Last night, J and I attended an iteration of The Happiest Baby Workshop. Some of you will know exactly what that means, and an image of a smiling Kevin-Kline-looking chap will pop into your head. I however, had no idea. My last minute google research turned up reference to a “fourth” trimester, which inevitably caused my skepticism bone to tingle.
Actually, it was a very interesting affair. For one, the presenter was articulate and engaging – which always helps – and the concept (that fourth trimester) isn’t actually too wacky.
The essential of what I learned was that babies need help in learning to calm themselves. This point in particular reminded me of a conversation I had several months back with a brand new first-time mom. She said she just assumed that when babies are tired they will go to sleep, but that she’d just realized that they haven’t learned how to go sleep and that they need a bit of help. And when I heard her say that, it made some sense. And here I was hearing it repackaged in another way: the missing fourth trimester.
Dr. Harvey Karp, the man behind the Happiest Baby, argues that human babies are born too early in their development. That other mammals give birth to more developed offspring (think of a foal rising to its feet almost immediately after being born). But human physiology prevents our babies from developing further in the womb. For one, their heads are still very flexible at nine months so that they can be squeezed along a rather narrow opening. A firmly set skull would require a c-section every time.
But one of the things that allow baby’s to survive at this stage of development is an innate set of reflexes. For instance, crying. But Karp also suggests there is an innate “calming reflex” within a baby. This makes sense if you think about a baby in a womb and waiting to be born. Babies are active in the womb, but they also settle down. If they didn’t settle down, and kept those arms and legs moving around, it would be very difficult to give birth. Likely most babies wouldn’t be head down, for instance. But something within the baby allows it to relax, to calm down. Karp argues that this reflex can be triggered postpartum through stimulation that mimics the baby’s womb experience. He suggests the Five S’s: swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, sucking.
Swaddling, for example, recreates the closed-in feeling of the womb. Shushing reproduces the sounds a baby hears in the womb (mostly a near-whitenoise blend of heart beats and blood rushing).
The concept seems straightforward and reasonable.
In the execution of the idea, there are little quirks and techniques. For instance, you are supposed to follow the Five S’s in order (not jump to swinging, for instance). But I think we’ll give this approach a try.
Anyone had success with this approach? Anyone experienced utter failure?
Image courtesy of creative commons on flickr.com and tedsblog