As D-Day approaches, you will no doubt be preparing yourself mentally for your baby’s birth. You will probably read many articles on the birth and even refer to a pregnancy tome, such as ‘What to expect when you’re expecting’, which has a whole chapter dedicated to the great event. Like many women, you may have taken it a step further and have joined antenatal classes as the ultimate preparation for the big day.
This preparation for birth is very important and may mean the difference between a natural child birth and a caesarean section. Regardless of the way you deliver your baby, this preparation will help you feel more in control when you go into labor. But few, if any of us, get to attend classes preparing us with what to expect or how to manage in the first few weeks.
Motherhood is one of the greatest vocations in life and yet the one for which we are least prepared. Skills such as nappy changing, breastfeeding and how to hold your baby are important for the early days and are skills that may be covered in your antenatal classes. But what about how to calm your baby?
It may well come as a big surprise to you how much newborns cry and the one skill you will need is how to prevent crying and calm your fussing baby. There are three practical ideas to promote calm and help you survive the early days:
“Swaddling is the best way to imitate the tight hug of the womb environment. It provides deep touch pressure and also prevents your baby’s little limbs from shooting out in a startle reflex – a common cause of night wakings in young babies” Baby sense (Metz Press)
The newborn has almost no voluntary movements at birth and primitive reflexes govern her interactions with the world. These reflexes produce jerky movements away from the midline of her body. Smooth movements, towards the midline, such as holding her hands together or sucking her hands, calm the young baby. Because the early reflexes move the limbs away from the midline, they are disconcerting for your little baby. As the parent you need to contain these reflexes and make your baby’s early sensory world calming.
The best way to contain these early reflexes is by swaddling your baby. Swaddling is an ancient method of baby wrapping. For some cultures, babies are wrapped for many months, rarely touching the ground as they are carried in these swaddled positions. Although this may be the extreme, it is important, if not vital that you swaddle your baby at least for sleep.
Benefits of swaddling
- Sleep: The evidence is overwhelming that babies who are swaddled sleep longer and better. Swaddling inhibits the immature startle reflexes, which disrupts sleep.
- Calm: Deep pressure is calming which is why swaddled babies cry significantly less. Swaddling is thus an excellent solution for a colicky baby.
- Feeding: Difficult feeders, especially those who fight at the breast, tend to feed better with more coordinated sucks and swallows when they are swaddled. (Journal of Human Lactation, 2001)
- Use a 100% cotton blanket to prevent overheating and the associated risk of SIDS.
- Preferably use a blanket with some stretch, which will wrap snugly around your baby.
- If you are using a rectangular blanket, fold it into a triangle, alternately use a specially shaped swaddling blanket, preferably in the shape of a triangle or heart.
How to swaddle
- Lie your baby with the neck on the long side of the triangle.
- Fold up the lower tip of the swaddling blanket.
- Wrap one corner of the triangle across your baby, securing her hand near her face so that she can self calm by sucking her hand if she needs to.
- Wrap the other arm in with the other corner of the triangle.
Your baby can be swaddled for all day and night sleep. In the early days she will be sleeping most of the day and thus be swaddled a great deal of time. When your baby is awake and playing or being changed, unwrap her so that she gets to have a good kick and work her little hip joints.
Do not use swaddling blankets that straight jacket your baby’s arms by her sides.
Do not overheat your baby by using polyester or polar fleece swaddles.
“The way to health is to have a scented bath and an oiled massage each day”
Hippocrates (regarded as the father of medicine), 5th century BC
The calming world of the womb provides your baby with the positive effects of deep touch pressure all day. Furthermore when your baby moves in the last few weeks in utero, she moves against the resistance of the tight womb walls. This sensory input is called proprioception and is known to calm babies.
After birth most touch experiences are light and transient, such as the feel of having a nappy changed or being bathed. It is beneficial for calmness that you provide some deep touch pressure while your baby is awake. A great way to do this is to make time each day for a calming massage.
Benefits of baby massage:
- Bonding: The sense of touch is one of the most powerful mediums that you can use to bond with your baby.
- Calming: Deep touch and massage act as a calming input to the nervous system and are an excellent remedy for ‘colic’.
- Sleep: Babies who are regularly massaged are less likely to cry excessively and sleep much better for longer stretches.
