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As a first time mum I spent ages choosing a Moses basket, mobiles and sleep music, it honestly didn’t enter my head that my little boy wouldn’t want to go to sleep in his basket. It certainly didn’t occur to me that maybe the answer was not to put him down.
So in desperation and the need to have my hands free I borrowed a sling from a friend. Almost immediately I could feel his little body relax. He still cried, but he cried a lot less. As he was so close to me I could pick up on his cues a lot more quickly. Without realising it, I was creating a 4th trimester.
The concept of the 4th trimester helps us understand the transition a newborn makes in the first few weeks after birth. In the womb babies are in a wet, warm, dark, secure and snug environment and are constantly being rocked. They do not know hunger and can always hear their mum’s heartbeat. At birth, they are suddenly faced with a very different world – light, space, dry, cold, separated (to varying extents) and hungry. Considering this, perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a newborn baby to adjust immediately to life on planet earth.
Some babies make this womb to world transition easily, others less so. Many of the things parents do to calm their babies actually re-create many of the comforting, familiar experiences babies had during their time in the womb. For all babies, these techniques can be very calming. Here are some ideas:
The womb is a constantly moving space and babies tend to respond to movements such as —dancing, swaying from side to side, going for an exaggerated quick walk or bumpy car ride!
Skin to skin contact and being in contact with warm, naturally unscented skin is calming for babies. This helps to stabilise body temperature, heart rate and stress hormones and stimulates the release of oxytocin – the love and bonding hormone – in both parent and baby.
This offers a wonderful experience to communicate with your baby both verbally and non verbally. There are numerous benefits such as increased levels of relaxation and improved sleep patterns. It also helps us to gain a deeper understanding of our babies behaviour, crying and body language.
Take a bath.
A nice, warm bath can be calming for babies, and better still a bath with mum or dad can be a wonderful bonding experience enabling time for skin to skin.
Recreate familiar sounds.
Your baby’s time in the womb was marked by many rhythmic sounds. Hearing is developed in the third trimester of pregnancy, babies hear their mothers’ heartbeat and voices first and external sounds later. This explains why your baby loves listening to your voice and why sounds similar to those heard in the womb can be very calming to newborns.
Help your baby learn to deal with sensations of hunger.
Hunger is a new sensation for babies—and they may find it hard to calm when they feel hungry. Feeding babies when they wake at night might help them transition back to sleep, especially when lighting and interaction are kept at low levels of stimulation. Babies also find sucking to be the ultimate relaxation and comfort tool; one of their few forms of self initiated self-regulation. Sucking helps a baby’s skull bones to return to their normal position after birth as well as providing them with comfort and security.
And finally, baby-wearing.
Wearing your baby in a sling is one of the easiest ways to keep a baby calm and happy and increases the time a baby spends in a state of “quiet alertness”. Finding a good comfortable sling is vital so it is worth trying on different styles. The T.I.C.K.S guide to safe baby-wearing sums up some helpful guidelines.
I hope this gives you some ideas about how the womb environment can soothe and ease your baby’s transition in to the world.