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Healthybaby because baby is soaking it all in
The 4th Trimester refers to the 12 weeks after birth. Baby’s head can only grow so large in utero and still make it through the birth canal, and so they are born “too soon” before their sensory systems are fully mature for this new world. Think about it from your baby’s perspective - the safety and organization they felt in the womb has given way to a new environment that is too loud, too bright, and always-changing. This huge transition requires time to adjust, both for baby and for you. In these first 12 weeks of life, it's helpful to understand how to soothe and support baby in managing this transition with a few techniques that mimic the comfort and safety of the womb.
As you work to understand how to stimulate your baby’s consciousness without overstimulating, you will get better at noticing baby’s subtle cues while figuring out how they like to be soothed.
Babies are born with primitive reflexes. That’s because myelin, the insulating layer around the nerves that enables the nervous system to function in a coordinated manner, hasn’t developed yet. You know how baby suddenly startles and throws out their arms as if falling? That’s the Moro reflex. It’s involuntary and is a product of a not yet fully integrated nervous system. These reflexes, while completely normal, can be uncomfortable for the baby; they can even interfere with feedings as spasms in the gut can contribute to fussiness and gas. Swaddling is a word you hear a lot, and for good reason. Swaddling your baby regularly can be an effective way to calm reflexes and to help them feel protected and connected.
Other (completely normal) reflexes you may notice:
The fencing reflex. Baby will turn their head to one side, thrusting out the arm on that side while the leg on the same side flexes. (This may look like they can't turn their head back to look at you.)
The grasping reflex. Baby will grasp a finger or object placed into their hand.
The stepping reflex. Baby will make a stepping motion with their feet when you hold them upright under the arms.
Changing diapers can be initially a stressful event for new parents as the baby's limbs are flying all over the place and there may be crying (sometimes not just from the baby), but trust us you'll get the hang of it soon.
Through the course of a day, your baby moves through 5 States of Wakefulness. Recognizing when baby is ready to sleep, eat, play, or rest can help you be in flow together as you begin to understand their rhythms. Just as they are adjusting to the world, you are adjusting to them.
Just after a diaper change (Our Diaper is purposefully made extra soft to introduce a pleasant sensation into the routine), re-swaddle baby, then lay them safely on your lap. Take these moments as opportunities to reflect on the baby's states of wakefulness throughout the day.
Visualization tool: Look at your open hand and visualize the states one by one and picture the way baby travels between them:
State 1/Thumb: Deep Sleep. Baby is swaddled, sleeping quietly with little movement. Try testing how baby responds to your voice in this state. Do they rouse easily or stay asleep? Do they fall right back into deep sleep or have difficulty maintaining sleep? Different babies respond according to the maturity of their nervous system. (Being able to stay asleep is actually self-regulation.) Knowing how your baby responds to stimulation can tell you a lot about who your baby is and their personal style.
State 2/Pointer Finger: Fussy Waking. Baby is unswaddled, they flail their arms and cry out. As they are not fully awake in this state, baby has no control over their body. If you try to feed them in this stage, they are likely to fall back asleep or have difficulty coordinating the suck-and-swallow necessary for a good feeding. (Remember: feeding is not an emergency! If you treat it as such, the baby will sense it, which can interfere with healthy digestion and the natural bonding process.) Instead of feeding right away, re-swaddle, turn down the lights, and see if the baby can begin to calm and look around. This signals their transition into State 3.
State 3/Middle Finger: Alert Engaged. Baby’s nervous system is relaxed and they are engaged and alert. If baby needs additional calming, offer your finger (soft side on the roof of their mouth) to suck on. Let them see your face and begin to regulate themselves to you and your face. Once you’ve connected, and when the baby is making saliva and sucking vigorously, they are ready to transition to State 4.
State 4/Index Finger: Digesting/Integrating. In this state, the baby should be ready to eat—though it’s not a rush, so take a moment to prepare. If they fall asleep as soon as you begin, return to State 3. Feeding baby when they are fully awake allows for optimal digestion, which is what you’re after. This way, baby’s attention and focus is rewarded by food, which sets the stage for them to understand learning in the future. Eating is a form of learning; food is communication being offered through breastmilk or formula. Ideally, baby will transition from Digesting/Integrating back to the Quiet Alert for more engagement and play, but will eventually transition to State 5.
State 5/Pinky: Fussy Sleepy. In this state, baby has become overstimulated. They may rub their face on you, hiccup, sneeze, or spit up to signal that they’ve had enough. Remember: feeding is the first big way baby is taking in information and learning about the world and it can be very stimulating. And because their bodies do not produce the hormone leptin yet, they can’t sense when they are full and can easily overeat.
And then the cycle begins again!