- A quiet uninterrupted space and time for a massage.
- For the newborn use a neutral carrier oil with no fragrance, such as almond oil.
- For the older baby, buy a lightly fragranced massage oil or add three to five drops of essential oil of lavender or camomile into a neutral carrier oil.
How to massage
- Massage your baby when she is in the calm- alert state, when she is awake, making eye contact and ready for interaction.
- Put a little oil on to your hands to warm it up and use just enough to allow your hands to move smoothly over your baby’s skin.
- To start, gently hold your baby’s face and quietly tell her that you’ll be touching her. Then move your fingers round her head, while supporting it, and massage the scalp in tiny circles. Then move your hands down her neck to her shoulders in a stroking movement.
- Massage first the arms and then the legs with a stroke called Indian milking − place both hands (only fingers on small arms) near the top of the arm or leg, then move one hand at a time down the limb to the wrist or ankle, in a milking motion. Always leave one hand in contact with the skin. Repeat with the other hand, using deep firm pressure and gentle traction.
- To massage the body, begin by using this stroke from shoulder to toes − place your hands on both the shoulders simultaneously and glide both hands down the body to the toes. Bring one hand back to one shoulder, then the other hand. Repeat.
- Finally massage the tummy, remembering always to move your hands in a clockwise direction – the direction the intestines take. This stroke is called I love you and is accompanied with the words “I love you”.
I: Using your right hand, begin the first stroke below the rib cage on your right (baby’s left side) and stroke down to her hip making an ‘I’.
Love: Leaving your right hand touching the hip, place your left hand on the baby’s right side under the rib cage, glide your hand across the top of the abdomen, under the chest and then down to the groin. This forms an ‘L’ on its side.
You: Finally, place your right hand near your baby’s right hip (your left), stroke up to the ribcage, then across and then down the opposite side, making an upside-down ‘U’.
If your baby fusses during the massage, she is telling you she is not in a state to have such close interactions as she may be tired or hungry. Watch your baby’s signals to know when she is in the calm alert state.
Do not massage your baby for 24 hours after vaccinations or if her temperature is raised.
“The calming movements of rocking and swaying, similar to those experienced in the womb, are soothing for your baby. Compared to many other cultures, our young babies spend a lot of time away from the comfort of our bodies. Research has shown that baby- wearing; carrying your baby on you using a sling, keeps babies calmer.”
Baby sense (Metz Press)
In the calm world of the womb, your baby is rocked and soothed with movement all day. It is not surprising that many newborn babies fuss when they are put down in the early days. Your baby is signalling that she wishes to be held and soothed by your body’s movements and it is impossible to spoil a baby by holding them. Holding a baby can over stimulate them if they are passed from person to person or fiddled with. A better way to hold you baby is with consistent touch, such as that provided by a baby carrier.
Benefits of baby wearing
- Calm: Wearing your baby provides two of the best calming sensory inputs; deep touch pressure and lulling movement. Research has shown that wearing your baby makes her significantly calmer with less periods of fussing and a much lower incidence of colic in the first three months.
- Development: A content baby who spends more time in the calm alert state also learns more from her world. Furthermore, the motion of your body feeds into your baby’s vestibular system, developing muscle tone and enhancing motor development.
- Sleep: Our brains need a certain amount of movement to sleep well for long periods, just think how well you sleep after a good hike or exhilarating run. Babies are no different and it is proven that babies who are ‘worn’ during the day sleep better and for longer stretches day and night.
- Baby Sling A baby sling is a wonderful tool for carrying your baby. It positions your baby in a curled up position much like that of the womb. Your baby can be fed discreetly from a sling and best of all a sling provides a ‘womb world’ where your newborn can be shielded from most sensory input from the world while being close to your body. Most slings can be used from premature babies through to the toddler years, with different positions for each age.
- Upright pouch A pouch is a very convenient and easy to use method to carry your baby. Your baby is positioned tummy to tummy with you and is close to your body. It can be used very effectively from two months old, when you baby can hold up her head, until approximately nine months or even older in smaller babies.
There are a few precautions you should bear in mind for any baby sling or pouch. Do not drive with your baby in a baby carrier. Do not drink or eat hot substances over your baby’s head. Do not do strenuous exercise with your baby in carrier.