The Four Principles of Soothing Babies - Woodmam

In many ways, the people living in primitive cultures are backward compared to Western societies. However, in some areas their wisdom is great … and we are the “primitive” ones. This is particularly true when it comes to soothing crying newborns.

I teased out shreds of wisdom from the past and wove them with cutting-edge modern research and some unique observations made during my years of caring for more than five thousand infants. From this, I distilled four principles that are crucial for anyone who wants to understand babies better and be skillful at comforting them and improving their sleep:

The Missing Fourth Trimester

The Calming Reflex

The 5 “S’s”

The Cuddle Cure

The Missing Fourth Trimester—Many Babies Cry Because They’re Born Three Months Too Soon!

Did you ever see a baby horse or a baby cow? These newborn animals can walk, even run, on their very first day of life. In fact, they must be able to run—their survival depends upon it.

By comparison, our newborns are quite immature. They can’t run, walk, or even roll over. One British mum told me her new daughter seemed so unready for the world she and her husband affectionately nicknamed her “The Little Creature.” They’re not alone in seeing babies that way; the Spanish use the word criatura, meaning creature, to describe babies.

In many ways your new baby is more a fetus than an infant, spending most of her time sleeping and being fed. Had you delayed your delivery just three more months, your baby would have been born with the ability to smile, coo, and flirt. (Who wouldn’t want that on their baby’s first day of life!) However, I’ve never been able to talk a woman into keeping her infant inside for a fourth trimester … and for good reason. It’s already a tight squeeze getting a baby’s head out after nine months of pregnancy; by twelve months it would be impossible.

Why are our babies so immature at birth? The reason is simple. Unlike baby horses whose survival depends on their big strong bodies, a human baby’s survival depends on big smart brains. In fact, our babies’ brains are so huge we have to “evict” fetuses from the womb well before they’re fully ready for the world to keep their heads from getting stuck in the birth canal.

Newborns have some abilities that demonstrate their readiness to be in the world, but these notwithstanding, for the first three months, our babies are so immature they would really benefit if they could hop back inside whenever they get overwhelmed. However, since we’re not kangaroos, the least we can do as loving, compassionate parents is to make our little criaturas feel at home by surrounding them with the comforting sensations they enjoyed twenty-four hours a day in the womb. However, in order to give babies a fourth trimester, parents need to answer one important question: What exactly was it like in there?

In your womb, your baby was packed tight into the fetal position enveloped by the warm wall of the uterus and rocked and jiggled for much of the day. She was also surrounded by a constant shushing sound a little louder than a vacuum cleaner!

For thousands of years, parents have known that mimicking conditions in the uterus comforts newborns. That’s why almost every traditional baby-calming technique around the world imitates the sensations of the womb. From swaddling to swings to shushing, these methods return babies to a cuddly, rhythmic, womblike world until they are ready to coo, smile, and join the family. As helpful as this fourth-trimester experience is for calm babies, it is essential for fussy ones.

Most parents assume that this imitation soothes their baby simply by making her feel “back home.” Actually, these experiences trigger a profound neurological response never before recognized or reported—until today. This ancient and very powerful baby reflex is the calming reflex.
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