Take a minute and try to think about the world through your baby’s eyes. One moment your baby is snuggled up in a warm, dark and cramped space being soothed by all of your movements and sounds and every possible need they had was being met. Suddenly they are thrust into a new world where they are surrounded by bright lights, stimulating shapes and objects and have the ability to move their limbs freely. Their physical connection to you has been broken and now they must learn to signal for all of their basic needs; food, sleep and comfort. Some babies will make this transition much more easily, however others may find it more difficult to adapt and will need more comfort, support and nurturing during their first few months. To begin to understand this 4thTrimester lets learn a bit more about the transition that a baby has to make so that you can support your baby the best way you can during this time.
Human babies are born premature in respect to all other mammals, possibly 3-4 months earlier than they should be. As primitive women evolved to stand up on two legs, the shape of the female pelvis narrowed resulting in babies being born earlier to enable a safe passage of the head through the pelvis. So babies are not physiologically setup for independent life which makes them much more vulnerable in their early months compared to other mammals, who are born equipped with survival instincts. Your baby will depend on you for their basic survival and will feel the safest and the most secure when they are near you. They will need time to adjust to this new world and to give their immature systems a chance to mature.
Life in the womb was constant with the same muted sounds; dim-lit environment, continual rocking/lulling movements and your baby never knew hunger. Furled up in a secure position in a warm fluid filled environment with the familiar sounds of not only your voice but also from your heart beating, your blood flow whooshing around them and your bowel and bladder filling and emptying. Your baby had the familiar smells and taste of you from their drinking and swallowing of their amniotic fluid and all of these things gave your baby constant reassurance and comfort.
In contrast, life outside the womb is extremely stimulating. The environment is always changing with bright lights, sharp or sudden noises and unfamiliar sounds. It is a visually stimulating place for your baby with different peoples faces, toys and objects surrounding them. They are no longer in a cramped space and unless they are swaddled their ‘Startle reflex’ can wake and unsettle them. At times this new world will be too overwhelming for your baby and they will want to return to their former home and the stability that this environment gave to them.
The key to this 4thTrimester is to manage your baby as if they are still in the womb and the best way to achieve this is by replicating the environment of the womb itself. This will:
- Help your baby to adapt from the secure environment that the womb provided to life outside the womb
- Give your baby reassurance and security from the familiar sights, sounds, touch and smell of you
- Trigger your baby’s ‘Calming Reflex’, a primitive response which kept them calm and relaxed while in utero
How to Replicate the Environment of the Womb:
Physical comfort and Touch: Hold your baby close to your chest with their ear against your heart, pat them and use shushing sounds e.g.: ‘whoosh whoosh’ to imitate the sounds of the womb. Babies also love to hear the soothing tone of your voice and are comforted by the familiarity of your smell. ‘Wearing your baby’ in a sling or front pack is also a very effective way to calm your baby as it closely resembles their womb like environment.
Skin-to-skin Contact: This is heaven for your baby and is such a lovely experience for you too! Being so close to you will relax and calm your baby as they hear those familiar sounds and are comforted by your smell.
Swaddling: This will give your baby the security and comfort that they remember from their time in the womb and can instantly calm them. It also reduces the chance of their ‘Startle reflex’ from being triggered by a sudden movement or sound.
Sucking: When babies are unsettled they instinctively want to suck. Sucking has a deep effect within the nervous system triggering your baby’s ‘calming reflex’ by releasing opiate like chemicals that saturate their brain and naturally reduces their stress levels. Offering the breast, a pacifier (only once your milk supply is well established) or even a clean little finger can work like magic.
Movement: The womb was a constantly moving space. Every time you moved, your baby was moved and this movement reassured and comforted them. So swaying, rocking and jiggling your baby works very effectively to calm babies when they are unsettled.
Rhythmic Noises: Babies love sound so contrary to common belief, babies sleep better with noise as they are simply not used to a quiet environment. For the past 9 months they have been hearing loud sounds in the womb with studies confirming that a baby is exposed to up to 90db of noise – that’s louder than a vacuum cleaner or a bulldozer idling! So playing white noise while your baby is settling and sleeping is very effective as it not only blocks out any sudden background noise but it also provides a positive sleep association for your baby. Research has shown that babies settle more quickly and sleep more deeply when they are exposed to white noise.
Create a Calm Dim-lit Environment: Calming or settling your baby to sleep in a dim-lit room has been shown to be more effective for most babies. Managing your baby’s environment is also very important to prevent your baby from becoming over tired or over stimulated.
The best advice that I can give you during this 4thTrimester is ‘If your baby is unsettled and you have ruled out hunger, then assume that your baby is missing the womb and place them back into their womb like environment. By providing your baby with the security that the womb offered, you will not only be giving your baby reassurance, comfort and security but you will also be creating a confident, secure and trusting individual.
I hope all is going well for you and your baby but please feel free to contact me at anytime if you feel you need some further support or advice.