Harvey Neil Karp, FAAP (born 1951) is an American pediatrician and children’s environmental health advocate. He is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Karp lives in Los Angeles with his wife Nina Montee Karp.
Karp is best known for his techniques for calming infants and promoting sleep. He is the author of a series of parenting books and DVDs, The Happiest Baby on the Block, (2002, 2015), The Happiest Toddler on the Block (2004, 2008) and The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep (2012), which have been published in over 20 languages.
From 1982 to 1984 Karp practiced pediatrics with noted pediatrician Paul Fleiss in Los Angeles, California. He then opened his own practice in Santa Monica, where he continued to see patients until 2005. He was assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine from 1989 to 2009, where he served as pediatric liaison to the Child Abuse Team. He appeared as a regular contributor to the Lifetime cable television show, “Growing Up Together” from 1990-1992. In 2009, he became an assistant professor of pediatrics at the USC Keck School of Medicine.
Infant calming and sleep technique
Karp’s infant calming technique is supposed to be based on recreating the essential elements of the experience of living in the womb. Human babies, according to Karp, are born less developed than other mammals. Karp calls the first three months of life the "fourth trimester." Karp hypothesizes that all babies are born with a "calming reflex" that quickly relaxes most fussy babies when they are stimulated in a way that resemble sensations that babies experience in the womb. His method for soothing crying babies, the so-called 5 S's, includes swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking.
Regarding sleep, Karp recommends nightly swaddling and sound and motion sleep cues to help babies establish a circadian rhythm and to promote infant sleep.
CBS news reports that "Critics say Karp is riding to fame on the strength of his patients' VIP parents, who include Michelle Pfeiffer, Pierce Brosnan and Madonna. Endorsements from several stars appear on his book jacket and video cover."
Some doctors have also expressed concern that babies may accidentally be left to sleep face down, a position which increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Karp explicitly warns parents not to leave babies in this position.
Ralph Frenken has argued against Karp’s recommendation of the use of tight swaddling and the concept of a "calming reflex." The criticism is that the effect of swaddling is not based on reflexes because (1) a releasing stimulus is missing, because swaddling most probably works by the decrease of proprioceptive and tactile stimulation and (2) the reflex response is missing, because any reflex always consists of a movement released by muscles. The child does not move but falls asleep by swaddling. Additionally, no known reflex alters the state of consciousness, but swaddling obvioulsly does. Lactation and breastfeeding expert, Nancy Mohrbacher, collected several scientific studies which demonstrated negative aspects of swaddling on newborn infants.
In 2010, researchers studied the effects of video instruction concerning swaddling, side positioning, white noise, jiggling, and sucking on parents' ability to calm fussing babies. The results against a control group were statistically insignificant compared to traditional methods. Other than that, no aspect of Karp's calming techniques concerning the psychological or physical consequences on babies has been discussed by the scientific community.
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