Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Experts: Dr. Karp

Dr. Karp's book "The Happiest Baby on the Block" was probably the first (of many) books that I read while I was pregnant.  Everything seems cut and dry when you're pregnant.  Dr. Karp's theories are based on the 5 S's - Swaddling, Sucking, Swinging, Shushing which all lead to Soothing.  The ideas are intended to combat colic which he insists (as do others that I read) simply does not exist in other cultures where these practices, along with baby wearing, are more commonplace.  Many mothers talk about colic in relation to gassy/fussy foods, or just "that time of day/night".  Dr. Karp points to the fact that in these other cultures, not only do babies not have colic, they don't cry.  They just don't cry.  They eat a variety of foods and they certainly experience the same times of day that we do.  But their babies don't cry.  They are held and loved in arms.  Now, as an expecting mom, this all sounds GREAT to me.  Other moms tell me about their colicky baby, their fussy baby, their crying baby - and I thought to myself, they must not know about swaddling.  I researched swaddling and different wraps, babywearing and different slings, carriers, and the like.  A friend's sister swore by "The Happiest Baby" and another friend lent me Dr. Karp's video.  I made Jeff watch and understand the volume of the shushing - it should be loud to replicate what baby's hearing in there right now.  All of this should replicate the womb.  The swinging - just like when I'm moving her now, the swaddling, she's pretty tight in there, right, the shushing - again, it's loud in there, and the sucking - well, I guess she does that too.  This is where I got the idea that we should use a pacifier (once breastfeeding is established) to soothe her until she can find her fingers.  We looked at diagrams of the colic carry where baby is on his/her side and cradled to the body like a football.  The fourth trimester and its logic.  Other mammals have longer gestational periods, but since humans have big brains and are smart (PS - why do we always think we're soooo smart?)  we have to deliver babies a whole three months before they're ready which is why babies look and seem so fragile and upset with this rude awakening in the big wide world for about...three months.  And why everyone says it gets better after...three months.

We knew what we were doing.  Right?

So, the big day arrives and Cecelia looks happy as a clam swaddled nice and tight in the hospital.  We got her home and she quickly started kicking and thrashing her way out of that.  She did like to be held tight, but she liked to be held a person.  No piece of silly fabric was keeping that contained.  Except for the sling - it's firm fabric held Cece in a pretty tight ball and was very effective in calming her.  Shushing is and has definitely been effective in soothing her as has swinging.  Most recently in the swing.  Prior to that though, all swinging had to occur with a dancing, bouncing, be-bopping adult at all times.  And sucking.  I'll get to that a little more with some of the other experts.  But my mom and pediatrician decided that breastfeeding had better be well established by 2 weeks because this one had an intense sucking need (as Dr. Sears would refer to it) and was using me for this purpose hourly if not more often.  Or, you could just say...I'm a sucker.  With all this, she still wasn't what you might call soothed.  And she definitely cried.  And I definitely felt like I was doing something wrong because "they" say that in other cultures babies just don't cry.  And mine does.  And how.  And so, I conclude by letting you know something that you probably already know - every baby is different.  Every parent is different and the ways that we parent might look different, but we're all doing the best we can.  Even if we drive ourselves nuts thinking there must be a better way.  And we should know what it is.

So, I fully recommend Dr. Karp's "Happiest" books.  The one I read (there are others...because you know you want the Happiest Toddler on the Block too...) was great and informative, and helpful.  But I think it's an important caveat to point out that there is no one right solution for every baby or parent, but it can't hurt to try.

Oh, and it does get better after three months - but not automatically.  There are other things to figure out and we'll get there.  I promise.  Better is not always easier...she'll be moving soon.

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