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Harvey Karp

About Harvey Karp

An Interview with Harvey Karp

More About Harvey Karp

Dr Harvey Karp, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine, is a practising pediatrician and has been a child development specialist for over twenty-five years.

Dr Harvey Karp, a practicing pediatrician and child specialist for over twenty-five years has developed a unique and revolutionary programme with special techniques, which help parents calm and soothe their crying babies. Based on how cultures throughout the world have nurtured and quietened their babies, his methods have been used and recommended by many, including celebrity parents Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Pfieffer. Dr Harvey Karp talks exclusively to penguin.co.uk about his insightful and revolutionary concept, which has helped many parents transform their crying newborns into contented babies.

What do you feel is the most important thing a parent can do for their new baby?
New parents have two main jobs: to feed their baby well and to calm her when she cries. Feeding is usually easy and even if babies have problems there are many places to turn to for help. Soothing a screaming baby, on the other hand, can be really challenging. Often baby books only go to confuse the situation even more with advice like, ‘Love your baby, but let her cry'; or, ‘cuddle your baby, but not too much.’

Have you always had a natural understanding of babies?
As a young doctor, I felt helpless and incompetent when confronted with a shrieking baby. This feeling was only amplified when, in 1981, I learned that parents in some cultures around the world could calm crying babies in a minute … or less. What did those parents know that we didn’t? I was determined to find the answer.

How did you find the secret of calming babies?
After prolonged study and observation, I made two shocking realizations: First - even though most women are ready to have their babies after nine long months of pregnancy, our babies need another three months before they are ready to smile, coo and ‘join the family’. For most newborns, the world is too still and quiet. They are suddenly deprived of the hypnotic, rhythmic sensations that constantly serenaded them in the uterus. They need a ‘fourth trimester’ of the cuddling, jiggling and loud noise that enveloped them 24/7 right up to the moment of their birth. Although we might think that rocking babies for twelve hours a day is a lot, from our babies’ point of view it’s an immediate 50% decrease from what they’re used to!

Second - newborns don’t respond to these sensations with calming because they‘re ‘nostalgic’ for their happy life inside the uterus. Rather, I discovered they calm with swaddling, shushing and other womb-like experiences because they trigger an automatic reflex that is literally an ‘off-switch’ for their crying. I call this amazing response the ‘calming reflex’. And, once a parent learns how to trigger it they, like the parents in many other cultures, can stop their infant’s screams almost as quickly as turning off a light!

How can a parent learn the secret of calming their baby?
Although it’s an instinct to want to calm one’s crying baby, it is not at all an instinct to know how to calm them! Fortunately, however, the technique of turning on a baby’s ‘calming reflex’ is as easy to learn as riding a bike. Essentially, there are five ways of activating this invaluable reflex. I call these simple steps the five S’s (swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking). However, as with a knee reflex, the ‘calming reflex’ only works when it is triggered in precisely the right way. That is why The Happiest Baby teaches parents exactly how to perform each individual S and how to combine them together to help them quickly lead their cranky infant to calm, and their calm baby to tranquillity.

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