Expecting your first baby is the most exciting (and terrifying) experience that you may ever have. That heady mix of anticipation, joy, apprehension and fear. That feeling of stumbling into the unknown. That sense of being so prepared and yet, in other ways, so unprepared. People delight in telling you stories – about birth, labour, sleepless nights, lives that changed and lives that didn’t. And yet, despite some horror stories, you feel like things will work out. Somehow, some way, things are going to be okay.
We spend so much time thinking and planning during pregnancy. Our minds are occupied with nursery colours, pram designs and teeny tiny clothing. We may consider birth positions and plans (whilst trying to skim over the thoughts of contractions and the reality of actually having to get the baby out!) We spend hours agonising over names and colour schemes. We think about how our lives will change when we add a baby into our families. But how often do we think of these huge changes from the baby’s point of view? When do we discuss what it’ll be like for this tiny newborn to be thrust from the comfort of the womb and out into the world? How often do the baby books devote a chapter or two to life from the baby’s point of view?
The moment of birth signals a huge change in the life of your baby who has, until now, lived extremely comfortably in your womb. Not only does their environment change drastically, but so too does the way their body feels and works. If we are to truly understand our new babies, it’s imperative that we consider what this change is like for them.
Let’s begin by picturing life inside a womb. The baby is at a constant, comfortable temperature. He is cushioned. He can move easily because he is living in liquid and therefore, weightless. Movements are supported by the amniotic fluid and moving position is easy, even with limited control over limbs and body. His every need is met. In fact, he doesn’t even know he has needs. He never feels the need to eat, he never feels thirst or that feeling of needing the loo. He is never hot or cold. All needs are met automatically. He lives in a perfectly designed home that keeps everything just as it should be. Loud noises are muffled and there is a constant background noise from the Mother’s bodily functions. He is swayed & rocked by his Mother’s movements. Vision is blurry and everything is bathed in a red glow. Sounds like a pretty comfortable life, doesn’t it?
And then comes the big event. The Birth. And suddenly, the baby is plunged into a completely different world, never to return to her perfectly designed home.
All of a sudden, this little baby finds things are really quite different. She suddenly has needs. A lot of them. She feels these weird sensations that signal hunger, thirst, the need to eliminate. But she doesn’t know what these feelings mean yet. And no matter how quickly a caregiver responds to the need, she still feels it (even if it is momentary) and it can be distressing. It’s so unfamiliar. She feels cold and hot. Clothes feel very strange, labels may be scratchy and material can be rough. She suddenly experiences discomfort – be it from temperature, bodily sensations, hard surfaces, clothing. Suddenly, her unrestricted, weightless movement is no longer possible. She cannot control her limbs. They move far more energetically than before. She feels unfamiliar pressure on her body from being laid down on different types of surfaces. She is handled for the first time. Her body is manipulated and moved which can trigger her startle reflex (which must be pretty stressful!). She experiences loud and sudden sounds for the first time. And don’t even get me started on the bright lights (she’s not designed to cope with artificial light like this!) And then there are all the colours! She is surrounded by unfamiliar and unusual smells (which aren’t all pleasant). Things have changed dramatically. The only constant, comforting thing in this newborn baby’s life is her Mother.
Her Mother has been there all along. She knows her voice. Her breast milk smells just perfect. Her arms are warm and soft. Mummy feels like home.
When we really think about what it must be like for a baby to move from the womb into the world, is it any surprise that they are so desperate to stay close and cuddled up to their Mothers? Is it any surprise that they want to feed constantly? That they cry a lot? New babies are vulnerable, needy and adjusting to their new lives. This adjustment takes about 3 – 4 months (otherwise known as the 4th trimester). From an evolutionary perspective, babies need to be kept close to their caregivers at all times in order to survive. Babies in the 4th trimester need their parents to make the transition as gentle as possible. Feed them when they ask. Cuddle them as much as they want. Respond to them quickly and kindly. Babies who enjoy this kind of love and attention develop into confident children who know that they are valued and loved beyond measure. Meeting all of a babies needs (this goes beyond the fourth trimester too) creates a secure foundation from which confidence and independence grow and flourish.
Lauren Partington BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm Consultant
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PS. If you’d like to learn more about any aspect of baby or toddler development and strategies for helping them grow into resilient, confident and all round wonderful people, then I’d love to see you at one of my workshops.