First came the “five S’s.” Since 2002, when his book The Happiest Baby On The Block was first published, Dr. Harvey Karp has convinced generations of parents that shushing, swinging, and swaddling a baby in a way that replicates the feel of the womb will calm them and encourage sleep. But in his quest to help exhausted parents, he didn't stop there — he is the creator of the SNOO Smart Sleeper, a “smart” bassinet retailing for $1,160 that responds to a baby's cries by changing the rocking motion and adjusting white noise. It is an invention he describes unironically as a caregiver, in an interview with Romper. “I always think of SNOO as being like your older sister,” Dr. Karp explains, “if your older sister moved in with you when you had the baby and said, 'You sleep, I'm gonna hold, rock and shush this baby all night long. And if the baby gets upset, I'll bounce and shush the baby more.'”
Celebrity couples like Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis are sold on the SNOO, but even with a high resale value, the SNOO is undeniably out of the price range of many families, something Dr. Karp is aware of. In an attempt to reach those who could most benefit from its sleep-giving powers, the Happiest Baby team have made it a priority to ensure that more mothers and fathers can afford access.
As of January 8, the SNOO Smart Sleeper can now be rented for $4.90 a day, which works out to $148.95 a month — it is being pitched as costing less than a cup of coffee a day. And those who order to rent the SNOO sometime in January will get their first month for about $3.50 a day ($98 total per month).
It is something of a paradigm shift: rentals of car seats, baby carriers, and bassinets are common overseas, but relatively rare in the U.S.
For the average American family, paying over a grand for a product like this, even if very effective, is not possible. Twenty-one percent of U.S. children are in families living below the federal poverty threshold. Meanwhile, around 3,500 babies are lost to sleep-related deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC, many from suffocation due to unsafe sleep practices like bed-sharing or side or stomach sleeping. And as many as 15 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression, per the National Institute of Mental Health, while a study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that Iranian women experiencing low sleep quality had 3.34 times the likelihood of experiencing postpartum depression. These are preventable issues, as Dr. Karp notes. But there are structural barriers to attaining postpartum support, feeding support, sleep support; no one is surprised this infant bed is beloved primarily among the well-off.
So what’s so amazing about the SNOO?
“We're the only bed that's a flat rocker, and the only bed that secures babies in place, so when you put the baby down, you don't have to be checking at 3 in the morning,” Dr. Karp says.
The bed will respond and the baby calms down and the parents are high-fiving, and they're keeping their head on the pillow and that in itself reduces anxiety.
The bassinet comes with Sleepea swaddle sacks that help parents swaddle and position their baby correctly on their backs. “They're still secured, so they can't flip themselves. And that's never been possible before,” says Dr. Karp.
The SNOO imitates the way a caregiver would change their response until an infant is soothed to increase comfort and sleep for the baby each night. Dr. Karp also argues it is helpful for breastfeeding, as it allows mothers more time to allow their supply to replenish. In addition, he says that studies conducted by Happiest Baby have shown conclusively that it can prevent and ameliorate postpartum depression. “If you know half a million women are gonna get depressed. Why are you waiting for them to get depressed?”
Amazon reviews suggest that the miraculous effects of the SNOO have not been exaggerated — provided you have the budget. “After some sleep deprivation, I would’ve paid twice as much for the results this thing achieves! If you can afford it, you must buy this!” wrote one consumer.
“Initially I was put off a bit by the price and bought a cheaper bassinet. However after 4 weeks of baby only doing 2-3 hour sleep chunks at a time at night and having to spend 1-2 hours a night trying to get him to fall asleep, I broke down and bought one. Best. Decision. Ever.” Wrote another.
“Parents tell us over and over it's so comforting because their head doesn't have to leave the pillow,” says Dr. Karp. “They hear the bed respond. The baby fusses, the bed starts to respond. And then the parents wait. If the baby ramps up, and 60 seconds later is crying even more, then they need to get their baby. The baby's hungry or it needs a diaper change or something. But 50 percent of the time, the bed will respond and the baby calms down and the parents are high-fiving, and they're keeping their head on the pillow and that in itself reduces anxiety, 'cause it's not all on your shoulders.”
If you can get sleep and you have a helper and you feel confident, you get this positively reinforcing cycle where you feel like you're the best parent for this baby.
The SNOO is designed for children up to six months (or whenever they begin crawling on their hands and knees). Its fast-responding mechanisms boost sleep time by an hour or more a night, the company claims, and the product’s digital app allows parents to select different rhythms for their baby. The app tracks sleep and motion every time the SNOO is used and makes reports on the information available.
“If you can get sleep and you have a helper and you feel confident, you get this positively reinforcing cycle where you feel like you're the best parent for this baby. You're on top of it. Your baby is really doing great; You're doing great as a mom. It's easier than you expected and all of that stuff. And that's what we're trying to accomplish,” Dr. Karp says.
Of course, there is still a level of privilege in renting the SNOO: it must be rented month to month, putting it beyond the reach of some. Dr. Karp won't change sleep inequality overnight, but a rental option will mean that parents of more diverse economic standing can consider getting their hands on a popular solution, at least for those tricky first few months.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article stated the incorrect per-day price to rent the SNOO during the January special. It has been updated.
After a very frustrating first birth experience, this Deaf mother wanted a change. Will the help of two Deaf doulas give the quality communication and birth experience this mom wants and deserves? Watch Episode Four of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below, and visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes.