Harvey Karp is a pediatrician known for his best-selling book "The Happiest Baby on the Block." I admire the fact that Karp took his thoughtful observations about dealing with crying babies and helped thousands of mothers deal with a mysterious condition of early childhood called infantile colic.
But now he wants to sell parents a $1,160 bassinet, called Snoo. The bassinet keeps a baby swaddled safely, sways when needed, plays white noise, has sensors that can change the intensity of each stimulus, and can be adjusted from afar by a smartphone. Sounds great, right? It actually makes me a bit uncomfortable.
Before I share why, I'll provide some background.
As pediatricians, Karp and I have met several times. We've also argued online about some details of swaddling. Even as we disagreed strongly about whether one should swaddle the arms after a baby has learned to turn over on this stomach (Karp says "yes" and I say "no"), he has remained cordial. He is warm, kind, and cares about children. He also clearly thinks that a doctor should discuss the details of a child's medical care with his parents and come to a consensus. It's the correct approach endorsed by all the experts, but not always used since it's time consuming.
His breakthrough philosophy is known as the five S's: Swaddling, Shushing, placing the baby on the Side or Stomach, gentle rhythmic Swinging/Swaying and letting the baby Suck. Some pediatricians take issue with Karp's advice, such as my objection to arm swaddling in older babies, while others object to having babies placed stomach down since sleeping on the stomach is associated with "crib death." Overall though, his advice is quite sound when used with common sense.
Colic is often defined as crying more than three hours daily for more than three days per week. It often starts in the first week of life and continues for four months or more. When combined with the stress of one's first child or post-partum depression, infantile colic has been known to lead to disrupted households, child abuse, and broken homes.
Before Karp's advice, some doctors told families to let the baby cry it out, which clearly did not work. But Karp's ability to simplify, codify and publicize the five S's changed American childcare for the better. The second of my four children was very colicky: swaddling, sucking and swaying helped a lot and got us through that first year of her life.
Advice on baby care is omnipresent. And though the rules of childcare are very simple, it can be a challenge at times. Consider this advice:
Hold the baby. Human contact is key.
Talk, sing, and read to the baby incessantly since continuous structured human language makes the baby smarter. It must be a person not a machine talking so babies can learn more than just the words, but the deep and emotional meaning of language.
Breast feed, if you can.
Every baby's needs and every parents' needs are a little difference. Life is a compromise.
Use the five S's with common sense.
All of my principles involve physical contact and proximity with other people. Karp's electronic bassinet encourages lack of intimate contact. The product seems to follow a trend – I now see parents who only look at their smartphones and barely make eye contact with their child. His design team is also trying update the Snoo app to introduce alerts if the baby's diaper is full, has a runny nose, and if the humidifier is on.
Nina Montée, Karp's wife, in a recent article in the New York Times, explained why they're updating the Snoo app: "…I see Lexi's (Montée daughter from a previous marriage) friends turn to an app just to tell them what breast they fed from last. It's a different generation."
But it seems to be a generation not paying as much attention to the child or themselves. Sometimes, it's better to get back to the basics.