Dr. Harvey Karp – Happiest and Healthiest Babies
Dr. Harvey Karp
Jonathan: Hey, everyone. Welcome to another bonus, Smarter Science of Slim Podcast. Very, very excited about today’s show. We have truly an expert, world renown expert, on an area that I am not at all an expert in so this will be a wonderful opportunity for us to live better and learn to live better in ways that I have not been about to help with historically. He is America’s most popular pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine. Thousands of specialty trained, happiest baby educators, teaches work across American.
He’s been featured on Good Morning America, Dr. Oz, the Today’s Show, The View, CNN, all kinds of good stuff. He’s doing good work. He is the founder of The Happiest Baby and Happiest Toddler Series of both DVDs and books. You can learn all about all of his work at thehappiestbaby.com. Dr. Harvey Karp, thank you so much for coming on the show!
Harvey: Thank you, Jonathan. It’s good to talk to you. You’ll know a lot more about little kids. I know right now you probably just see them walking by and feel like, oh my god, they’re aliens in your life but we were all there once.
Jonathan. Certainly, we all have that shared beginning, and we also probably share in a little bit of uncertainty about what to do with these little people. What are some of the biggest misconception you see about the standard take people have on small people?
Harvey: A lot of the work I do is about babies, meaning in the first three or four, five months of life. The biggest misunderstanding there for new parents is to think that the baby is ready to be born after nine months in the womb. God knows we’re ready to have the baby after nine months. But from the baby’s perspective, there actually sort of evicted from the womb. They’re born three months before they’re really fully ready for the world.
What that means as a new parent is that you’re going to be holding your baby and rocking your baby and carrying your baby much more than maybe you anticipated. In fact, really those first three or four months, you’re like one big walking uterus, trying to give the baby all of the sensations that they had inside the womb.
Jonathan: In terms of being a walking uterus, I’ve been told by my friends that do have babies, that we use the word ‘happiest’ in the title of all your work and carrying for, trying to be a uterus sometimes doesn’t make the parent the happiest in the world. What are some things we can do to maintain our happiness while approximating a uterus?
Harvey: There are three main things that torpedo your happiness when you’re a new parent. One is if you’re not able to feed your baby successfully. So there’s lots of help and support for doing that. The second thing is if you’re exhausted and the third thing is if you’re dealing with a crying baby that goes on and on and on. Crying baby is an exhaustion. Actually, besides being a terrible burden on new families, can trigger all sorts of serious problems like postpartum depression and child abuse and even crib death.
The good news is that through The Happiest Baby work what I’ve been able to start teaching parents is that babies are born with an off-switch for crying and an on-switch for sleep, or I should say a relative off-switch and on-switch for sleep called the calming reflex. Babies have over 70 reflexes that are inborn behaviors that are there on the very first day of live, like crying and sucking and blinking. But no one ever knew before this work came out that they’re also born with a calming reflex that is activated by imitating the babies experience in the womb. The big surprise about that was that experience in the womb is not quiet and calm; it’s really a symphony of sensations with constant strong songs. It’s a whoosh, whoosh, whoosh; even deeper sound, grrr, grrr, grrr. It sounds like that.
Constant touch and holding and giggling motion when the baby’s in the womb and you’re walking or going about your business. So to put the baby in a quite room on a flat bed by themselves is actually like locking you in a dark closet. It’s sensory depriving and that really makes the babies go crazy, and that makes them cry and wake up all the time which makes us go crazy.
Jonathan: Dr. Karp, in the adult world, there has been a big push towards getting back to basics, whole foods, natural, ancestral approaches. Certainly, there has been a lot of technological advancements when it comes to dealing with children and babies. What are your thoughts in terms of the balance between all of these technologies we have now with infants and getting back to basics more natural approaches?
Harvey: I’m an omnivore. I’m going to take some of the technology and I’m going to take some of the basics. We’ve gotten seduced into thinking that everything is about technology and as a backlash or a swing of the pendulum some people now have gone to thinking that everything old is good. You have to be critical and skeptical of everything that comes out and try to use your best common sense and the best evidence.
For example, with baby calming, a lot of parents are taught there’s nothing you can do to calm your baby down when they’re crying but there’s actually a tribe in Africa that’s been shown to be able to calm their crying babies in under a minute 95% of the times. One of the techniques to use to calm your baby down is a very ancient technique called swaddling which is wrapping your baby up with their arms really snug in a big, square blanket.
It turns out there is even controversy today about swaddling. Some people say, “Oh, it imprisons the baby,” or, “It doesn’t allow the baby to start using their hands and gesturing or sucking on their fingers,” which is true, it will keep them from doing that. But you have to remember that a baby isn’t fully ready for using their body yet, and they’re more likely to smack themselves in the face accidentally than to be able to really suck on their fingers.
