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Does "The Happiest Baby on the Block" Technique for Helping Baby Sleep, Really Work?

Updated on January 18, 2013
A swaddled baby is a happy baby, but sometimes that alone just isn't enough.
A swaddled baby is a happy baby, but sometimes that alone just isn't enough.

The Happiest Baby on the Block

Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician, wrote the book titled "The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer ", in 2003. For me, this was just the right timing. My first baby, born in 2005, was sometimes inconsolable. He cried continuously and could not fall asleep, which led to more tears (his and mine). I don't remember who recommended this book and technique to me, some random friend of a friend, but I am eternally grateful. The number of hours I spent trying to soothe my son and get him to sleep drastically decreased after employing the "Five S's". And I am a skeptic. I think everything is a gimmick and unnecessary hassle and do not recommend products that I am not enthusiastic about. I was very happy to be wrong in this case. I now make this my standard baby shower gift, a combination of the book and a blanket, with the noise machine if it's a close relative. I have been profusely thanked each and every time, even by mothers who thought for sure they wouldn't need it.

THE BOOK -- "The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer"

Prior to reading this book, I tried everything to soothe my baby. I rocked, sang, snuggled and held him. I tried putting the car seat on top of the dryer (while holding it, of course) and resorted to going for drives with him in the carseat.

Dr. Karp presents an interesting theory about why it's so hard for some babies to adjust to life outside the womb. Babies aren't ready to be born yet. He explains that human brains and intelligence evolved so much that if babies are going to "fit" through the birth canal, they need to be born before they are fully, developmentally ready. Their bodies are developed beyond their ability to adapt to life outside the womb, in other words. He refers to this phenomenon as the "fourth trimester" and explains how to use this information to help baby transition to life outside the confines of the uterus.

When a baby is in-utero, they are snuggled up tightly, move back and forth in the amniotic fluid as mom moves around, hear "shushing" sounds and are protected from loud noises and bright lights.

His technique for soothing a crying baby and helping a baby sleep is based on these comforts. In infancy, and especially the first three months -- the fourth trimester -- baby is swaddled tightly, rocked (rather vigorously if necessary) and comforted with familiar shushing and white noise.

As each of the Five S's is introduced -- swaddle, shush, swing, suck and side/stomach position -- the little tricks that make them work are well-described. Dr. Karp got it just right.

The book is short and easy to read, even with a crying baby in the background, but a CD and DVD are also available if you don't feel like reading or don't have the time. Do yourself a favor, though and get this before your baby is born, if at all possible.

THE BLANKET -- Swaddle Blankets

These make all the difference. A very young newborn can perhaps, be effectively swaddled in a regular blanket, but babies soon grow out of these and are able to "break free", resulting in waking and crying.

I have tried several kinds of these swaddle blankets and they all work to some degree. They are better than regular blankets because they either have long "wings" that wrap around baby or a velcro closure. The Miracle Blanket was quite superior for keeping baby swaddled due to the wings that hold the arms in place and the long piece of fabric that wraps around to secure baby in the blanket. This seriously works. Dr. Karp is right that once the arms are free, the swaddle is ineffective for soothing. After you read the book, you realize how important this is. Many people feel that swaddling doesn't help their baby but it's really because they aren't doing it most effectively. Again, I personally had better luck with the "winged" type Miracle Blanket but the others are less expensive (although useless after the first two months for my active baby) and may allow easier access for diaper changes.

The Miracle Blanket -- How to Swaddle Baby. It takes just a little practice but is oh, so worth it.

Hear the Marpac SleepMate

Sound -- White Noise Machine

This was a necessary addition in our case. In fact, my kids are now three and five and still like to have the white noise machine in their room so they don't hear all the house noise and commotion. They sleep without it just fine when we are not home so they are not dependent on it, but prefer the sound at home.

There are some cds that provide sounds that are soothing as well, but the white noise works the best for babies, perhaps simulating the muffled sound of the womb. I tried a couple different ones (I did the research so you don't have to), and found the Marpac SleepMate to be the best. One of the models has 2 settings and they are adjustable to change the "pitch" of the sound as well as the volume. We bought two of these five years ago and still use them every night. They still work like new, even after my kids dropped them or knocked them off the nightstand a few times.


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    • Rose Anne Karesh profile image

      Rose Anne Karesh 4 years ago from Virginia

      I agree, this is one of the most helpful books ever for parents. It leaves you feeling much more comfortable and empowered, knowing you can help your tiny baby. I always recommend or give it to expecting parents in my circle of acquaintances. I was skeptical too but it really worked well for my family and for everyone I know who's used it!

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      "there's an app for that" !! ? I love it!

    • profile image

      J.M. 6 years ago

      Two words: Baby Shusher - it's an iPhone App that makes the shushing sound to mimic the sound our babies hear in the womb for 9 months. Shushing is one of the 5 S's... and always worked with my babies!

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      We used to call it "wrapping the burrito." And yeah, one more trimester in utero- noooooo, thank you.

    • holyjeans30 profile image

      Amy D. 6 years ago from Mostly in My Own Little World

      ...and I thought it was just a mexican thing lol because my Grandmother used to do this with us and my cousins, and I did it with all of mine. Very interesting, thank goodness there isn't really 4 trimesters IN utero. That would be just too much!

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      I know, right? But there are some babies like my first one that the "usual" techniques just did not work. Even at a young age, he broke free of his swaddle and if his arms weren't tucked as described, he was not comforted. It was weird and again, I'm a total skeptic, but was desperate and in tears. I was as shocked as anyone that the little 'extra' tricks helped that much, but they did. My second baby was a bit easier and didn't require as much extra, but wow, that first one. Sheesh- and he's now 5 1/2 and a GREAT sleeper- go figure.

      Imagine my frustration...I'm a doctor that makes people go to sleep for a living and I could NOT get my baby to sleep! Luckily, for me this book and the blanket were a huge help.

    • Kidgas profile image

      Kidgas 6 years ago from Indianapolis

      Interesting. I didn't know that anybody would write a book on something like this. My wife did this all the time. I just assumed it was something all mothers knew. She taught me how to fold a regular blanket just so for swaddling.

      The biggest issue we had was with colic in our oldest son. He woke up many nights fussy from about 6-9 months. I ended up putting him in his car seat and placing him in front of the TV. We watched the "Star Wars" movies many times in the middle of the night. He loved it and would quiet down, watch for awhile and then fall asleep. I would fall asleep on the couch.