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.
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 1982-2005 Karp practiced pediatrics and child development, working with noted pediatrician Paul Fleiss in their office located in a converted residence on Hillhurst Ave in the Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. He was assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine from 1989-2009, 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 using nightly swaddling, sound and motion as key sleep cues for establishing circadian rhythm and promoting 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. Frenken has argued against Karp’s recommendation of the use of tight swaddling and the concept of a "calming reflex": The effect of swaddling is not based on reflexes: First a releasing stimulus is missing, because swaddling most probably works by the decrease of proprioceptive and tactile stimulation. Secondly, 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 obviously does. No aspect of Karp's calming techniques concerning the psychological or physical consequences on babies has ever been discussed by the scientific community. The first results of testing the application of his method against a control group were statistically insignificant compared to traditional methods. Baby expert Nancy Mohrbacher collected several scientific studies which demonstrated negative aspects of swaddling on newborn infants.
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- Frenken, Ralph (2011). Psychology and history of swaddling: Part two – The abolishment of swaddling from the 16th century until today. In: The Journal of Psychohistory, 39 (3), p. 219-245.
- Jonna M. McRury, Adam J. Zolotor: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of a Behavioral Intervention to Reduce Crying among Infants. In: J Am Board Fam Med September 1, 2010 23:689-690.
- "Rethinking Swaddling — Nancy Mohrbacher". Nancymohrbacher.com. 2010-12-03. Retrieved 2016-07-13.