When babies are born, they are thrusted into a world that is completely different to the womb they grew in. Imagine living your whole life without ever feeling hunger, never feeling anything but your mother's warmth. There's always the sound of a steady heartbeat, loud noises are soft and muted compared to the outside world and you're enveloped in a thicker, slightly stretchy sack that limits your movements with a soothing, constant rhythm that comes from the placental blood flow.
Now, imagine how it is being a newborn who just transcended earth-side! You feel hunger for the first time, you experience what it is be cold and the warm, cushioned world you lived in is a thing of the past. You have this brand new range of motion (that literally startles you), you have to use your voice to meet your needs and everything around you is so bright and loud. The stark differences from womb to world can trigger some tears as babies get used to their new environment. It helps to know that babies are born gestationally early compared to other mammals. Mimicking life in the womb (intra-uterine) to help support baby as they learn to regulate themselves outside of the womb (extra-uterine) can be very beneficial.
Thankfully, babies have a calming reflex that is centered on imitating the environment of the womb! These soothing sensations are also known as the 5 S's, and when you string them together in the pattern below, the calming reflex is triggered and helps support an emotional reset.
Swaddling mimics the warmth and security your baby felt when in the womb. There are so many swaddle brands out there. Some that are more traditional and others that take the guess work out of swaddling.The golden rule for all swaddling endeavors is for baby to have their arms snug and straight by their sides but allow the hips to be loose and flexed. Babies should also be swaddled only when fussy or when going to sleep and it's no longer safe to swaddle when baby is able to roll over. The magic of swaddling is that it encourages a reduction in the startle (Moro) reflex, mimics aspects of the womb and helps baby respond quicker to the next steps if needed.
SIDE/STOMACH LYING POSITION:
Holding baby on their side or stomach is a womb-like sensation that helps trigger the calming reflex within babies. If you lay them on the left side, it helps promote digestion (bonus tip for those sweet babies with tummy troubles).
Please note that it is safe to hold baby on their side or stomach, but to always remember to lay them flat on their backs when setting them down to sleep. The back the only safe sleep
position to lay them in.
Life in the womb isn't quiet at all. With the surrounding sounds of digestion and blood flow through the uterus and placenta, silence is not something a baby knows. Shushing mimics the sounds of the womb, encouraging baby to soothe. The use of a white noise machine helps mimic that sound as well. But not all white noise is the same! Look for a machine that has continuous noise (not a pausing loop-track),
Have you ever held a baby, walked and swayed them around but as soon as you stop, they start to get fussy? There's a reason for that! Life is the womb is jiggly. Babies are enclosed in the amniotic sac, filled with amniotic fluid like living in a snug water balloon) and they tend to just bob around anytime you move. Slowly swaying baby is great for when they are calm but it's not the best pace for a crying baby. To rock a fussy baby:
Support their neck and head with one hand behind and the other hand/arm supporting their body.
Keep swinging motions small, about an inch back and forth.
If using a swing, always supervise (babies' heads can flop over and obstruct airway) and never let them sleep unattended. Transfer baby to sleeping space once asleep.
Never shake the baby. If you are feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed––lay your baby down flat in a safe space like their bassinet or crib, step away for a few minutes, breathe deeply and exhale loudly and then listen to your body. Do you need a quick snack, drink or have to run to the restroom? Check in with yourself. We cannot pour from an empty cup!
If you have to follow Step 4, you are not failing. You acknowledge that life with a baby can get overwhelming and you are doing what you need to do to calm your nervous system down, regroup and be able to show up better for your baby and yourself. That in itself is a win!
Around 32 weeks, a baby develops the sucking reflex in the womb. By the time a full-term baby is born, they probably have been sucking on their hands for two months! The sucking motion is truly pacifying, lowering baby's blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels. If nursing, comfort nursing is a thing! Babies don't always want the breast for a full meal, sometimes they seek warmth, comfort and suckling which nursing hits all three. The introduction of a pacifier should be held off until breastfeeding is well-established.
If all above fails, here is a compiled list of my last resorts:
Go outside - the change in environment may help baby calm
Baby-wear - investing in a ring sling or stretchy wrap saved my sanity many times
Get baby wet - a bath or even just running water over their hands or toes helps introduce a sensory that calms overstimulation
Easing into a more flexible schedule by following baby's cues instead of a rigid one that follows the clock
And as always, give yourself grace! Transitioning into motherhood can get stressful but it doesn't have to be. Lean on family members and friends to help you during this transition by planning your postpartum journey and organizing support lines before giving birth. Outsourcing for support to lighten your load is always a valid and encouraged option, never feel like a failure if you can't do it all! None of us can. Outside of family and friends, postpartum doulas are a wonderful way to get the support you deserve when your village isn't able to show up.
For more information about planning for your postpartum journey, book a consult here.