So, using ancient techniques like that combined with new techniques like using white noise for example. I recommend that all babies, for the entire first year of life, sleep with a white noise in the background, this rumbly, deep white noise. Actually, most apps and white noise machines don’t even make the right sound; they’re too high pitch. You need a rumbly, deep sound and we make that especially on a CD of white noise.
What that does is it helps babies, even helps parents to sleep longer and so that’s using new technology as well as the old technology of swaddling to really get the best sleep possible.
Jonathan: Digging further into the new versus old or new combined with old, when we think about how babies and children in general eat, there is children’s menus and in many ways a child’s menu is defined by being saturated with garbage. Why is a child’s cereal a child’s cereal?
Harvey: Sometimes they have junk also so it isn’t only rubbish.
Jonathan: There is not shortage of evidence that companies that manufacture things that are edible, may not always have our health at the forefront of their mind. How is this demonstrated when it comes to…or is this demonstrated when it comes to baby foods, baby formulas, things like that?
Harvey: That’s a great area where back to basics is really your cornerstone. So starting out with breastfeeding, if you can, not everybody succeeds with that but it’s certainly what you should be trying to do. Because breast milk, it’s following a recipe that was set in place a million years ago. It has things in it that we don’t even know, immune factors, immunoglobulins, white blood cells fighting infection, all sorts of special ingredients to help the baby grow up strong and healthy.
Likewise, as we’re introducing foods to a baby’s diet as they get older, in general, the less it’s been processed, the better it’s going to be for babies. The more it comes out of a box and out of a factory, the more likely it is to have added fat, sugar and salt which, clearly, we have an over abundance of in our diets. In fact, misdirected child’s growth and their health early on, which can have even long term repercussion. So, in general, back to basics and the more natural the diet, even organic. I mean the study was done up in your neck of the woods in Seattle looking at the urine of children who are fed organic food versus conventionally grown foods.
There was a several fold increase in pesticide in the urine in children who were given the conventional foods just from the local grocery store. What does that exposure to chemicals do to young children? Well, we don’t really know. We do know that these chemicals can be neurotoxins. I mean they’re strong enough to kill the bugs. We need to be concerned about that and if you can, try to eat organic foods.
Jonathan: Have you found, Dr. Karp, one technique…some of my friends’ practices, they have these really high-end blenders, like a Vitamix or a Blendtech and they just make their own baby food by pulverizing whole foods. So have you had patients who had success with something like this?
Harvey: Yes, sure. Absolutely. People prepare purees and then put them in ice cube trays and freeze them and pop them out when they need them. Again, that works for some people; it doesn’t work for other people. It’s just their lives are too complex and their too busy holding down two jobs and paying their bills. So, in that case it’s great that you have access to pre-made baby foods.
But, in general, if you can move in that direction, if you can move in the direction of being able to prepare your own foods for a baby, and as I said, use foods that are more locally grown, farmer’s market foods that you can buy on the weekend which, oftentimes, you can get at a cheaper price anyway. And they are fresher and more flavorful. Organic foods, those are just good, common sense steps that will move your child in the direction of better health.
Jonathan: Continuing the thought of moving your child in the direction of better health as they continue to grow, we know that they are over 40 million children under the age of five, suffering from overweight or obesity in this world. When does that need to enter the parent’s mind? Forgive my ignorance here but you got a one week old baby. I’m not sure how worried about excess fat gain anyone needs to be at that point in time so when does that become a concern? What should we watch out for and how do we help our children not perpetuate this childhood obesity epidemic?
Harvey: Interestingly, a study was done at the Penn State University; it was published in 2011, using The Happiest Baby work as a tool for parents to help their children sleep longer. Then they measure if the baby could sleep longer and they also suggested not starting solid food till six months of age, if they would be able to reduce overweight and obesity at one year of age. They showed that when you combined better sleep with just some simple dietary advice, we were able to significantly reduce overweight and obesity at one year.
So part of obesity prevention if you will, in the first year of life, it’s getting good sleep. That’s for the baby and for the parents.
Harvey: Because when you’re overtired, you’re eating pie at 11 o’clock at night and you’re not getting exercise. But the number one thing parents should be paying attention to in terms of overweight in young children, is the growth curve that the pediatrician or the family practice doctor measures at each office visit. If the child is basically following their growth curve, they’re growing the same approximate number of pounds per month that every other child is growing at, then there’s usually no need to worry about obesity.
If your child is really stacking on the pounds and zooming and accelerating with their weight gain, then that’s when we get alarmed and take measures to slow down the weight gain.
Jonathan: Is that different in small people than it is older people in terms of the approach taken in response to obesity or overweight?
