File photo: One solution, Karp says, is offering stressed parents an extra hand in soothing their babies. Picture: Pixabay

New babies don't come with instruction manuals, so pediatrician Harvey Karp set out to create one for bewildered new parents with a five-step plan for what to do when a baby cries.

His book, Happiest Baby On The Block, was first published in 2002. It quickly became required reading for new parents, and has since been translated into 25 languages and sold millions of times.

Now, working with MIT engineers and an industrial designer, the Los Angeles-based pediatrician has programmed his instructions into a high-tech bassinet he claims will help babies cry less and sleep more.

The smart crib is the latest twist on some age-old techniques that Karp popularized for an insatiable audience of parents who are raising children increasingly on their own, without support from extended family and the benefit of hands-on baby-care experience from their own upbringing.

"Although today's mothers and fathers are very well educated, they are the least experienced parents in history," Karp wrote in his 2002 book.

Few things will make a parent feel less prepared or more incompetent than not being able to calm down a crying baby. And babies cry a lot. About half of newborns cry or fuss for two hours a day, and about 15 percent cry or fuss for three hours or longer, Karp estimates.

New parents often struggle with very high levels of stress. About 15 percent of women who give birth each year, as well as some new dads, develop symptoms of postpartum depression, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It often goes untreated, and stress and depression can lead parents to make decisions that are not safe, including hurting or neglecting their children. And exhaustion often leads parents to sleep with infants in soft beds where they are at risk of suffocation.

"If we can do something to reduce crying and increase sleep, we can prevent depression before it occurs," Karp said.

One solution, Karp says, is offering stressed parents an extra hand in soothing their babies, so they can take a break and get some rest. His new crib – called the SNOO – will do that, he said. He is working with some universities to study the effectiveness of the crib as a tool for the treatment and prevention of postpartum depression.

The bassinet rocks and jiggles and plays white noise. It is outfitted with microphones that pick up a baby's cries and respond accordingly, switching to a fast jiggling motion and louder white noise when baby is upset, then slowing to a gentle swing when baby falls asleep again.