Written by Jo
The humble Moses basket: the eternal symbol of infant slumber and cosiness, purchased dutifully in joyful anticipation, passed down through generations — but never quite living up to its full potential.
Raise your hand if your Moses basket housed your laundry, baby books and the cat, but far too infrequently a human infant and probably never before the first six weeks?
I anticipate a dystopian future of discarded Moses baskets, acres of them, flapping in the breeze, disheveled and ignored like bootcut jeans.
Whoever coined the phrase ‘sleeping like a baby’ had never tried to put a newborn down to sleep on a non-human sleeping apparatus.
Why is it babies can go from being sound asleep to screaming blue murder the second they are placed down?
Are some babies innately chilled while others are on a mission to wreak havoc upon parents nerves and sleep patterns?
The simple answer comes down to what is termed ‘The Fourth Trimester’: the first three months of a baby’s life, when all they really want is to feel like they’re still in the womb.
Finally science has caught up with what babies have been trying to tell us for millennia.
They need us. Close.
WOMB VS. THE WORLD
Baby spends nine months sleeping inside a constancy of temperature, muffled sounds, rhythmic motion and minimal light stimulation. The womb provides all the needs without the baby needing to do anything. Central heating works fine, takeaway is constant, hunger isn’t even experienced thanks to the placenta and emotional needs are given in a constant rocking, soothing motion.
Then it is birthed into the absolute antithesis of this, with the only semblance of familiarity within the arms of its mother.
The birth and the twelve weeks that follow signal a colossal transformation from womb to world, whereby a newborn must now ‘behave’ in order to have his needs met.
From comfort to hunger, the baby will communicate these needs through a series of cues — and if these cues are not responded to, crying becomes the last resort.
It’s hardly surprising that colic (sustained crying over a three hour period) is diagnosed for a quarter of newborns given our societal predisposition of putting babies down.
I’m often asked by first time parents what they are doing wrong. Baby is fed, warm snugly and seemingly fast asleep until they try to put them down.
Any separation experienced by tiny ones initiates an abandonment response whereby the baby rapidly and quite dramatically cries to alert caregivers to their separation anxiety and to their potential danger…
This response has been ensuring neonatal safety and survival since our cave dwelling days, when predators were a real and present danger and mother and baby had to be inseparable.
Babies are blissfully unaware of the constraints and constructs of modernity and behave in exactly the same way as their Flintstone ancestors.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
Dr Harvey Karp, paediatrician and author of ‘The Happiest Baby on the Block’ explains the fourth trimester: “Our babies aren’t like horses. They can’t run the first day of life, and so we need to recognise that they’re evicted from the womb three months before they’re ready for the world.”
With this in mind, it’s easy to empathise with a newborns reliance upon her parents and the need for greater understanding when approaching the post natal period as parents to be, nannies, doulas, grandparents and caregivers in general.
If newborn expectations were widely understood, then this would impact our cultural norms with respect to mothers and newborns.
Babies wouldn’t be labelled ‘good sleepers’ or ‘clingy babies’, or mothers ‘making rods for their own backs’ when responding sensitively to their babies needs (of which they are biologically hard wired to do).
These early weeks of transition present a huge learning curve for the entire family, with babies coming to term with life outside the womb and mothers with the huge responsibility of constant care.
How does a family prepare for this intense time? My first suggestion is draft in hands on help from friends, family or professionals.
Guide them to information regarding the fourth trimester, forgo cutesy unusable stuff and ask for their time instead.
If each one of your friends or family gave two hours a week of their time this would equate to many hours of support. A hot meal a day keeps the blues at bay.
NEW PARENT HACKS
And so here are 5 big tips to help you or someone you know nail the Fourth Trimester.
- Invest in a decent sling or wrap so that you can wear the babies hands free. Even if you have twins, there are clever ways to wear both babies here. Babies respond really well to being worn, as it’s reminiscent of the womb environment, cocooned tightly and close to a heartbeat. Research featured in the journal of American Paediatrics found that babies who received ‘supplemental carrying’ cried 51% less in the evenings and fussed 43% less overall.
- Newborns also benefit from sustained skin-to-skin contact, with its oxytocin releasing benefits, not just for the days after birth. Find ways to continue naked cuddles with your babes whether it’s in bed or at bath time.
- Babies are also designed to sleep in close sensory proximity to their mothers, so co-sleeping or bed sharing ensures that both parties get more sleep and mothers are able to respond to their babies night time needs. The Institute of Infant Sleep has safe sleeping guidelines that are an imperative read.
- Respond to your babies hunger cues — not routines. Babies have tiny tummies and can’t tell the time. A content baby is one that has been fed and will be much more likely to settle into sleep. Inform yourself on the normal expectations of infant sleep, as most of our societal expectations do not match with a newborns biological sleep patterns and this creates so much anxiety in new parents.
- Cultures around the world swaddle their babies and many new mums I have supported have found it to be really helpful. This is another way to mimic the sense of security felt in the womb. Swaddling should only take place on a baby who is not bed sharing and before fourteen weeks of age or before rolling. It’s important to keep little heads out of swaddles with babies wrapped firmly but not too tightly, with legs given enough room to stay in froggy leg position as shown here.
The importance of this crucial and fleeting time in a new families life should be more widely acknowledged, so that support could be given accordingly.
If realistic expectations surrounding this phase were part of all antenatal education, parents-to-be could better prepare helping to alleviate stress and anxiety for mothers and babies.
As a Doula, I’ve seen first hand how early support and guidance can make a world of difference.
By Jo. Find out more about her gentle Doula work at Jojodoula.com
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