By Naomi Knight
For the entire beginning of their lives, babies are accustomed to one environment: the womb. It can be very jarring to come into a new world with so much new stimuli, and it can cause a feeling of insecurity in baby. The best way to help baby sleep more soundly, make the transition, and feel safe is to mimic some of the feelings of the womb.
Characteristics of The Womb
So what does the womb have that your house doesn’t? Let’s think about the environment baby is familiar with:
- Lots of white noise – he’s used to a very loud environment, what with the outside noises mixing with the sounds of the body’s machinery
- Cramped quarters – he’s used to existing in a very small space, where everything is close together
- Feeling supported – he’s used to being touched and supported on the sides and bottom of the womb, which creates a sense of comfort from being touched
- Fetal position – he’s accustomed to laying in the fetal position, with the arms and legs drawn up and close to the body
- As you read this, birth might seem to come as a relief. To us, the womb doesn’t seem very comfortable, but to baby, it’s home. You can ease the transition and help baby sleep by mimicking some of these qualities
Why Does This Feeling Help Baby Sleep?
We’ve already talked about this, but it’s important enough to say again. Babies, even in the womb, are extremely sensitive to emotions and feelings. Just like you, baby doesn’t sleep well if she’s not relaxed and feeling safe.
It comes as a domino effect: if baby is anxious or in some other way emotionally upset, she can’t relax. When she can’t relax, and you put her to bed and leave, she gets more upset, which makes it take even longer to relax. Until she relaxes, she can’t fall asleep, and crying ensues.
Swaddling baby can help her relax and settle down because it mimics the close quarters of the womb. Babies can be unsettled by the free use of their arms and legs after birth, a feeling they didn’t have in the womb. Additionally, babies tend to jerk a bit upon falling asleep and can wake themselves up or become startled by these natural movements.
Swaddling baby all the time is fine for the first month of life; after that, baby needs access to her arms and legs to develop properly. However, you can still swaddle baby for naps and nighttime to help her sleep.
So what is swaddling?
Swaddling is wrapping baby tightly in a blanket to mimic the feeling of the womb. Swaddling reminds baby of the safety and compact feeling of the womb.
How to swaddle baby
- Lay a baby blanket on the floor and fold one corner into the center about 6 inches
- Lay baby on her back on the blanket, with her head at the folded-down corner. The head should be off the blanket so it’s free
- Take the corner near baby’s left hand and pull it across baby to the right, securing it underneath baby
- Fold up the bottom of the blanket towards baby’s chin, enclosing baby’s feet
- Take the corner near baby’s right hand and pull it across baby to the left, securing it underneath baby
- Swaddle baby when she is full, clean, and dry. Swaddling is meant to be a comfortable, comforting experience for baby, and if she is in some way unsettled, she will associate bad memories with swaddling.
- Don’t swaddle baby when it is very hot. Keep baby from overheating by not swaddling when it is very hot outside or when baby is in a warm room. This is especially important when baby is going to sleep, as overheating is a risk factor for SIDS.
- Listen to baby so you know when she wants out. Baby will kick or squirm when she wants to be free, so pay attention for these actions. Let baby out if you know she is uncomfortable, or the feeling can cause distress and keep baby from relaxing.
- Don’t swaddle baby constantly after the age of one month. She needs access to her limbs in order to develop correctly.
- Find or buy a baby blanket
- Practice swaddling a doll before attempting it on your live, squirming baby
- Pay attention to baby’s reaction to being swaddled and adjust if necessary
- Strategies for Mimicking the Womb Bathe baby in a bucket
There are a host of products available that offer an alternative to a mini-adult-like bath. Baths can be a pivotal relaxation tool each day to help baby sleep, mostly because being immersed in water reminds them of being in the womb.
Naturally, you can see that how you bathe baby becomes an important part of helping baby calm down and fall asleep. Babies feel most comfortable in the fetal position, and a bucket provides this capability. It supports baby’s weight and allows her to be touched on the sides and the bottom of the bucket, again reminding her of the womb.
