This is number four in my review of the seemingly endless books on Infant Sleep Methods currently out there. I’m demystifying the field of infant sleep for new moms, to make it a bit easier. I mean, who can read a two hundred page book
when you are trying to get some shut-eye with your newborn in the middle of the night?
The take-home messages from Dr. Karp are: become educated about the fourth trimester, the discovery of the Calming Reflex, learn the Five “S”s of infant sleep, all of which he adapted from studying the intersection of modern research and observation of baby care in tribal societies.
Dr. Karp first educates people about the reality of the fourth trimester, asking parents to adjust their expectations and understand the true nature of newborns. He opens the discussion about fourth trimester with a quote from Dr. Arthur H. Parmalee (1977). Dr. Parmalee (1977) says that most parents dream about receiving a baby that resembles a smiling, social, four- month-old! But what they, of course, instead receive is a fussy, fetus-like newborn!
Think about the profound developmental changes that occur in the first three months of life. A four month old baby is very different than a newborn! And then think about how parental expectations are powerfully shaped by modern advertising! In ads, the babies are usually sitting up and smiling, if not walking. The thing is, the babies in ads are not newborns, but are usually at least four months old.
Dr. Karp suggests human physiology causes our babies to be born in an immature state. He stresses that there are huge physiological and psychological difference between a four day old newborn and a four month old baby and a lot of those differences have to do with nervous system and brain maturation and size.
Dr. Karp considers a newborn to be very much like a fetus. In fact, he wistfully wishes that humans had pouches like kangaroos! But because we don’t have pouches, we need to learn behaviors that imitate the uterine environment in order to keep our newborn fetuses happy! Hence, Dr. Karp believes the first three months of a baby’s life is actually a fourth trimester where a lot more maturation takes place. He suggests we need to re-learn how to parent babies in the fourth trimester.
Think about this: a newborn’s brain is 20% smaller than a four-month-old baby’s brain. Because of this more mature brain, a four-month-old baby has more mature capabilities than a newborn. Some such capabilities are: processing sensory input faster than a newborn can, smile and interact with her parents, focus on objects across the room, and has more mature control of body movements, such as being able to roll over and move her head.
In contrast, a newborn has behaviors that are largely driven by survival reflexes, such as the Moro reflex and the well-known Crying Reflex. And from the study of tribal societies, Dr. Karp has rediscovered the Calming Reflex.
Dr. Karp believes the Calming Reflex evolved from conditions created in the uterus. He also posits ancient mothers needed to know how to calm their babies quickly in order to quiet them and keep the entire family group safe from predators. The Calming Reflex works quickly. The Calming Reflex depends on mimicking conditions within the womb. Dr. Karp calls these conditions the five “S”s. The five “S”s are: swaddling, side or stomach lying (but not for all night sleep), a loud SHUUSSHHIINNGG sound, swinging and sucking.
Initiation of the remarkable Calming Reflex can be watched on Dr. Karp’s DVD, “Happiest Baby on the Block.” It is truly remarkable to watch Dr. Karp teach parents the Calming Reflex and to see how quickly and easily a baby falls asleep when enacting the natural human Calming Reflex. Anyone who has cared for an infant will be awestruck by the footage on the DVD!
One other message Dr. Karp has for parents is that colic usually fades around the four-month mark. Dr. Karp believes colicky babies are babies who are are more sensitive to being born early than other babies. Dr. Karp believes the “cure” for a colicky baby is the use of the Calming Reflex.
Dr. Karp’s Calming Reflex works so well that he is now partnering with various agencies across the nation in order to design and implement interventions intended to reduce the sad abuse called Shaken Baby Syndrome.
What do I take away from this method
For the other methods I reviewed I said, “If you are a mom who is not having any trouble with your baby’s sleep, and are managing ok,
then don’t bother reading any of these books (unless you are helping a relative or a friend out!). “ I don’t feel this way about Dr. Karp’s book.
I think that Dr. Karp’s methods are so easy and natural to use and so caring of babies and families that everyone interested in parenting a baby should read this book. I think the fourth trimester and the Calming reflex are major discoveries and contribute hugely to parenting literature.
As a therapist who sees new parents and depressed moms, I will definitely incorporate some of Dr. Karp’s messages and methods into
my work. He has natural, practical, and easy ways to help parents understand newborns and manage manage infant sleep. Parents in need of sleep can easily learn his methods and get the sleep they need to be emotionally healthy for themselves and their family.
I’m so impressed with his methods that I am planning on becoming a Happy Baby educator. And I have sworn for many years I would never get certified in anything again! So it’s that good!
Okay, the next and last infant sleep method I am reviewing will be Dr. Sears. After that review, I plan to put together a consolidated overview of the current thinking on Infant Sleep. Thanks for going through this process with me!