In the watery world of the womb, your baby was weightless and warm, he was comforted by the rhythm of your heartbeat and the gentle rocking motion of his “mother home” as his body was gently massaged by the uterine wall and contained by the boundaries of your own body. Now, from this dark warm world of muffled sounds, the newborn must get used to new sensations: air moving across his skin and into his lungs, lights, direct sounds, smells and stillness.
By offering what I call ‘womb service’, you can help your baby adapt to being ‘on the outside’. Womb service involves recreating the sensations your baby experienced while he was safely carried inside you. To help you remember the important aspects, I have called these the five Ws:
- Wearing your baby
- Womb sounds
Inside your body, your baby didn’t experience cool air blowing on his tiny body or entering his lungs and these new sensations can be quite disturbing. So, at first, warm the space where you are going to be with your baby (16–20˚C will be a comfortable room temperature for your baby), and take care not to have fans or air-conditioners blowing directly onto him in warmer weather. If you are popping him into a cradle to sleep, he will be more comfortable (and likely to sleep better) lying on sheets that have been warmed slightly. You do need to take care not to overheat your baby, but you can warm his sheets slightly with a heat-pack before you place him into bed – test the sheets with your forearm to make sure they aren’t hot.
Just as your newborn was tucked snugly inside your body, supported by the uterine wall, you can provide a sense of security by swaddling him – wrapping him firmly (but not too tightly) in a gauze or muslin sheet in summer, or a soft shawl or bunny rug in winter. With his limbs tucked securely against his body, just as they were in the womb, this will help your baby feel safe as well as inhibiting the newborn reflex. Known as the ‘startle reflex’, this is a primitive survival response that produces spontaneous, jerky movements and can be disturbing for your baby, especially if his own flailing little arm unexpectedly hits him in the face!
Wearing your baby
Inside your womb, your baby was lulled to sleep by your body movements as you went about your daily work. Now, the motion of being carried in a sling (or front-pack) against your moving body and your comforting heartbeat, as he breathes the familiar scent of your body, will help your baby feel safe. This feeling of familiarity will reduce stress hormones and help your baby relax – and a more relaxed baby will sleep more easily. Wearing your baby may have a balancing effect on his irregular rhythms of waking and sleeping, and is also thought to help him regulate his developing nervous and hormonal system, promoting day waking and night sleeping. Best of all, if your baby falls asleep in the sling, you will have two hands free to do a few chores, or you can go out and enjoy a walk.
Help your baby recall his watery womb world by taking a bath together. Remember that in your womb, your baby was confined, not floating all stretched out, and his womb world was gently bathed in filtered light. By dimming the lights or bathing by candlelight with your newborn, you will help her recall the safety of her womb world and you will be able to hold her close and support her as she gradually relaxes and ‘uncurls’ her limbs. Bathing together is especially helpful if bonding has been interrupted by early separation or a difficult birth or feeding experience. It can also be lovely bonding time for father and baby.
The calming, repetitive sounds of traditional lullabies recall the ‘womb music’ your baby heard before birth (your heartbeat, and fluids whooshing through the placenta).
Baby music that incorporates elements such as the rhythm of a heartbeat or ‘white noise’ such as Music for Dreaming has remarkable soothing effects, especially if played continuously through the night. Of course, your own singing voice or even a gentle, continuous ‘shushing’ sound is transportable ‘music’ that doesn’t rely on the availability of a CD player, and it will help induce calm and sleepiness just as well as any commercial music – even if you don’t have a fabulous voice!