The fourth trimester – how recreating the womb environment is the key to soothing your baby

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:

Recreate movement.
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!

Use touch
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.

Baby Massage.
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.

Instinct – or harnessing the power of your inner voice

Recently at an antenatal class I was facilitating, a returning client, who was attending with her new baby to speak about her experiences of labour, birth and parenting, talked about the power of her instinct and how it had aided her. The room of expectant parents looked bemused but impressed.

The new mum was absolutely right – one’s inner voice, gut instinct or intuition is incredibly helpful when faced with the deluge of decisions that present themselves to us as a parent.

Certainly, science-based evidence is a great place to start with information gathering but may be of limited help. Equally, decisions that are based purely on other people’s advice may not suit you or our baby’s personality, and listening to others can sap confidence. When surrounded by well-meaning voices, such as health professionals or family members, it can be very helpful to ‘smile and wave’, to listen to the advice but trust that your instinct will help you filter through this advice and arrive at the decisions that are right for you.

Ultimately the best decisions are the ones we weigh up using all information available, and come to with the help of our instinct.  But where does this inner knowledge come from? Here are some more tips on how you can find your inner voice:

  • Take time out! This might be by having a long relaxing bath, practising relaxation, or going for a walk or jog around the park by yourself. Use the time to tune into your own thoughts and feelings.
  • Throw away parenting manuals! Often the more we read, the more confused we can become (as anyone who has recently shopped online will confirm, the more options and opinions that present themselves to us, the harder the decision can be to make).  Recognise that most of what you are reading is just one person’s opinion.
  • Tune into your baby! If you are a pregnant mum or dad this could be by placing your hand on your tummy or your partner’s bump and just telling your baby that you are there for them, that you are thinking about him or her.
  • Hold your baby close! Skin to skin if possible. Relax with each other and enjoy the special time. Remind yourself of how you know your baby better than anyone else and by telling yourself that you will begin to trust your inner voice.
  • Massage your baby! Use the time when your baby is in the quiet alert phase to communicate through nurturing touch, through your voice and by observing your baby’s cues.

It is amazing what you will find out about your baby when you gain the confidence to trust yourself. Try it and let us know how you get on!

Why baby massage is not just for mums.

Much is written about the benefits of baby massage for mothers and babies. Calmer babies, more sleep and improved bonding. Baby massage has even been proven to impact maternal mental health with mothers who massage their babies finding that symptoms of postnatal depression were alleviated.

This is all fantastic, however you would be forgiven for asking, what about dads? Do the benefits of baby massage also extend to fathers? Or is this purely about improving the maternal-infant bond?

We know that fathers frequently worry that they will lose out, that their bond with their baby will be impacted as women appear to have more opportunities to care for, feed and nurture their babies. It is vital that fathers know that their bond with their baby can grow and be nurtured. We often tell parents that bonding is not an event, but a process which can be influenced in a number of ways; from playing and singing, to basic babycare such as bathing, nappy changing and soothing. Essentially any activity that encourages eye contact, being respectful of baby’s cues and which provides an opportunity for positive interaction will enhance the bonding process.

With all this in mind, we were over the moon to read research which corroborated our theory that fathers also benefit hugely from using nurturing touch with their baby. The research study showed that fathers who attended baby massage classes had a significant reduction in stress levels than those who didn’t.  The research also showed that participating fathers felt more competent, found it easier to accept their role as father, and were of greater support to their partners. In addition, feelings of isolation and depression were reduced.

The authors of the study noted that baby massage classes gave dads an opportunity to share their fathering experiences. And in our fast-paced world, where time is short, commutes are long and work pressures high, it strikes us that creating this special time, learning skills that will improve the bonding process, reduce stress levels and allow fathers to talk about parenting, is more important than ever.