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Why are newborns soothed by being contained and touched?

What can be more relaxing than a body massage, heavy workout at the gym, sitting in a hot tub or falling asleep in a moving car (being the passenger of course)? All these experiences result from stimuli to our senses of touch and of body position. This is referred to as proprioception. When we receive proprioception input, Serotonin is released, a comforting and soothing hormone/chemical in the body which provides a general sense of calmness and well–being.
Proprioception is information received from our muscles and joints which tells us more about our position and movement in space. This sensory system is stimulated by deep pressure touch, movement against resistance and vibration. These stimuli are naturally experienced by the foetus in utero where their environment offers neutral warmth, constant deep pressure and resistance due to the elasticity and confines that the uterus provides.
Since the proprioceptive and touch systems are the first senses to develop after conception, they are quite advanced at birth. Hence, input to these systems can play a vital role in stress release, calming a newborn and promoting good sleeping habits – nothing better than what a caregiver can wish for!

The following are a few ideas on the use of proprioception to calm your newborn:

  • Kangaroo mother care is when you carry your baby firmly against you; skin to skin. It is when your naked baby with only a nappy on, is placed on your chest where he/she can experience skin to skin contact. The positioning of your new born like this can be achieved by the carer (male or female) wearing a cotton stretch top into which the baby can be placed. This firm “holding will also promote a sense of calm and contentment for your new baby) Please don’t hesitate to ask your medical practitioner for assistance or demonstration on how to position your baby correctly.
  • A nesting cushion like the nurtureOne™ Cushion, into which your baby can snuggle, is designed in such a manner that it does not compromise the baby’s breathing space or restrict movement. The nest shaped cushion with its broad band that spans from side to side over the baby, offers touch and proprioceptive input. Its boundaries provide resistance for him/her to kick against and to move within the necessary limits. This proprioceptive environment will also assist in calming your baby.
  • Swaddling your baby in a receiving blanket made of stretched cotton, can be a helpful practice to contain and keep him or her calm. Always allow for his/her hands to be able to move and be close to his/her face for self-soothing. It is also advisable to lay your swaddled baby down on his/her back and not side or tummy lying for resting or sleeping. Please note that swaddling should be stopped around 4 months or whenever they begin to roll.
  • A well designed stretch cotton wrap which can keep your baby securely against you and at the same time free your hands to do other chores can also sooth your baby.
  • Weighted blanket, comforters or soothers can be placed on your baby to encourage him or her to calm and fall asleep. These are designed to provide deep touch input and prevent sleep disruption when an unexpected sound or movement causes a shock reflex (such as a startle / Moro). They also provide additional deep pressure input for those babies that require more proprioception to settle, calm and sleep. The nurtureOne™ weighted soother can be used in conjunction with the nurtureOne™ nesting cushion, to provide additional sensory input. CAUTION: please consult your midwife/clinic/medical practitioner for additional advice when using the any weighted blanket/comforter or soother with a baby.
  • A warm bath where baby is wrapped in a light receiver blanket in order to keep him/her contained during the bath can also be soothing.
  • A good massage can stimulate the touch and proprioceptive receptors which would calm your baby. There are many baby massage courses on offer.
  • Strapped in a car seat while driving; being pushed or rocked in a pram; and, rocking your baby while sitting in a rocking chair or on a Pilate’s gym ball may provide the necessary movement and vibration to calm your baby.
  • Sucking a dummy engages the tongue and mouth muscles to work against resistance. It is for this reason that a dummy is so well known as a soother, providing deep pressure in the mouth. This in turn will promote a sense of calm for your baby.
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