Womb to world: transitioning your new baby

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 Photo: Getty Images

For newborns, there is very little adjustment time from womb to world; one minute they're contentedly snuggled in the sanctuary of their mum's tummy, and the next they arrive into an overwhelming reality of lights, cameras and action.  

But there are a few ways to make the transition easier for your brand new bub. From the first few moments after birth, through to the next few hours, and even after you've gone home fom hospital, there are things you can do to help your baby be comfortable in the new world around them.    

Skin to skin 

Skin to skin contact is one of the most beneficial things for both mum and baby, particularly immediately after birth. It helps the newborn maintain warmth and regulate heart and breathing rates, while the contact encourages bonding and helps build up confidence in the new mum.

Midwife Karen Faulkner encourages mums to do it when they can. "Mum should do skin to skin as often as she wants, but especially before and after each breastfeeding session," she says. "It helps increase breast milk supply, and babies who have skin to skin gain more weight and adapt better to extra-uterine life."

And dads can get involved too, she points out.

"Australian research has shown that dads who are involved in early intimate care of their newborn develop more protective factors for their baby," says Faulkner.

Swaddling

Swaddling can be one of the most effective ways to help your baby relax, as it mimics the womb. It helps reduce the startle reflex, which can cause babies to wake themselves up by waving their arms.

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"Some babies like their arms out, so a wrap that goes around the chest only provides security to them. Others need arms and hands in to get this feeling of being contained," says child health nurse Kylie Lannan.

Lannan advises that the key thing to remember is to wrap firmly around the arms and shoulders, but to leave the hips and legs loose to allow for normal movement of the hips while sleeping.

"Swaddles or wraps should be firm but not tight," she says. "Also consider the fabric you're using, as natural materials like cotton or bamboo are much better than synthetics."

"The biggest no-no is wrapping or swaddling babies when they are going in the car seat. Legs and arms must all go through the straps - then a blanket can be placed over them once buckled in."

Bathing together

Bathing can be a reminder of being in utero. It helps reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, and allows and encourages your baby's curled up limbs to stretch and flex.

"This helps encourage the baby to transition from curled up in-utero to life on the outside," says Faulkner. "It also helps with the development required to have arms and legs that are uncurled for crawling and walking."

But Faulkner reminds parents that babies need infrequent baths; one every other day or even once or twice a week is sufficient, as excess bathing may dry out delicate newborn skin.

White noise

Inside the womb it's very noisy for babies, so when they come into the world quietness or different sounds are unfamiliar to them. This can result in them waking up easily from their light sleep cycles.

"White noise creates a masking effect, blocking out those sudden changes that wake newborns trying to fall asleep," explains Faulkner.

Faulkner says that fans and hairdryers are the best white noises for babies, as they can help to reset their crying as they focus in on the soothing sound.

"White noise should be used in the day when there is more background noise that can startle baby," says Faulkner. "Use it only when you have difficulty settling or calming baby and try and keep the volume down low."

You can also buy white noise apps to play on your phone - just remember to turn the ringing and message sounds off when you're using it, or your baby might get a very loud and sudden wake up call!

Baby wearing

While not everyone may want to wear their baby, it does allow a familiar environment for them to settle and sleep. Research has also shown that babies who experience baby wearing cry up to 50 per cent less than others.

"They are close to their mother, as they are in utero, and can hear her heartbeat and smell her," explains Lannan.

Lannan highlights the importance of having a carrier that is designed for the age and weight of your baby. It should also provide enough support for baby and be easy to use for both parents.

Faulkner echoes this, saying, "The hips and head need to be properly supported, and the child's airways need to be open and visible at all times.

"A young baby should be held with his knees higher than his bottom with legs in a spread squat position and support from knee to knee to protect his hips."

Warmth 

Coming from a very warm womb to the cooler outside world is a big adjustment for babies, so keeping them warm and comfortable is important in aiding their transition.  

"Generally dressing your baby in one layer more than mum is a good gauge - however, initially after birth, several layers might be needed," advises Lannan.

"Babies generally will not settle well if they're cold, but layers are better than one big thick blanket. The correct temperature for them can be determined easier by layering."

Lannan says that the risk of SIDS and the subsequent recommendations around it must not be overlooked. As a result, it's better if the baby is a little bit cooler than too hot.

Faulkner advises a room temperature as per SIDS guidelines of 18-20C.

"Check your baby's body temperature by feeling their tummy with the palm of your hand, and never put a hat on your baby in the house," she warns. "It's important to keep heads uncovered to allow for temperature control by the baby."