Key Takeaway: During the first month, your baby is getting familiar with your life, the atmosphere of your home, and the influx of information flooding their consciousness. The five states of consciousness allow you to create a rhythm in your baby’s brain function. This rhythm is the key to being in flow.
Pick a time when they are swaddled, in a low-lit quiet room, and shifting into an Alert Engaged state (right after a diaper chanage is good). Then…wait for it…just stare at each other! Try putting yourself in a comfy, reclined position on the floor with baby on your lap. Or, sit in a butterfly position with your feet touching, then place the baby's head on your feet, which helps cradle the head in the midline. By providing this support, you allow the baby to focus on visual skills.
Baby loves faces. Looking at your face helps them learn social connections and build attention in their developing brains. Baby has 20/20 vision, but sees only about the distance from your elbow to their face (or 8-12 inches). This is by design, so that baby can focus on your face. Baby is attracted to edges, like black and white patterns, because they excite the retina of the eye (this is exactly why we've designed external packaging that is high contrast black and white, something you can use in the weeks to come). For now, the contrast between the white of your eye and the iris encourages eye contact. This is the art of training attention and will pay off years from now in education. And, as they say, the eyes are the windows to the soul.
Lay your undressed baby directly onto your bare chest so they can feel your heartbeat and turn their head to one side to keep their airway clear. Take this time to focus on your own breath and get centered, baby can feel your calm. Use one arm to hold them steady while offering your other thumb to grasp for a sense of stability. This is the epitome of grounding and guiding your baby.
Promote touch during other daily routines, like bathing. Check their state of awareness and wait to get them into an Alert Engaged state. Then, use a washcloth to ease them into the sensation of water, making the experience more pleasurable rather than stressful. The Healthybaby Shampoo and Bodywash System is particularly great for this activity because it takes the baby's delicate skin microbiome into account with prebiotics and probiotics, because it’s 100% plant-based and non-toxic, it gives you peace of mind, so you can focus on the task at hand.
Remember that baby’s back is particularly sensitive to overstimulation. Use Our Moisturizing Cream to massage baby’s arms and legs to relax the primitive reflexes and ground and guide coordinated movement. Baby will also use their highly developed sense of smell to recognize and connect with you, so make sure products you use are safe, too. Switch to a clean deodorant, Our Deodorant is a great place to start because it's formulated to calm the nervous system, is all family, and safe for breastfeeding mom. Use every day soothing routines and the power of your touch to help baby acclimate to their new environment.
Through lots of gentle snuggling and skin-to-skin contact you are making your infant feel safe and secure. Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin (the “love hormone”) and has been shown to help babies regulate their temperature, gain weight, control their heart rate and blood pressure. (It can even help them sleep better, but we’re not making any promises.) Oxytocin has grown-up benefits, too, lowering stress, strengthening connection, and encouraging milk production.
Repeat after us: There is no such thing as spoiling an infant. You can’t “over-hold” your baby at this age! Infants need to know that their world is safe and connected in order to spend their energy on—quite literally—growing new connections in their brains: Up to 60% of a baby’s metabolic energy is spent on brain development. Knowing that they have a consistent and responsive caregiver helps them feel their needs will be met to create the capacity for growth. Your relationship provides the “secure base” that research indicates is essential for optimal development.
Now, with that said, it isn’t always easy to connect with a newborn, and that’s totally normal. They don’t “do” much and it can feel awkward figuring out exactly how to be together. That’s okay, too. When you watch, understand, and react to your child’s communications–verbally, physically, or cognitively— with love and consistency, you build the foundation of a lifelong relationship. You will also begin to learn their cues to communicate hunger, fatigue, discomfort, and more. As your baby ages, this responsive parenting—where your baby feels seen and heard—will continue to lay the foundation for healthy brain development.
“After the congratulations from everyone on your new baby, they all leave. And suddenly you’re left to yourself and your baby and you think ‘Oh my god, I’m responsible for this human being!’. It’s overwhelming. And most parents then immediately feel as if they were supposed to know everything and they start pouring through books trying to memorize every word. Don’t. Instead I want to introduce what I call ‘IDKY’ - I Don’t Know Yet. This simple phrase represents the growth mindset I want all parents to approach their baby with. Reminding yourself that ‘I Don’t Know Yet’ will keep you open and attentive to finding out what you don’t know yet, rather than being unmoored by the feeling that you were somehow supposed to know. When you put so much pressure on yourself, you take your attention away from your baby, which is the only thing you really need to do. So next time you feel the pressure of not knowing, say to yourself ‘I Don’t Know Yet’ and train your attention and curiosity onto the joy of finding out. Your baby will thank you for it.”
Yes on all three? Great! One or more No’s? Let’s talk about it.
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