Updated: Dec 17, 2020
I use this phrase all the time to help parents navigate the early waters of the newborn sleep game. When we welcome a newbie into the world, we want her to be well-rested. I wanted to share my thoughts behind 'mimicking the womb' and provide context as to why this is such a great soothing tool.
Research on human development has lead me to believe that babies are born ‘insecure’ due to the sudden onslaught of environmental and physiological changes that occur after birth. This is one of the many reasons why psychologists and neurobiologists harp on the concept of parents developing a secure and loving attachment to their children (Winston & Chicot, 2016). We have a very important job as parents: to help grow and build a loving and connected relationship with our babies. While many people think there is but ONE way to accomplish this, I adamantly disagree.
But we don’t need to go there... Let me just say to you, parents out there, you are doing FINE. Anyways…
Picture the womb: a constantly warm and reassuring space where baby has every need met without much effort: feeding, eliminating, comforting, and the ability swim and wiggle into positions only the most talented gymnasts can accomplish. They hear the sounds of their parent's voices and mom’s heartbeat--a rhythmic and calming noise. What a lovely place!
Picture childbirth: baby is forced out either naturally or otherwise into a cold, strange, smelly, and harsh environment where suddenly they need to work pretty hard to eat, eliminate, and also rely entirely on others to get comfortable, get the sleep they need, and be consoled. Woof!
When it comes to our newborns, I think that one of the best ways to establish a trusting relationship with our babies is to emulate that majestic womb and to provide our babes with the consistency they came to understand in the womb.
Alright, operation ‘Womb Room’, let’s do this! Here’s how:
1. Control the temperature. An ideal sleeping environment for a baby is between 68-71 degrees. This will vary greatly though based on where you live! Babies can be very sensitive to temperature and will vocalize their displeasure when too hot or cold. As a rule of thumb, most humans like to be snuggled in a cool environment.
2. Use white noise. There are many portable gadgets out there that have great white noise options, from a heartbeat to rain sounds, or a fan. Any of these work! This is why the ‘shhhhh’ soothing method into the baby’s ear can be so effective. Baby's hearing in-utero was muffled and mom's heartbeat and blood vessels whirred around her without fail.
3. Safely Swaddle. The swaddle helps emulate the confined, cozy space of the womb. It is also associated with longer periods of sleep (Bregie et al., 2007)! Swaddling prevents that pesky startle reflex that has a way of sabotaging sleep each and every time it occurs. Make sure you are not restricting mobility of the hips when swaddling and that there is no loose material near the face.
*Does your baby hate the swaddle? No worries. Freedom of movement can sometimes be more calming than swaddling, depending on the baby.
4. Get Movin’. Ever notice that you didn’t feel your baby bump’s movements while you’re active? Movement is one of the earliest forms of soothing that babies know in utero. When babies are rocked, bounced, or in a moving apparatus, they are often lulled into a calm state or to sleep. As your newborn gets older, you can still rely on movement to get to that ‘drowsy but awake’ state to help baby with independent sleep!
5. Blackout the environment. For newborns, this should be reserved for bedtime, not naps. If you can see your hand in front of your face, the room is not dark enough. Contrary to some opinions, babies are not born afraid of the dark!
6. Provide 'Skin to Skin' Contact. This is something that baby in the womb has become accustomed to and is extremely comforted by. Not to mention, there are significant benefits of skin to skin contact when it comes to neurocognitive development (Maitre et al.,2017).
7. Establish a soothing routine as soon as you can. Provide the same cue to your baby when a feed, diaper change, and especially sleep is coming. Baby's are comforted by the familiar, by predictability, and by routine. This way, they don't have to guess when the next session is coming and you can avoid some tears. Yes, please!
Is there anything else you would add to this list? Comment below.
1. Winston R, Chicot R. The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children. London J Prim Care (Abingdon). 2016;8(1):12–14. Published 2016 Feb 24. doi:10.1080/17571472.2015.1133012
2. Bregje E. van Sleuwen, Adèle C. Engelberts, Magda M. Boere-Boonekamp, Wietse Kuis, Tom W.J. Schulpen, Monique P. L'Hoir
Pediatrics Oct 2007, 120 (4) e1097-e1106; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2006-2083
3. Nathalie L. Maitre, Alexandra P. Key, Olena D. Chorna, James C. Slaughter, Pawel J. Matusz, Mark T. Wallace, Micah M. Murray. The Dual Nature of Early-Life Experience on Somatosensory Processing in the Human Infant Brain. Current Biology. (2017) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.02.036