discoveries and unique ability to translate complex science into effective techniques to empower parents have revolutionised our understanding of the needs of young children. In addition to the practical tips he shares through his Happiest Baby / Toddler franchise, he is also the creator of the award-winning SNOO Smart Sleeper, a new class of responsive infant bed that adds 1-2 hours to a baby’s sleep and reduces the risk of infant sleep death by preventing dangerous rolling. Loved by new parents the world over, including famous faces ranging from Serena Williams to Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, the SNOO has also played its role in supporting the UK through the Covid-19 pandemic, with Dr Karp donating hospital grade SNOO bassinets to a number of NHS hospitals across the UK, who can use them as an in-room 24/7 "baby care assistant” to soothe infants in the wards. This helps to ease the workload for both nurses and midwives so they can focus attention on other key tasks and reduce infection exposure across maternity wards. So, how can you help your baby be the happiest? All babies cry—and that is a good thing. How else would we know if our helpless infants were cold, hungry, lonely, or in pain? Traditionally, mums and dads have just been encouraged to keep their chins up and wait until the baby grows out of it. But, that is easier said than done! According to Dr Karp, the answer lies in the 5 Ss – read on to learn more: The 1st S: Swaddle Swaddling recreates the snug packaging inside the womb and is the cornerstone of calming. It decreases startling and increases sleep. And, wrapped babies respond faster to the other 4 S’s and stay soothed longer because their arms cannot wriggle about. To swaddle correctly, wrap arms snug—straight at the side—but let the hips be loose and flexed. Use a large square blanket, but do not overheat, cover your baby’s head, or allow unravelling. Note: Babies should not be swaddled all day, just during fussing and sleep. The 2nd S: Side or Stomach Position The back is the only safe position for sleeping, but it is the worst position for calming fussiness. This S can be activated by holding a baby on her side, on her stomach, or over your shoulder. You will see your baby become mellow. The 3rd S: Shush Contrary to myth, babies do not need total silence to sleep. In the womb, the sound of the blood flow is a shush louder than hoovering! But, not all white noise is created equal. Hissy fans and ocean sounds often fail because they lack the womb’s rumbly quality. The best way to imitate these magic sounds is white noise. Happiest Baby’s MP3 has 6 specially engineered sounds to calm crying and boost sleep.

The 4th S: Swing Life in the womb is very jiggly. (Imagine your baby bopping around inside your belly when you jaunt down the stairs!) While slow rocking is fine for keeping quiet babies calm, you need to use fast, tiny motions to soothe a crying infant mid-squawk. My patients call this movement the “Jell-O head jiggle.” To do it, always support the head/neck, keep your motions small; and move no more than 2.5 centimetres back and forth. I really advise watching the DVD to make sure you get it right. (For the safety of your infant, never, ever shake your baby in anger or frustration.)

The 5th S: Suck Sucking is “the icing on the cake” of calming. Many fussy babies relax into a deep tranquillity when they suck. Many babies calm easier with a dummy.

The 5 S’s Take PRACTICE to Perfect The 5 S’s technique only works when done exactly right. The calming reflex is just like the knee reflex: Hit a couple centimetres too high or low, and you will get no response, but hit the knee exactly right and, presto! If your little one does not soothe with the S’s, check with your paediatrician to make sure illness is not preventing calming.

Complete guidance on all of the above techniques can be found in my Happiest Baby on the Block book, DVD and streaming video.