The Happiest Baby on the Block Book Review

Book review of The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D. Learn what is in this book and if it is worth reading and helpful for babies.

Happiest Baby on the block

I see The Happiest Baby on the Block book recommended occasionally by moms and was interested in reading it.

This review session will be a bit different than my others. Other reviews of books have been done after I have finished the entire book. This time, I am going to review as I read it. The downside to this is that I can’t give my overall opinion yet. I think with my pregnant brain, however, this will prove to be most effective at this time. This way I will be able to remember the most for the post. In this post I will be reviewing chapters 1-7.

Here are some points of interest.

The 4th Trimester

In chapter 1, Karp mentions the “4th trimester.” The 4th trimester refers to the first three months of a baby’s life. I have heard the first three months called this before, and I agree that it is a fair lable for those first three months. He discusses the fourth trimester later on in the book, so I will save more thoughts for then.

The 5 S’s

Karp has 5 S’s to use to calm a fussy baby:

  • Swaddling
  • Side/Stomach laying
  • Shushing
  • Swinging
  • Sucking

He says that a mildly fussy baby can be soothed by using one of these methods, but a really fussy, or colicky, baby needs all five together in his recipe to create the “Cuddle Cure.”

Crying Isn’t Manipulative

In Chapter 2, Karp discusses crying and points out that a baby’s cries are not manipulative (page 21). I have mentioned this a few times in various posts. The Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg, discusses this. I like to point this out because I often hear parents refer to their babies this way (See Combating Babywise Myths #6: BW parents call their kids words like “manipulative”).

I agree with Hogg and Karp that your baby does not cry in order to manipulate you.

Parents Cannot Distinguish Meaning in a Newborn’s Cries (I Disagree)

In Chapter 2, Karp states that parents cannot distinguish meaning until possibly 3 months of age (page 22). I very much disagree with this.

I know I got to know the cries of my children long before three months. Tracy Hogg also claims to be able to distinguish between cries of a newborn.

Karp sites a study done by the University of Connecticut in 1990 that he claims proves parents cannot decipher meaning in a baby’s cry.

The study basically had mothers listen to recorded cries of babies and tell what the cry meant. Researchers in Finland did the same with baby nurses. Moms were right less than half the time while nurses were right about half of the time.

I find problems with these studies. One problem I have is who were these researchers to decide what the baby’s cries meant in the first place. The people responding to this study were wrong or right based on the researchers’ determination of what the cry meant.

If Karp is correct in stating that we cannot distinguish meaning in cries, then these studies in no way could possibly prove nor disprove that. If there is no possible way to distinguish among cries, then the researchers couldn’t have done so in order to judge whether the moms and/or nurses could do so.

>>>Read: Tips for Deciphering Your Baby’s Crying

Babies Do Not Ever Need to Cry to “Blow Off Steam” (I Disagree)

In Chapter 3, Karp states that he strongly disagrees with experts who have “guessed” that some babies need to cry to unwind from the day (page 30).

I strongly disagree with him.

I believe that some babies need to cry sometimes. Perhaps even all babies need to cry every day. I remember reading in a book printed by the American Academy of Pediatrics that all newborns need to cry for at least one hour a day.

I don’t have the book to reference it, so take that information for what it is worth. Suffice it to say I disagree with Karp on this.

Need to Imitate Womb

On page 81, Karp states that “stone age” people realized the need to imitate the womb.

When I read this, it reminded me of the statement found in Babywise that suggests cultures that carry the baby around with them all day and co-sleep, etc. do so out of need, not out of a belief it is the best way (sorry I don’t have the reference, a friend is borrowing my book right now).

Top 10 Ways to Imitate the Uterus

These can be found on page 93. While your goal might not be “imitating the uterus,” this list might be helpful if you have a fussy baby:

holding, dancing, rocking, wrapping, white noise/singing, car rides, walks outside, feeding, pacifiers, and swings.

I personally would add structure, adequate sleep, and avoiding overstimulation.

Take note that many of the top 10 items listed by Karp can create overstimulation or make overstimulation worse.

