May 18, 2007

Baby Soothing Tips From Dr. Harvey Karp, Esquire

Phil_Ken_Sebben.jpgMagazines drive me crazy with their boil-it-down oversimplification and poppy listicle infographic entry points and the utter subjugation of actual, actionable content to the "overall" reading experience, which is actually about their advertisers, not you [1].

The tagline Esquire magazine put on Dr. Harvey Karp's five! surefire! babysoothing is case in point:

"An easy-to-use manual to stop the screaming, without resorting to cutesy faces and singing Disney songs."

But that doesn't mean they can't be useful. Karp's tips are fine--use "the five S's," swaddle, side, shush, swing, suck, to create a womb-like calm--but at two in the morning, you will use as many S's as it takes, and if that means silly faces and singing--or suckling, or stuffing with milk--so be it.

As for the Disney songs, if that's the soundtrack running through your head, man, work with what you got. You're beyond the help of even the finest men's magazine.

How to Calm a Crying Baby is part of their How To Be A Good Father in 2,000 words or less section. [ via dt reader pete]

[1] I was once asked by a glossy magazine to write a profile about "any artist I wanted, who did I like?" After I submitted my story and the accompanying images, I was suddenly asked to write about some completely different artist instead. I just assumed the editor was substituting his own lame taste for mine. When I got a copy of the issue, I saw that the 3/4 page image illustrating the new article all but mirrored the makeup ad on the facing page.


Harvey Karp is a genius. Have you seen the video? He starts blowing into a screaming baby's ears and rocking him (while swaddled, of course) and the baby instantly conks out, as if high on baby drugs. I seriously can't imagine how parents survived before he came along...

I don't know. I have little faith in these "experts" and their multi-step cure-alls. I think you can come up with a step program that could bore even the fussiest baby back to sleep.

The eye-patch is cool though.

I've seen the video...I've had the baby...I'm pretty sure that the Karp method works by scaring your baby into a catatonic state. It might work in the short term; in the long term, for us, at least, it did our baby no favors and we've spent the next few months undoing the harm it did.

We tried the Karp stuff a little bit, but it mostly pissed our baby off. When she cried, it was because she wanted something specific, like milk, or uh, milk. Shushing and swaying are, of course, not milk, and were not welcome substitutes for milk.

I did enjoy the book though, if only because of the sheer chutzpah genius of selling a hundred-odd page book that could have been completely and adequately condensed into half a letter-sized page, double spaced.

While I agree that Karp's ideas can be boiled down into bullet points, we did find them very helpful. Sometimes our daughter did not want breastmilk and really was crying because she needed some comforting. Consider how different the sensations of the "ouside world" are to the noisy, fluid-filled experience of the womb. Karp just provides some ways of helping your baby transition to the relatively quiet, relatively chilly post-womb experience.

If you read the comments on many of the places where his book is sold, you'll see that Karp's technique is a useful tool for many parents.

It is not a panacea. Like most things in life, your mileage (and your baby's appreciation of it on any given day) may - nay, will - vary.

But it does work for many parents, much of the time. Anyone who thinks anything should work all the time, and the same way with every baby, yearns for a degree of predictability and control that just isn't present in the world.

It doesn't work that way with two grown adults (who among us has never had a loved one slam the door shut on the way out). Why on earth would you think it so with a child?

PS. I can certainly see that Karping a crying child before feeding would not be productive, but perhaps that shouldn't really be surprising, should it?

[well said, this is exactly what bugs so badly about magazines who want to reduce everything to absurdly simple tips. Karp's techniques are not unique, but they're definitely worth having in your babycalming repertoire. The secret--pretending for a moment that there is, in fact, ONE secret to soothing a screaming baby--is becoming attuned to your kid's behavior and reactions and learning how to respond accordingly. It probably involves running down a checklist of techniques a few times to see what works when, but with practice and experience and attention, you should be able to get a read on him. -ed.]

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