In March, Harvey Karp, MD, was sitting in his home office in Los Angeles, brainstorming. The coronavirus pandemic was killing hundreds per day. And like so many of us during the outbreak, the pediatrician and parenting expert felt a bit powerless. “I’m a doctor, so I feel like I should be on the front line helping people,” he tells me. “I thought: I just have to do something that’s going to be productive.”
More recently, he used his expertise to create the SNOO, a bassinet that's developed something of a cult following in the mom world. For good reason: It actually gets newborns to sleep.
It's a combination rocker-white noise machine, and it's programmed to respond when a baby cries. The SNOO is so good at what it does that Dr. Karp says that about 50% of the time, it will calm a fussy baby back to sleep before the caregiver has to get up. It can be controlled with a smartphone app. Plus, it swaddles babies so they can’t roll on their sides, which Dr. Karp says is designed to prevent factors associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
“They work is based on a concept we’ve known about for years — that if you just drive a baby around in a car, they’ll sleep an extra hour or two,” he says. “Babies have always loved being rocked and shushed and coddled, we’ve just never before had the technology to give it to them all night long.” The FDA recently added the SNOO to its breakthrough device program, which fast-tracks the approval process for healthcare devices, and is testing it as a medical tool.
The point is: Dr. Karp is a fixer.
But at first, COVID-19 didn't seem like a problem he could help with. The best scientists, experts, officials, and healthcare workers in the world were all working together to try to mitigate the virus. What more could he add?
The answer came during a discussion with Tracy Walsh, a colleague at SNOO’s parent company Happiest Baby. SNOO could come to the rescue again.
As coronavirus patients overwhelmed healthcare facilities in the U.S., maternity wards were finding themselves short-staffed. So Dr. Karp, Walsh, and their team decided to donate SNOOs to hospitals in highly infected areas such as Seattle, New York City, and New Orleans. They've also sent them to Europe and Israel. They hoped this would alleviate the burdens on nurses, doctors, and new moms.
“These SNOOs are like an extra pair of hands to help take care of the baby,” Dr. Karp says. “We ultimately reached out to well over 100 hospitals, and said, 'We want to help you and give a gift during this time.'” Dr. Karp knew these sleepers could help; the bassinets have already received positive feedback from nurses who used them to help soothe babies withdrawing from opioids.
Dr. Karp says SNOOs add one to two hours of sleep to a baby’s (and a parent’s) night, based on company research. “They help free up nurses to do other important duties if the babies are sleeping an extra hour,” he notes.
Former customers can help too. If your children have outgrown the SNOO, you can email Happiest Baby and ask for a FedEx Label to ship back your unit. In exchange, SNOO will send a needy hospital a brand-new one. For good measure, they're also donating extra sheets, "sleep sacks," and special reusable infection prevention mesh covers.
SNOO may not be saving us all from the pandemic, but it's helping where it can. "As isolation increases, depression increases," Dr. Karp says. "And SNOO is helping babies and their caregivers get more rest, and is giving parents more peace of mind." And we could all use more of that right now.