>>>Read: How To Calm Your Overstimulated Baby

Newborn Expectations

On page 83, Karp says our babies expect us to handle them like our “stone age” ancestors did. I found this funny. When I read this, I was reminded of his earlier statement that “babies are just babies” (page 47).

For baby that is “just” a baby, that is quite the expectation.

5 S’s

Chapter 7 starts to get into the 5 S’s, which is what readers have told me is the best part of the book.

This is not to be confused with the 4 S’s from Tracy Hogg, though there is some similarity between the two.

  • Swaddling: “Many irritable babies resist wrapping. However, it’s a mistake to think this resistance means your baby needs his hands free” (page 95). I really disagree with this. It was obvious from the first day of Brayden’s life that he hated swaddling. We didn’t swaddle him. Kaitlyn, however, loved it–though as she got older she got very particular about how she wanted to be swaddled, and that changed over time. (see this Swaddling posts for more).
  • Side/Stomach: Karp says to place your baby on side or stomach in order to shut off the Moro reflex (the feeling of falling when baby is on back). Both of my children, however, hated stomach positions and much preferred backs. Even before we started Babywise with Brayden and he would have his crying fits, he wanted to be on his back on a bed with us holding his arms. That is what calmed him. So while I know the side/stomach position works for many babies, I don’t think that means all babies prefer it.
  • Shhh…: Shhh or white noise like a vacuum. Before we started Babywise, we did try the vacuum thing with Brayden. One time it worked. Other times, not. We never needed to try it with Kaitlyn, and never needed to try it with Brayden after starting Babywise.
  • Swing: The swing was something both of my children liked.
  • Sucking: Karp says this is the “icing on the cake” (page 98). He says this helps baby to maintain the calm state.

Use Vigor

Karp says you must be forceful when applying these steps to your baby. He points out the vigor of nurses in the hospital (page 99).

I remember when Kaitlyn was in the NICU. I was shocked at how roughly the NICU nurses handled the babies–and she was my second!

Karp says to match the level of intensity of your baby’s crying. The louder the cry, the more vigor you apply. As the crying subsides, you ease up on your vigor.

It Takes Time

 Karp says getting the 5 S’s to work takes time. Not only do you need to practice, but there are three reasons he states babies take time before the 5 S’s work.

One is that babies brains have a hard time shifting gears. Another is that their brains are slow to respond. The third is that babies brains get into a cycle of crying (page 102).

If you are interested in the 5 S’s, there is a chapter devoted to each S.

Also, I agree with many who have commented that it might be better to watch the DVD of Karp doing these 5 S’s rather than reading the book. That way you skip all of the “theory” behind it and just see the 5 S’s in practice. Also, it is probably easier to figure out what to do by watching him do it than it is to read how to do it.


So far, I am not sure what I think about this book. Karp seems to have very different theories from Ezzo and Hogg, two authors I tend to agree with.

Therefore, I am inclined to say I will not agree with much in this book, but I am trying to keep an open mind as I read on. I am hoping to find the helpful information that some parents swear saved their babies.

Related Posts

Reader Comments

Joanna said: Every S from the 5S’s worked brilliantly and kept my baby happy and asleep for so much longer, especially the swaddle and the white noise. The book’s theories were ridiculous, but the methods worked. The DVD was much more tolerable because it didn’t go into his crazy science about the 4th trimester.

Happiest baby on the block book review

21 thoughts on “The Happiest Baby on the Block Book Review”

  1. I am one who used Karp’s methods when my older son was colicky. I also used it a bit when my little one was super fussy. But the crux of the book (the best parts) are those 5 S’s. I actually didn’t read the book but watched the DVD. It was better than reading the book because you could see exactly how to do the different maneuvers and see how the babies responded immediately. Powerful stuff. Again, it’s more for the baby who just won’t settle down. Not so great for sleep training.

  2. Let me tell you, THBOTB worked for about three weeks. It was a gem, then it got to the point where all the shushing and jiggling become stimulus for a baby that would not sleep! UGH!

  3. I read this book when I was pregnant. I tended to disagree with a lot of what Karp says and I also lean more towards Hogg and Ezzo. Some people swear by this book but it just didn’t fit with my idea of how I wanted to parent. The 5 S’s seemed make sense so i have used some of these techniques but feel my baby and I have been happier once she learned to soothe herself rather than me doing it for her. I didn’t like this book and I think I gave it away. It just wasn’t the right one for me, I guess.

