Settle Your Newborn In The Fourth Trimester: The Virtual WombCaroline Fenton
16 hours a day. Yep, newborn babies sleep for at least 16 hours out of every 24 in the fourth trimester. Doesn’t feel like it hey?! Especially not when it’s divided up into 40 minute chunks, naps on the boob, broken up with nappy explosions, and inconsolable bouts of crying.
After 9 months of being all cosy, curled up, warm and safe in mama’s tum, it’s no wonder sleep can be a tricky one for these bubbas. Babies have shorter sleep cycles than we do, of approximately 40 minutes, and sleep more lightly too. Between each of these cycles, babies need to learn to settle themselves back to sleep. And yep, this is a learned skill. Something we need to teach them (and something that comes a bit easier to some babies than others!)
In the fourth trimester (the first three months of a baby’s life), we need to gently nourish and nurture these little ones as they adapt to the world around them. If we can create a safe, comforting environment for baby to sleep, this will help them transition from one cycle of sleep to the next. Babies love the security of predictable routine, and they need that consistency in their environment to help them consolidate their sleep cycles.
Having had two premmie babies (both of which have been tricky sleepers!), I wanted to share with you how we went about trying to settle these little tykes and the concept of the ‘virtual womb’. These are safe, gentle techniques that are based on the ideas of Dr Harvey Karp to activate baby’s calming reflex by mimicking the experiences in the uterus. Hopefully they can help you and your babe too…
The Virtual Womb
In the womb, babies are safe, nourished, secure, warm and pretty damn content! Welcoming them to the harsh reality of the world is one big shock to the system. Cold, clothing, light, sudden sounds, you name it… it’s not a patch on the mum’s snuggly tum. The concept of the Virtual Womb is to try to imitate those sights, sounds, smells (all the feels!) that baby had for 9 months. The idea is to consider the environment they are now in, and to try to wean them into the big bad world gently.
Babies love to be held tightly. To have all their limbs curled up together, just as they were in the womb. It’s good to invest in organic cotton swaddles as they are pesticide free, breathable fabric that is safe for sleeping. The large size swaddles (120 x 120cm) also make it easier to swaddle and less likely that baby will be able to pull their arms out and escape. Creating a little cocoon for your babe will help them to feel safe and secure.
Stomach or Side
We know that SIDS guidelines tell us to sleep baby on their back. But when it comes to settling and soothing, babies love to be held on their stomach or side. Lying along your forearm is often a favourite spot. Baby may also like being held on their side, with a gentle back rub, before being lay down to sleep on their back. Have a play with the positions your baby likes to be soothed in. My little girl loves to bury her face in dad’s elbow or armpit!! Just be safe when it comes to sleeping, always following SIDS advice.
Oh my… the magic shush! Now this one can become just a little tiring, but it can be oh so effective. If you are going to ‘shush’ your babe, it needs to be loud enough from them to hear over their own cries. A firm, loud ‘shush’ next to their ear should do the trick. This can be repeated over and over, just make sure they can hear you. A top tip is to record yourself and then repeat (saves your voice box, and sanity!).
Another option is to use white noise… the hover, a hairdryer, or a fan can work wonders. You can also download an app onto your phone (or spare device if you have one so you can leave it in baby’s room). The white noise helps to maintain constant noise levels and mask any sudden sounds (such as you sneaking out the room and closing the door!). It’s also a great tool to take with you when travelling as it’s easy to re-create in any sleep environment.
Now I’m not talking about a gentle rock side to side, a snuggle and a lullaby. This is an ultimate, theme park style, full blown core workout type of swing. One that is perfect for the dads to give a go. Hold baby on your forearm (this is where a large man size arm comes in handy!), either side or stomach lying, and SWING. Add in a shush, ensure they are swaddled, and this should at least help calm the crying. The exaggerated motion takes them back to the happy memories and comfort of the womb.
Whether you are a fan of dummies or not, sucking can really help babies to soothe themselves. Either giving them a dummy or encouraging to use their own fingers/hand can help baby provide themselves with that extra comfort to drift off. Plus, it can take away from babe using your boob as their own on demand soother too! We love the Natursutten dummies for having a large shield. This mimic the feel of the boob on their nose, making them feel secure and safe.
Baby knows your smell. They can certainly smell that milky goodness a mile off (and certainly know when it’s leaving the room!). Use your worn t-shirt as a sheet on their bed. This makes it a little bit easier for them to transition too, and a little warmer too. The smell can help them know they are in a safe place and is one less thing to change going from a cuddle to a bed.
You can try using essential oils as part of the bedtime routine. Maybe in the bath (with Epson salts to help evenly distribute in the water), or try this bath soak blended from oats, lavender and chia. or as part of a massage blend as a lovely way to wind down at the end of the day. You can diffuse while reading a book or singing a lullaby. Or spray around the room to set the scene for night time.
You can use essential oils (safely diluted) to create good associations with sleep. Lavender has great calming and relaxing properties and is gentle enough to use with babies. Chamomile is a natural sedative and relaxing too. Citrus aromas, such as wild orange, can also help to prolong sleep too.
If you want to DIY, you can make up your own roller blends and apply a small amount on baby’s feet. The therapeutic effects will help with sleep, and the aroma will also create associations that this is the smell of sleep time, helping baby learn that this is what they need to do. Just remember that all babies are different and will have preferences for certain smells. So be sure to experiment with what works for you and your babe.
There are also room sprays, such as the Milk & Co Baby Calming Spray with lavender and grapefruit oil. Balms that you can apply to the sheets, feet and chest. We love Badger Balm Night Night balm with lavender and chamomile, as well as the gorgeous Lavender and Chia Relax Balm from Kiss Ready. These are gently scented to help decongest, calm and soothe.
So there you have it… the virtual womb! I hope these give you some gentle ways you can help create that relaxing, consistent sleep environment for baby. Work your way through the list, add on and take away what they do and don’t like, and create your very own magic formula. Let me know how you get on and what worked for you… I always like learning new tips and tricks too :)
If you’d like to learn more about Essential Oils, we can help you with a great discount on retail prices. All the info is available on our Essential Oils page. If you have any queries, please just drop me a quick email and I’ll be happy to answer any questions. We are on the same journey, and love sharing our experiences to help you on your natural mama journey too.
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