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.