  4. I agree with Maureen–the best part of the book is the 5 S’s. My baby wasn’t colicky, but when she was having fussy times in the evening, we would use the shushing to calm her (and we swaddled too). However, I also tend to agree more with Babywise principles (I think anyone reading this blog would!). The 5 S’s are great for fussy newborns, but probably won’t be used long term if you want your baby to sleep on their own in the crib. Looking back (and knowing what I know now), I probably just needed to shorten my baby’s wake time and then maybe I wouldn’t have even needed the shushing! 🙂 Thanks again for a great blog. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the rest of the book. Even though I don’t agree with everything, I do still recommend it to friends for the 5 S’s.

  5. Jennifer, I thought the same thing about needing to shorten my LO’s wake time. My older son had a dairy sensitivity, but with my younger son, I probably kept him up too long!

  6. I also haven’t read this book but did watch the video as part of our birthing class and found the 5 S’s helpful especially as a new parent at the beginning when you have no idea what you are doing 🙂 The susshing in the ear still works with my son who is almost 10 month but the other 4 items are no longer soothing. I am interested to see the rest of the book review posts because I have thought about reading before our next one comes.

  7. I also disagree with not being able to distinguish your newborns cries. I watched the DVD ” Dunstant Baby” when my son was 3 weeks old. I had rented the DVD from our local library. The DVD helps parents distinguish the difference between 5 different cries. “Neh” (hunger), “Eairh” (gas/pooh), “Owh”(yawn/ tired), “Eh” (upper gas/burp needed), and Heh (discomfort/wants a change). I thought that the “neh” was the most helpful early on. I think that a lot of parents mistaken a majority of their baby’s cries for hunger and over feed them/ demand feed (which causes snacking). The “Eh” was also very helpful in letting me know I needed to burp my son more. This helped prevent a lot of discomfort he was having! I highly recommend that every new mom watch the DVD. I would not spend the money on the DVD, but it is worth renting it from a local library. Having said all that. That DVD really only applies to a newborn. My son’s cries changes during the middle of the second month, but at least the DVD helped me get through the beginning stage!

  8. I also watched the DVD (which primarily focuses on the 5 Ss) rather than reading the book. I’m primarily a Babywise mom, but I found the 5 Ss to be absolutely fabulous– they worked well and in my opinion did not contradict Babywise. I frequently recommend the DVD because of how helpful I found the 5 Ss- including the fact that Dr. Karp’s DUDU swaddle method is by far the best I’ve ever seen/used!

  9. As everyone else has said, the 5 S’s are fantastic! We found swaddling, jiggling and shushing to be particularly effective with our son when he was an infant. However, I would not have gone as far as to use the white noise because I didn’t want it to become a sleep prop for him. Though we are definitely a Babywise family, we found those S’s to be extremely useful, especially for us as first-time parents. All in all, Karp’s tips are fantastic and right on. His philosophies, however, are questionable. This is a definite instance of taking the good and ignoring the rest!

  10. Like the others, I didn’t really like some of Karp’s parenting philosophies, but the 5 S’s really helped me, especially the swaddling. We had been swaddling our son at night, and once we started swaddling for naps, he became a really great napper! (We found a zip-up swaddle online that he couldn’t escape from.)

  11. While I found the 5 S’s to be helpful, they can certainly be overdone. Also, this book focuses on the first few months and just leaves you hanging after that. It certainly doesn’t follow Hogg’s philosophy of “start as you mean to go”.

  12. Maureen, that reminds me that I rented the DVD from the library while pregnant with Brayden. Yes, that would be better because you wouldn’t get all of his “theory” mixed in 🙂

  13. Jennifer & Maureen, I agree–shortening waketime seems to be what fixes most fussiness with babies. I don't know what colic is like, so I can't speak for that. There is another post tomorrow on this topic!

  14. Nicole,From what I know of the 5 S’s, I can’t see them interfering with BW unless you let it. I am about to read that section in the book.


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