Harvey: Well, it’s different in the sense that babies tend to have baby fat. They tend to have rounder faces and double chins oftentimes, so one can misread the normal signs and think their baby is overweight or obese when they’re really not. And so, it helps to clear the confusion if rather than using your normal markers of the way the child looks, you follow the growth chart. And the other reason for that is that kids go through growth spurts. So sometimes they do pork out and they are more rotund and then they go through three or four months of not putting on any weight so they grown in the step-wise fashion. So it’s important to watch their weight over some period of time before you jump to any conclusions.
Jonathan: Dr. Karp, we talked about food. Let’s move to talk a little bit about movement. We talk about children needing to be active and move around. When does that start? How young are people when they need to start or we need to start consciously thinking about movement and physical activity?
Harvey: Well, with little kids, once they crawl and then they start to walk, there’s no stopping them. You wind them up in the morning and they’re just gone. Let me just say, so there’s also, as you mentioned at the beginning, The Happiest Toddler book and DVD, that’s for kids from about eight or nine months up to five years of age.
With babies the concept is that they’re really born three months too soon and you’re a walking uterus for the first three months, the fourth trimester. With toddlers the key concept is toddlers are not so much little children as they are like cavemen. They’re primitive. They’re uncivilized. They’re not born knowing how to say “please” and “thank you” and stand in line and share their toys. And like any good, self-respecting caveman, they are running and climbing all over the place. So usually the issue is not giving them more exercise, unless you’re living in Alaska in the wintertime when you can never go out of the house, it’s more a matter of child-proofing your house and making sure that they can’t get into mischief when they’re climbing and running into every corner.
Jonathan: So what happens then, because that seems like the natural state is one of movement and activity and vibrancy? That seems to trail off though. Is that just societal and something we need to work on?
Harvey: Well, part of it is. In other words, young children really do well when they have a lot of time outside, when they get a chance to really run around and burn up their energy and socialize with other kids. So getting out to the park, getting into your preschool setting, getting into opportunities where the kids are excited to be with other kids as opposed to being stuck at home and watching TV or video games…not video games but videos which only encourage a sedentary existent and reduce calorie expenditure.
Then the other half of it is making sure that your kids are eating good healthy foods, high in fiber, low in sugar and fat. Little kids need fat. I mean they’re not supposed to be on a low-fat diet, at least until their two or three years of age. Cholesterol is important for brain development and for the development of all the cells in your body. So it’s not quite the same perspective that we have as we’re getting over three or four years of age when we might start looking to bring them up to a more restricted…restricted is probably the wrong word, but a more balanced diet in terms of reduction of some fat and cholesterol.
Jonathan: Dr. Karp, what led you down this path of pediatrics and to develop The Happiest Baby brand line and coaching series?
Harvey: Well, I was a pediatrician for 30 years and I studied child development before I became a pediatrician. I observed things during my practice, things that weren’t commonly understood. Like all people I like to solve puzzles. So there was puzzle of why there are kids cry in our culture and yet other cultures don’t suffer that same experience.
How do you get kids sleeping longer? I wrote a book last year called The Happiest Baby Guide To Great Sleep which is about the first five years of life because there is so many misunderstandings about helping kids sleep, from this idea that you have to let them cry it out and the idea that they should sleep in a quiet room and the idea that swaddling is restrictive, like I mentioned before. So, for me, it was really an issue about…it’s fun to look at some of the myths we have in our culture and pope holes in them and try to bring new scientific evidence to help us understand, even ancient concepts like raising a baby, how to understand those and in your life.
Jonathan: I love simplifying science so that we could bring it to surface. What’s next for you, Dr. Karp, in the sense of simplifying science?
Harvey: So, for me, I have lots of research projects going on right now to demonstrate how the baby work, not only helps parents to cope with their young babies and feel successful, but also to prevent serious problems like child abuse, shaken baby syndrome where babies are actually brain injured and things like postpartum depression.
So, for me, what’s exciting now is spreading that where we have now about three thousand Happiest Baby educators teaching in hospitals and clinics across the US and in 10 other nations. Parents take child birth classes learning how to have the baby and now they can take classes to learn what to do after the baby is born. So, for me, that’s the big push for this next year, is to help more parents learn about these approaches.
Jonathan: For the parents that do want to learn more about these approaches or for expecting parents or soon to be parents, that want to be equipped, where can they go to learn more info?
Harvey: So there’s lots more information on my website which is www.happiestbaby.com.
Jonathan: Wonderful, wonderful. Well folks his name is Dr. Harvey Karp. Dr. Karp, thank you so much for joining us today, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Harvey: Thanks, Jonathan. Great talking with you.
Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoy today’s show as much as I did. Please remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better.