Dr. Harvey Karp created the Snoo and wrote 'The Happiest Baby on the Block.' Why he calls his work 'half pediatrician, half grandmother'

Pediatrician Harvey Karp looks back on his work as a child development expert. (Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Happiest Baby; illustration. by Yahoo News)
Pediatrician Harvey Karp looks back on his work as a child development expert. (Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Happiest Baby; illustration. by Yahoo News)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of childrearing.

“My view of my job was always half pediatrician, half grandmother,” Dr. Harvey Karp tells Yahoo Life about the 20 years he’s spent educating parents about baby soothing and sleep. While he has extensive medical training, most days he focuses on kids and their well-being, which he considers the most important part of his career. “What we learn in medical school, thank goodness, we don't have to do most days. For the most part kids are healthy and they grow up, so it's really helping to steer the ship more than to rescue the shipwreck.”

The desire to do more steering led Karp to further his expertise in child development rather than acute illness. “I decided if I was going to work in the office, I didn’t want to be looking for the needle in the haystack, the one sick kid or whatever.” Instead, he began to focus on the whole child and their developmental trajectory. He spent time working at the Brookline Child Development Center in Massachusetts, which he describes as an incredible opportunity that gave him a deeper understanding of child development.

Later, when completing his fellowship at UCLA, he had the opportunity to simply sit and watch a baby for two hours while recording observations. “What do they do? How did they move? What did they pay attention to? And so that became really this foundation for being interested in the parent journey, not just the child diseases.”

Karp’s star rose to fame with the release of his 2002 book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, which has sold millions of copies and remains one of the best selling parenting books of all time. The basic format of the book centers on what he calls “The Five S’s.” Those are swaddling, a side or stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking. These actions, Karp has always maintained, are the basic tenets for soothing babies (and getting some rest as a parent).

Since the launch of that book, Karp and his wife, Nina Montée Karp, have added two more books, several DVDs, sleep playlists that can be streamed online and the Snoo — a mechanical bassinet that launched in 2016. While the $1,695 price tag is fairly inaccessible for most American families, Karp has plans to make the bassinet — which early studies show reduces the risk of SIDS — more widely available.

Karp says that several employers, including Snapchat, JP Morgan and Under Armour, are loaning the smart bassinet to employees, and the device is also being trialed in 160 hospitals across the country. Because the Snoo oscillates gently, he explains, it's a way to give nurses more free time for other tasks and new parents more rest. Eventually, Karp hopes that the device’s new FDA approval will allow the Snoo to be accessible via insurance to many more families. “We've always wanted this to be a breast pump where everyone would have access to it, but when breast pumps first came out not everyone had access to them, either," he notes. "It takes years to create that opportunity to get a product to all parts of the population.”

The first babies that were soothed by the 5 S’s are now entering into adulthood, and some are even parents themselves. While Karp says he’s always been interested in all stages of development, babies will always remain his passion. “I think pediatricians are a special type. We wear bow ties and we like to get on the floor with kids and stuff like that," he says.

In another 20 years, Karp tells Yahoo Life that he hopes to still be improving the lives of parents and their children through solid support and innovation. “This work is personal. How do we work as a country, and really a worldwide culture, to support parents as they're raising children?”