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Book Review: The Happiest Baby on the Block

Updated: Mar 7

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Time is our most precious commodity; even more so as a parent. Our book series is meant to provide a concise summary of parenting and child development books to include the scientific theories which underpin its advice.

These reviews can help you decide whether adding it to your reading list fits with life’s competing demands. Besides, we read it so you don’t have to!

The Happiest Baby on the Block is a book we recommend often for parents and caregivers of young babies (5 months or less), though the tips can be useful for older babies too. The book provides a method for calming crying babies and helping them sleep better and longer.

The method is made up of “the 5 S’s”: swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, and sucking. The author, Karp, is an experienced pediatrician and the content of this book is largely based in scientific research.

Applying the Pathfinder PROE model of child development:

The key components of most well-known child development theories can be placed into one (or more) of four main concepts, Play, Relationships, Observation, and Experiences, that we call the PROE model of child development.

Pathfinder Health takes an active approach to child development and the PROE model of child development is based on action-oriented concepts. PROE concepts can be found throughout this book.

The 5 S’s: Many parents of newborns think that enduring sleepless nights and hours of crying is just life with a new baby, but it doesn’t have to be! Learning the 5 S’s and how to successfully use them with your baby can help calm fussing in crying in a short amount of time and help your baby (and yourself!) to sleep longer.

Experience is an important idea and is the main PROE concept found throughout this book.

Though we think of newborn babies as “new”, they have actually been experiencing the womb for 9 months before they are born. When babies are born, the world they enter is much different than the environment in the womb that they are used to.

The 5 S’s help to imitate the womb (a familiar experience), and can activate a “calming reflex”.

Swaddling is a good first step when trying to calm an upset baby. Done correctly (not too many layers, arms kept still at sides, room for hips and legs to wiggle) provides a constant sensation of touch, prevents flailing and spiraling out of control, and helps babies pay attention to the soothing techniques you do next.

While the back is the only safe sleeping position for young babies, it is the worst position for a baby to be in when you are trying to calm them.

Side/stomach position (think fetal position) is familiar and feels more secure to babies than being on their backs (when they are already upset, being on their back can make a young baby feel like they are falling, which will just upset them more!).

Before being born, babies are never on their backs, so it makes sense that this position would not be comforting if they are upset.

This positioning refers to when you are holding and comforting your child. Babies should always be placed on their back to sleep.

“Quiet so you don’t wake the baby!” suggests that babies need silence to fall and stay asleep, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Shushing can imitate the constant noise of the womb that babies have grown to love.

Many parents’ instinct is to quietly shush their babies in an effort to calm them. But in order to be effective, shushing usually needs to be as loud as the baby’s cries so that they can hear and focus on it.

The womb has been shown to make a constant sound of 75-92 decibels, which is louder than a vacuum cleaner, which averages 75 decibels!

Try to match the noise level of your baby’s crying with (what will sound to us like) harsh and loud shushing noises.

Once calmed, rumbly white noise can help babies to sleep better and longer, so try incorporating it into their naps and overnight sleep time.

Babies experience constant movement the whole time they are in the womb.

Swinging or other movement can imitate this and be a powerful tool when trying to calm a crying baby. This is part of the reason a ride in the car often calms an upset baby.

Similar to the idea of loud shushing to get a baby’s attention, the motions need to be strong enough for your baby to feel and focus on them.

Try small, fast, jiggly motions such as swinging your knees 1-2 inches side to side while your baby is on your lap (the “windshield wiper” technique) or bouncing your baby quickly up and down.

Never shake your baby, because it can cause permanent brain damage.

Sucking is both soothing and nurturing, and it is something that babies do automatically (such as sucking to breast or bottle feed).

In the womb, babies are positioned to suck their thumbs, but from birth to about 4 months, they don’t have the coordination or the muscle control to do so.

Pacifiers can provide this needed sucking for your baby and can help calm them when upset and keep them calm for longer. Providing a pacifier at sleep times can also help your baby sleep longer, especially when used in combination with the other S’s.

It is unlikely that a single S will calm your crying baby, but using them together greatly improves your chances. Dr. Karp describes the 5 S’s as ingredients that are useless without the rest of the recipe.

Knowing how to use the S’s correctly and figuring out which combination of S’s works best for your baby are extremely important.

Using the 5 S’s can also reduce the risk of SIDS because they help young babies sleep better and longer, which decreases fidgeting, squirming, and attempts to roll over.

The first few months of life are extremely important for starting your relationship with your baby off on the right foot.

Relationships that your baby builds with you and other caregivers are influenced by how you respond when your baby is upset.

The 5 S’s can help you respond to your upset baby more effectively, which will strengthen the relationship between the two of you and provide a strong foundation for future development.


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