Book Review: The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Author Qualifications:
Doctor Harvey Karp is an American pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at USC School of Medicine. "He completed medical school training at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NYC, pediatric residency at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles and fellowships in ambulatory pediatrics and child development at UCLA."

Stand Out Nuggets:
-The concept of the "Fourth Trimester." Dr. Karp argues that a newborn's brain and functions are so much less developed than a three month old and thus treating a baby differently for this short stage will help them transition from the womb to the world. In the womb, baby's are exposed to a constant, loud "shhhing" noise, continuous movement, and a warm, cozy you! Dr. Karp explains that entering the world is a stark contrast to that experience and sensitive babies may have a difficult time transitioning. According to Dr. Karp, there is no such thing as "spoiling" a baby in the first three months.

-Babies all over the world and throughout history have been carried around in a sling by their mothers. In some cultures, babies are given the breast within 10 seconds of the baby's cry, each time they cry. Dr. Karp acknowledges that this level of on-demand attention is unrealistic in our culture, but also reminds readers that babies are used to constant closeness because its what they experienced in the womb.

-Not every crying baby has colic. Colic usually starts at two weeks, peaks at six weeks, and ends by three to four months. Colic is not more common among preemies. Babies with colic appear to be in pain, and their screams often begin during or just after feeding, and are much worse in the evening. Colic crying "often improves with rocking, holding, shhhing and gentle abdominal pressure." These babies are fine between outbursts. A colicky baby is NOT the same as a baby who reflux, constipation, hunger, food allergies (or reactions to foods in your breast milk), or other more serious issues. (Information on pages 31-32.)

-The famous 5 "S" solutions to calm even a baby with colic: Swaddling (tightly, arms in), Side/Stomach laying (NOT in the crib!), Shhh sounds (white noise), Swinging (short & vigorous), and Sucking. Dr. Karp emphasizes that for babies with colic, all 5 "S"s must be done correctly & simultaneously in order to achieve success. Most babies can benefit from one or more of these techniques, but more sensitive babies need all five solutions to be soothed. The majority of the book describes & illustrates how to properly execute these techniques.

-Interesting tidbit: just as baby's eyes are adjusting in the first three months, baby's ears are also "waterlogged," so sounds are muffled, just as they were in the womb. So when baby is crying, "shhhing" must be done louder than baby's cry, which is measured to be louder than a vacuum! (p 141) (***UPDATE: In March 2014, a study was published saying that white noise machines at maximum volume were too loud for baby and may cause hearing damage over time. Be sure to consult your pediatrician about this issue in order to make the right decision for your family.)

-For chapter outlines and excerpts, visit this link on the Happiest Baby website

What I Think:
Let me just come out and say it: I was hesitant to agree with Dr. Karp initially. I do not plan to practice "attachment parenting" with my child (no judgement, its just not for me). From what I had heard, I felt like Dr. Karp's philosophy "gives in" to baby's demands and would therefore make it more difficult to sleep train later on. However, this book is specifically intended for the first three to four months of life (the "Fourth Trimester"), which he explains as being different because of the baby's developmental stage.  
The lay out of this book is easy to navigate, however, its pretty repetitive. I feel like Dr. Karp could have condensed this book and made it half the length. He went into depth to defend his arguments, which I liked, but he also repeated himself again and again, even when not presenting evidence, and it felt like too much "fluff" to me. If you already agree with the author and his Fourth Trimester theory, a summary would be just fine for you (like the one on pages 126-127). If you disagree with him or are on the fence, it would be more worth your time to read the entire book to understand why he believes what he does.
I am glad I read this book because it focuses on the first three months, when I know I'll be too exhausted to think! If my baby is crying or has colic, I'm glad to have some resources to calm my baby when I'm too tired to research new solutions. I am also planning to read & eventually review Dr. Marc Weissbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child which focuses specifically on sleep issues, segmented into baby's age (1-4months, 4-12months...).

The Takeaway:
I would recommend this book if your pediatrician suspects your baby to have colic. Otherwise, if you agree with the author and don't need convincing of this parenting theory, go to the library and skim the basics of how to do each technique. If you disagree with Dr. Karp, it still might be valuable to have a few tricks in your pocket in case you're exhausted & desperate. Keep in mind that, in general, babies need tighter wrapping, more vigorous jiggling or swinging, and louder "shhhing" than you might expect. Also, each technique takes practice and may not work perfectly the first few times. So hang in there!
With my baby, I will likely try these techniques when he's crying and I've tried feeding, burping, changing his diaper, and holding him and don't know what else to do. However, I won't rely on the three month mark to change things up and phase out of certain techniques, like swinging. I think it's important to pay attention to your baby and to work with your pediatrician to decide when the right time is to shift strategies based on your baby's individual development.

I hope you're still enjoying this Book Review series! Do you agree with Dr. Karp, that the first three months of life are different? Is it possible to spoil a newborn? Do you plan on sleep training your baby before or after three months? Please comment and let me know what you think!

xo kristen genevieve


  1. I enjoyed this review! I have to agree with a lot you said! Our baby loves being swaddled and the swing. It's like a miracle.

    It is really repetitive. I watched the movie and I was really annoyed with the narrator!

    1. How long was the movie? I was curious if it would be helpful, but decided to go for the book because I like to be able to mark and reference back to certain pages.
      Thanks for stopping by and letting me know what you think!!
      xo kristen genevieve


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