Reflexology, the birthing hormones and their role in helping women prepare for labour

As a maternity reflexologist I’m often asked about the most effective ways to trigger labour. My personal thoughts are that a baby will come when he or she is ready, when Mum and baby are in balance and feeling relaxed. … Continue reading

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.

Why you can’t ‘spoil’ your baby

How many times has a well-meaning friend or family member told you that ‘you’ll make a rod for your own back’ or warned you that if you help your baby go to sleep, she’ll never learn to sleep by herself? Probably many times! In fact it appears to be conventional wisdom that our babies can be taught bad habits, so to contradict this can often appear radical. We are often advised to reprimand or withhold affection from babies when they exhibit frustrating behaviours, such as throwing food from their highchair or when they cry out in the night for a cuddle. The message popular media would have us believe is that babies will manipulate their parents until we show them that we are in charge.

And yet, scientific evidence contradicts this advice completely. The part of our brain that comprehends ‘naughty’ and ‘good’ is developed well after birth, and is still developing through toddlerhood. As Sue Gerhardt writes in her fantastic book ‘Why Love Matters’, babies are simply not capable of this degree of impulse control. Babies have basic needs that must be met in order for them to thrive.  Consider how much babies relax when they held by their parents. We know that their heart rate and temperature will be regulated by the comforting parent and that feel-good hormones, opioids and oxytocin, are released in their brains. This results in tension being dispersed and the baby calmed. Babies need help managing the stresses that life throws them.

In infant massage classes we teach parents to talk to their babies, to make close eye contact with them and to observe their cues. We always suggest asking permission before starting massage. This teaches babies that their feelings and needs are respected. When parents use nurturing touch with their babies, they are soothing their babies and communicating love in a powerful, physical way. And often, when a baby is soothed so is the parent. As Vimala McClure, the founder of the IAIM puts it: “the bonds of trust and love, the lessons of compassion, warmth, openness, and respect that are inherent in the massage routine will be carried by your child into adulthood”.

As babies grow, their brains will forge connections and they will start to make sense of the world around them. By showing our babies that they will be physically comforted when they are distressed we are helping them grow up feeling calm, secure, respected and loved.