During my pregnancy, I didn’t have any weird food cravings. What I did have was a slew of standard-issue pregnancy fears. Chief among them: surviving on so little sleep during those first few weeks of parenthood.
For this, there seemed to be a hack.
I first read about the Snoo "smart sleeper" — a bassinet that detects a restless baby and lulls them back to sleep with rocking and noise — in a story written by a friend with four children. She called the $1,295 bassinet a miracle product, and when I pinged her privately for the real scoop, she stood pat. “It’s the best sleep I’ve ever had with a newborn," she said.
What makes the dauntingly expensive product like catnip to parents? That would be its inventor, Los Angeles-based pediatrician Harvey Karp. The doctor is regarded as an oracle in sleep-training babies. In his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, Karp pioneered the "five S's" of putting a newborn to sleep: swaddle, side, shush, swing, and suck. Swaddle the baby, place them on their side or stomach, shush them, swing them, and give them a pacifier to suck on.
The Snoo automates three of those five S’s. The sleeper comes with three sizes of swaddle sacks that affix to “safety wings” on either side of the mattress. This pins the baby on their back, so they don't roll over and suffocate in the night. The Snoo is also equipped with built-in speakers, which play soothing white noise through the night (a mechanical shush.) And finally, the bassinet swings side-to-side.
Snoo lent us a review machine to write this story, but they'll do something similar for pretty much anybody. After you drop that $1,300 on your bassinet, you’re allowed a 30-day trial period. If you don't like it, you can send it back for a refund.
The company also just introduced a rental plan for $149 a month (they recommend using the bassinet for six months). The machine goes on sale a lot, too. Twice in the past year I’ve seen one priced at $700, which is less than the $888 it would cost to rent for six months.
Back in May, with a week left to go in my own pregnancy, I called Karp to ask about the Snoo. My chief question: Does anybody really need a $1,300 machine that might help their baby sleep?
“This is the underlying cultural issue which not a lot of people talk about,” Karp said. “If you have a nanny or a night nurse, you're pretty well off. And if you have two nannies, you're very well off. But up until 100 years ago, everybody had five nannies: your grandmother, your aunt, your sister, et cetera. Today, the big lie is that not only is it abnormal to have that help, but it's inessential.
He added that there are real dangers to losing sleep.
“Sleep deprivation is used to train Navy SEALS to endure torture. It doesn't just make you tired. It makes you moody; it makes you unhappy; it makes you impulsively eat, and it changes your metabolism. It makes you [feel] drunk. There are as many car accidents caused by exhaustion as there are by drunk driving.”
To review: it could be drunk-driving levels of irresponsible not to invest in a Snoo. But could the machine be too soothing, lulling my son to sleep when he should be waking up to eat?
“It's more like your older sister came over and said, ‘I'm going to rock and shush your baby, and I'll bring the baby to you if the baby's hungry,’" Karp said. "Instead of waking up every two to three hours, they'll wake up every three to four hours."
Fast forward two weeks. My newborn son is home. My husband and I are tired and delighted. Even when our baby is sleeping soundly, we wake up near-constantly to check that he's breathing by the light of our phones. I will say, though, that having him pinned down on his back in the Snoo, physically unable to roll over, is a weight off my mind.
Easy as it is to skewer an expensive, potentially overpromising product, I have to admit that I … liked having the Snoo around. Whether or not it was due to the contraption, from the start, my son was a good sleeper. Sure, we woke up to feed him a few times a night. But when he slept, usually in three-hour increments, he slept soundly.
During the day, when my son was crying, we’d pop him in the bassinet for a sway. This, also, felt more or less like having an extra set of hands.
The bassinet is meant to be used for 24 weeks. At the 23-week mark, as I prepped to switch him to a crib, terror set in. Would my son, who was now sleeping through the night, revert? Would we revert, knowing our son was no longer sleeping in “the safest baby bed ever made,” as Karp likes to call it?
I spoke with Chicago-based sleep expert Kelly Murray, who develops sleep training programs for newborns and children up to age six.
“I work with a couple of clients that really liked the Snoo,” she said. “But once [babies] grow out of it, they need to learn to sleep without motion.”
The Snoo does have a wean-off mechanism, which makes it quit moving after a set amount of time and start only if it feels the baby stir.
But Murray was skeptical.
“I'm really not sure the wean-down mechanism aids in that. Clients that come to me that have used it — obviously, if they're coming to me, [it's because] their child's having sleep problems. I help train their babies to fall asleep independently, and then stay asleep.”
Murray added that continuously rocking a baby overnight has other drawbacks.
"When our bodies are in motion, we tend not to fall into deep sleep. So while the baby's in motion all night long, the sleep they're getting may not be completely restorative."
On the flip side, she said, “newborns don't have self-soothing skills until they reach about three-and-a-half months. They're going to need your help to fall asleep and stay asleep. With the Snoo, instead of you doing the soothing, you have the bassinet to do it for you. It would be good for someone who has to go back to work early — if they only have six weeks of maternity leave and every minute of sleep matters.”
For me, every minute did matter. And in the end, switching to a crib was painless enough. Sure, it took weeks to get used to seeing my son sleep on his stomach. But having weathered those first six months, here’s my verdict: If you're a new parent who’s particularly anxious about losing sleep — and if the bassinet won't break the bank — give the trial a run. If you’re sleeping, hang onto it.
And if the indulgence-guilt is too much to bear, consider this: All sorts of hot registry items go for nearly as much as this bassinet. Ever see those top-of-the-line Uppa strollers that prowl the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park? They're $900 new, and climb to $1,200 with bells and whistles. Most expecting parents have a few wish-list items on their registries; choose your own white whale. Mine was having a prayer for getting some sleep.