Up until now I’ve only interviewed working moms for this podcast, but Dr. Karp has been such a tireless advocate for supporting working parents and helping us get more sleep that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn from him and share his wisdom with all of you.
About 5 days after I had returned to the office from maternity leave (this was pre-Covid so yes I actually was in the office), I was busy pumping and responding to emails when I felt my head getting heavier and heavier and heavier until plonk… I was fast asleep on my desk. I woke up mortified, convinced that I had been sleeping for hours and fearful that I would be fired. In reality, it had only been five or ten minutes but the exhaustion is real. Because here’s the thing, sleep is not just a nice to have, it’s actually essential for our mental and physical well being.
Watch + Listen to the whole conversation:
As a pediatrician, Dr. Karp spent countless hours at appointments listening to the joys, concerns and desperations of new parents in the earliest and most vulnerable stages of parenting. What did they need more than anything? Sleep. The medical research was clear- sleep is essential for newborns and for parents. Dr. Karp set out to research how to help both newborns and parents get more of it. He invented the SNOO, a responsive baby bassinet that recreates the environment in the womb. Dr. Karp has dedicated his life’s work to empowering working parents by helping them and their babies get more sleep. Now he’s on a mission to make the SNOO more accessible through health insurance and through partnerships with employers so every new parent can sleep more.
How did you become so interested in getting babies to sleep?
I started to study how to calm babies. It was quite clear that swaddling, white noise, motion and sucking worked. But for me, the interesting question was why did those strategies work? Why are they used in every culture around the world? It became clear that this was really a biological preset that all people have.
Babies are born four months too soon- not that I would ever tell that to a pregnant woman who has been carrying her child for 40 weeks. But from the baby’s perspective, once they’re born, they need you to be one big walking uterus that holds them, rocks them and feeds them all the time. That’s what they need for four or five months. What that means is that parents are imitating the uterus. What is it like in there? It turns out it is not quiet, in fact, it’s a symphony.
We made a new discovery in medicine. All humans have a neurological preset that these rhythmic sounds, emotions and thoughts are calming to us. It’s very deeply a part of what it means to be a person and for babies- it’s irresistible. However, what we recommend for babies is that you put them flat on their back and a still bed in a quiet room because it’s safest, and it’s how adults sleep. But from the baby’s perspective, it is completely weird because inside the uterus for every second of those nine months, they’re bundled like a little ball and never on their back. They are surrounded by constant sound and constant movement as they are enveloped by the walls of the uterus.
Then the instant they’re born we put them on the back. We put them in quiet and in stillness and then we wonder, ‘Why isn’t my baby sleeping better? Well, imagine if I told you to sleep on a cement floor, and I ook away your pillow, mattress, and comforter. You might sleep a little but you’re not going to sleep well. So of course babies have to be on their back- that’s critically important because it’s not safe for them to sleep on their side or their stomach, but you have to work to create the atmosphere that is going to encourage them to sleep well. That’s why I invented the SNOO.
I saw in a recent article that it’s really your vision that the SNOO will become like breast pumps are today and will be covered by Insurance and available to all parents. Tell me about that vision.
We have an initiative now to partner with employers and offer the SNOO as a benefit to their employees. So we have dozens and dozens of Corporations now that provide the SNOO as a benefit. So when parents have the baby, employers want their employees to come back to work, but they want them to come back to work healthy and rested. Some companies are providing a free SNOO to help take care of the whole family for the next six months or however long the infant takes to the SNOO.
We’ve already proven that the SNOO adds 2 hours to a baby’s sleep. That’s important because lack of sleep leads to marital stress and postpartum depression and many other issues. 20% of women experience depression or anxiety postpartum. We’re doing studies now that are indicating that we can dramatically reduce postpartum depression by helping new moms get more sleep. That’s one of our major goals in addition to dramatically reducing infant sleep death. So ultimately we believe that insurance companies and the government will subsidize the SNOO because we’re going to show that they can save money by reducing so many expensive medical conditions and tragedies by subsidizing the SNOO.
Co-founder & COO
Bridget is mom to two little boys, Hudson and Brooks, and a champion of working moms everywhere. NeighborSchools itself was borne out of Bridget’s challenge to find high-quality yet affordable child care, and the realization that so many parents struggle with these same issues every day.