How Do Infants Adjust to Life Outside the Womb?
Leaving a mother’s cozy womb to enter the outside world is no easy transition for a newborn. This new environment is bright, loud and rather scary to an infant who’s used to being nestled in his mother’s uterus.
Adjusting to life outside the womb takes time and a lot of assistance from parents. The best way to help an infant begin to adapt is by providing a familiar and comforting sensory environment.
Many products on the market today are designed to re-create a womb-like setting for newborns. These types of products, as well as constant love and support from caretakers, help infants adjust gradually to their new world.
Skin-to-skin contact is the first step in helping a newborn adjust to life outside the womb. According to Jack Newman, M.D., FRCPC, writing for the International Breastfeeding Centre, babies who have immediate skin-to-skin contact with their mothers are happier, have more stable temperatures and heartbeats and have more regular breathing rates.
When a naked baby lies on his mother’s chest directly after birth, his body is colonized by the same bacteria present in his mother. The warmth and smell of his mother, as well as her voice and heartbeat, are familiar and help the baby feel safe.
This contact also encourages bonding and breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin contact is best immediately after birth but continues to be effective in the days and weeks following.
Fathers can also hold their infants in the same manner.
Another way in which newborns adapt to the outer world is through swaddling. Swaddled infants are separate from their mothers but still feel secure, wrapped tightly in a thin blanket. Swaddling mimics the tight conditions of the womb and helps newborns feel safe, even though they are no longer protected by their mother’s bodies.
Today most hospitals swaddle newborns soon after they are delivered. Products such as wearable blankets and sleep sacks have also been developed to help babies sleep safely and securely. It’s important to learn how to swaddle correctly; swaddling an infant incorrectly can be dangerous.
For example, loose swaddles can unwind and lead to suffocation, according to “The Wall Street Journal.” Learn the proper way to swaddle infants from hospital staff and also read the directions carefully on any swaddling products you may purchase.
The womb is a noisy environment. “Instead of the womb being the quiet place scientists once assumed, it is actually awash in sounds, particularly the whooshing of your blood and digestive system, the thumping of your heart and your voice, which sounds louder than it would transmitted through the air.”
Parents can buy noise machines that create sounds resembling those of the womb to help their infants adapt to sleeping in the outside world.
For instance, there are products that produce a heartbeat sound to remind a newborn of the sound of his mother’s heart and products that play rhythmic sounds that were actually recorded in the womb.
However, you don’t need to purchase such products; you can mimic sounds of the womb yourself by simply making soft, repetitive sounds with your mouth, humming or shushing an infant and patting him on the back.
Infants are used to rocking motions from their mothers walking around and engaging in day-to-day activities while pregnant. Babies are put to sleep by the rocking motion of a mother’s hips as she walks. Therefore, if you rock or even bounce your newborn gently, this can provide a familiar motion to comfort her and help her fall asleep.
Products such as swings, cradles, bouncer seats and rockers have similar effects. Many products also contain vibration mechanisms to remind infants of the rumbling of the womb. As infants begin to adjust to life in the outside world, they require less motion to fall asleep.
They gradually learn to sleep on their own in cribs and begin to develop a sleep schedule that becomes more consistent with time.
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