First Book To Read Before You Pop That Kid: The Happiest Baby on the Block

Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block is a must-have because it does a great job at VERY SIMPLY explaining how you can make that new baby of yours stop crying his eyes out.

Even better, it does it in tiny little short paragraphs, is printed in big type, and even contains a line drawing or two. This makes it a particularly manageable read for women in the throes of pregnancy-brain and men in the throes of … well, every stage of their life.

(I am not saying this to be mean to men. Men are lovely. If they weren’t, so many of us wouldn’t have gone and married them and had their babies. Men are not as stupid as we often claim, either. But ladies, I have said it before, and I will say it again: in general, Dads aren’t that interested in reading all this parenting crap as Moms are. They don’t like being told what to do, or how to do it, even when that “it” is taking care of a baby, even when, and especially if, they haven’t a clue how they’re supposed to do that.)

Anyway, back to the book.

Harvey Karp’s basic premise is that human babies are born too early. Most other mammal species produce babies that learn to stand and walk in the first hours of their lives, making it possible for them to have a fighting chance of survival in the big, scary, Darwinian world. Not so much human babies. Our babies can barely see, can’t control any of their limbs appropriately, have squishy little skulls, and dont’ have any teeth. Karp posits that our babies really aren’t remotely prepared for the world for the first three months of their lives, and so we really ought to just treat them like they’re still in the womb.


He calls his list “The 5 S’s” — which stand for:

  • SWADDLING: to approximate the snug feeling of being in the womb
  • SHUSHING: to approximate the sound of being in the womb
  • SWINGING: to approximate the movement of being carried around in the womb
  • SIDE / STOMACH LYING:  again, to approximate the feeling of the womb
  • SUCKING: because babies start sucking their thumbs and feet around 28 weeks in the womb

I know this sounds simple. I know this sounds like you could have figured it out yourself. And maybe you could have. But you couldn’t have figured it out yourself if you were ME. I can say this for sure because when they discharged me and Diddy from the hospital, I literally had NO clue what I was supposed to do with her.

That’s because I barely held Diddy for more than half-an-hour in the two days I was on the maternity floor. This wasn’t what I’d planned — I’d expected to room-in with my baby — but a bout of pre-eclampsia and the magnesium sulfate kicker that followed Diddy’s arrival made it impossible for me to be around Diddy without a chaperone. (I’m not complaining — I was so strung out on mag I absolutely would have dropped her like they said I would. Or eaten her. Who knows? That mag is some scary shit.)

So when I finally came off the mag death trip, and they told me I was free to take Diddy home, I was pretty panicked. I mean, I had NO IDEA what I was supposed to do with this kid. I hadn’t even changed a single diaper yet. I literally had to page a nurse to show me how to do it minutes before they wheeled us out the door …

And down to the parking lot, where the nice little candystriper waved goodbye after checking we’d brought a carseat. In my opinion, she probably should have stuck around to watch us strap Diddy into that carseat, because we didn’t do it right.

And since it took me nearly a week to correct that error, I am fairly certain there is no way in hell I would have figured out swaddling and shushing and side-lying  and swinging and sucking without the help of Happiest Baby on the Block.

Which really are essential things to know. So if you’re like me, and this kid that’s on the way is the first baby you are ever going to hold in your very own arms — okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, before Diddy I had, six weeks earlier, for about three minutes, held one other baby, the daughter of my friend Executive Supermom — I’m begging you, do yourself a favor and go read this book.


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