A bucket is a natural choice for a bath because it almost forces baby into the fetal position. This combined with warm water and the tightness of baby touching the sides and bottom of the bucket work together to recreate the feeling of the womb. As opposed to a bucket, a mini-adult-like bath gives baby the feeling of swimming, like in the womb, but makes her feel a bit lost, with nothing to control her arms and legs from floating around.
I know, it seems almost cruel to put your baby in a bucket, right? Think outside the box! It only seems strange because not many people do it…in the United States, that is. Bathing baby in a bucket is a popular form of baby care in Europe and is accepted as helping to calm and reassure babies in this big new world.
Quick tip: there’s no need to go buy an expensive baby bathing bucket, though you certainly can. Use what you have at home, but be sure to choose a bucket you have not used with harsh chemicals. Think of a bucket used to build sand castles, perhaps. If possible, find a bucket with flexible sides, so that baby is supported softly and without any sharp edges or seams.
- Find a baby-sized bucket in the house and thoroughly clean it, or purchase a new one
- Confirm that the bucket is flexible, smooth, and won’t tip over when baby is inside
- Test a bath to see if baby likes the feeling of a bucket better than a traditional baby bath
- Sway and Shush Your Baby To Sleep
When a mother moves around doing daily tasks, a baby in the womb is naturally swung gently from side to side. This swaying motion becomes familiar and comforting, so parents can try using this as a means of calming baby before sleep. Remember, this isn’t the kind of thing that you want to do every time that baby wakes up, or you will have to repeatedly get up in the middle of the night.
Instead, this is what you want to do to help settle baby down so that she can fall asleep on her own. When swaying baby, be gentle and consistent. She should fall into a sort of rhythm that helps calm her. Swaying shouldn’t be fast or exciting, as it’s meant to relax baby. Sway her too fast and she’ll think it’s playtime instead!
Shushing is another technique that mimics the womb. This is similar to the sounds that baby hears in the womb and can also be quieting. As with swaying, shushing should be gentle and rhythmic. It should be smooth and mimic the pattern of baby’s breathing – one “shush” per exhale.
Shushing should be soft, not harsh; avoid the sound a teacher makes when quieting her classroom. Instead, use shushing as a sort of white noise, meant to calm baby without her ever even realizing it.
- Sing a song in your head while you sway or shush to help create a slow rhythm
- Try different speeds and voice levels to find out what quiets baby best
- Wear Baby
Another solution that feels similar to the womb is wearing baby in a sling, wrap, or pouch. This has benefits for you, because it allows you to be close to baby while keeping your hands free, and it makes baby feel protected, safe, and comfortable.
Wearing baby helps keep baby warm, lets her hear your heartbeat, and builds a close relationship that is fostered through personal contact. Listed here are a few options for wearing baby, but it’s up to you to decide which solution is best and most comfortable for you and baby:
Wrap – wraps are long pieces of fabric tied to the wearer in various positions. Baby folds up inside it and it is very versatile. This is best for small babies; larger children will have trouble fitting, and it could be uncomfortable for the wearer.
Mei Tai – an Asian-inspired carrier with more structure than a wrap. It can be worn on the front, back, or hip, depending on comfort and baby’s size. This is a viable option for larger or older babies.
Adjustable pouch – a pouch is a circle of fabric tied onto the wearer’s front that holds the baby into the wearer’s chest. It is similar to a Mei Tai and is also good for babies of all sizes.
Evaluate your needs and baby’s size to determine which style is right for you
Practice tying on a wrap, sling or pouch with a doll prior to working with baby
Adjust the fit as necessary – if baby seems uncomfortable, evaluate her fit to see if anything is rubbing or pinching. Try putting baby in while sitting down to see if this helps
Consider different options as baby grows and your activities change. Some ways to wear baby are more appropriate for some types of activities than others