Parenting Book Of The Month: The Happiest Baby On The Block

Understand the fourth trimester and the Five S's, and you'll be a pro at soothing in no time.

Of all the things I had to learn as a new parent, how to soothe a crying baby was one of the hardest.

Over the years I’d picked up ideas about what babies like, but to be honest, quiet lullabies and gentle rocking didn’t even come close to cutting it. No matter what we did, our son was just miserable, what seemed like most of the time. But things got significantly better after I picked up a copy of Dr. Harvey Karp’s classic book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, when my baby was a few weeks old. Reading this book and following Dr. Karp’s suggestions was one of the smartest parenting moves I’ve ever made.

You’ve probably heard of the Five S’s, and this is the book that coined the phrase. Dr. Karp’s engaging and lighthearted writing style perfectly mixes compassion, information and real-world anecdotes to explain why babies cry, and how to calm crying and help them sleep longer.

Dr. Karp’s work is based on the concept of the “Fourth Trimester”. The idea is that even at full term, babies are in many ways born “too soon” for the foreign and overwhelming outside world, and so when we recreate the comforting and familiar conditions of the womb, they are much happier.

Dr. Karp’s Five S’s are Swaddling, Side/Stomach position, Shhh-shing, Swinging, and Sucking. Sounds pretty straightforward, but for each of these aspects, he gives many tips on technique and intensity, how to combine them, and how parents put them into action. Illustrations show how to wrap a perfectly snug swaddle, and soothing positions to carry or hold your baby in. Little cartoons drive key points home and will probably bring a smile to your face.

What I really love about this book is that Dr. Karp is so empathic. Oddly enough, many books about baby care almost seem to leave parents out of the equation. Dr. Karp has worked with enough new parents to understand their emotions and concerns, and addresses them throughout. The “New Parents Survival Guide” appendix offers reassurance that you can and will get through this intense stage. Karp is serious when he needs to be, and entertaining throughout.

My first baby was colicky—there was probably going to be a baseline of crying no matter what—but mastering the Five S’s made life a lot more manageable for our family, made it a thousand times easier to soothe and put our son to sleep, and best of all, instilled a huge amount of confidence in my husband and me as parents. 

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