If you’ve had a baby in the two decades, Harvey Karp probably needs little introduction. In 2001, this pediatrician co-founded The Happiest Baby, a multi-media parenting brand that provides advice through bestselling books (millions of books have been sold, including The Happiest Baby on the Block, The Happiest Toddler on the Block and The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep), videos, and now products (their high-tech Snoo is aiming to revolutionize cribs, and has recently been made available to rent for the first time). Chatting with him on the phone about sleep sort of felt like going over basketball plays with Lebron James or having Reese Witherspoon give us an acting lesson—and we came away with some key sleep truths we wanted to share, including:
You Should Really Stop Rocking Your Baby to Sleep
Little babies are just like us, says Dr. Karp: “When you go to bed, it’s not like sometimes you have a mattress, sometimes a pillow, sometimes none. And when you wake up in the middle of the night, all of those things are still there.” Babies are the same way, and if you rock them to sleep, or get them used to going to sleep with a bottle or breast, they’ll basically freak out when they wake up in the middle of the night without those comforts.
Your Baby Will Wake Up Throughout the Night…
…And that’s totally normal. “All adults wake up two or three times a night or more, and we go right back to sleep, unless something is wrong, like there’s smoke in the room or you hear someone scratching at the window,” says Dr. Karp. Babies will wake up three or four times a night. So if you put your baby down drowsy but awake, he’ll wake up in the same state, and go back to sleep by self-soothing. Dr. Karp says if your little guy or girl falls asleep on you, gently wake them when you put them down (easier said than done!).
You Want To Create a Womb-Like Environment
The biggest myth about baby sleep? Dr. Karp says it’s that a quiet room is best. “As soon as a baby is born, we take away almost everything they’re used to for sleeping. Inside a women’s body, the sound is constant and louder than a vacuum cleaner, and motion is constant as the mother breathes and walks,” notes Dr. Karp. That’s where the “5 S’s” of calming a baby (including swaying, swaddling and shushing) that Dr. Karp writes about come in. But know that…
…Not All White Noise is Created Equal
Shushing to calm a baby is actually different than white noise to soothe a baby to sleep. “For a sleeping baby, it’s softer and lower pitched, about the intensity of a shower or soft conversation or 70 decibels,” says Karp.
Travel Doesn’t Have to Throw Off Sleep
Whether you’re going to Grandma’s a few hours away or taking across time zones,, you want to recreate your home environment as well as possible.. “Bring the right pillow, teddy bear and white noise. Sometimes I use lavender oil on bed at home and then while traveling so it’s a familiar smell,” says Dr. Karp. Help them adjust to jet lag by getting lots of sun exposure during the day.
Fixing A Toddler Who Sleeps Poorly Doesn’t Have To Be Painful
Dr. Karp isn’t a proponent of extended “crying it out” sleep training techniques and says his Snoo and 5 S’s should prevent the need for that. But for toddlers, who as we all know are not fans of changes in routine, he also advises “twinkle interruptus.” Start with the usual suspects: white noise and a lovey. And then launch periods of stretching their patience, by reading your bedtime books, and then say “Wait I just have to go ask Daddy something…” Then, leave them hanging for a few seconds, and gradually stretch those seconds into minutes, at which point most kids will fall asleep on their own. “This is 85 percent effective and will allow you to sleep train a toddler without crying it out,” says Dr. Karp. Having trouble with them coming into your room? Give them poker chips at bedtime, and tell them they have to give you a chip if they come in to your room, but if they don’t, they get a reward, like a sticker. “They decide in the middle of the night, how badly do I want to see Mommy?” says Karp.
Consider the Snoo
The Snoo is, objectively speaking, a pretty next-level piece of baby gear and has the awards to prove it. It reacts to your baby’s fussing, and gently soothes him or her through swaying and white noise, at the exact level they need. If they continue to fuss, it stops so parents can feed the baby. Its built-in swaddle keeps baby in the safest sleep position–on the back. Since it launched in 2016, some parents have balked at the cost ($1,295), and Happiest Baby has now made the product available to rent. “My goal as a pediatrician is to help as many people as possible. We can help resolve sleep issues, marital stress, reduce car accidents and postpartum depression. This is terrible suffering that can be fixed for families, for what they’re spending daily on a cup of coffee.” In response to critics who have labeled it a robot Mom, Dr. Karp says it’s simply a modern day solution for an age-old challenge: “Mothers today think it is normal for them to take care of the baby 24/7. But up until recently we had extended family. It’s a white noise machine, swaddle, beautiful bed…but also your older sister who’s going to move in and hold your baby all night long.”
We’re already planning our next chat with Dr. Karp, about Toddler Topics! What toddler issues do you have a question about? Send them to [email protected] with “Questions for Dr. Karp” in the subject line!
About Dr. Harvey Karp, MD, FAAP, CEO of Happiest Baby Inc.
Dr. Harvey Karp is one of America’s most-trusted pediatricians and child development experts. He is on the faculty of the USC School of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Karp practiced pediatrics in Los Angeles for over 25 years. He is the founder and CEO of Happiest Baby, a smart-tech and parenting solutions company that invented the SNOO Smart Sleeper, a responsive bassinet that mimics the sounds and motions of the womb to extend infant sleep by 1-3 hours. Dr. Karp is also the best-selling author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block. He is an advisor to Parents, Ser Padres and American Baby magazines and a pediatric expert on BabyCenter. He has appeared numerous times on Good Morning America, CNN, Today Show, The View, Dr. Oz, etc. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, LA Times, Parents, People Magazine, among others.