by Gorenc Jazbec Špela, Bachelor of Physiotherapy, Neurological Developmental Therapist
Imagine it's a really cold winter morning, and you're buried under cozy, warm blankets, not even wanting to peek a finger out. Then suddenly the alarm blares at you and you're forced to jump out of bed. It's quite the contrast, but nothing compared to the changes in living conditions faced by your newborn at birth! Your little one faces a world very different from the he lived and developed in until birth.
Buoyancy to gravity: In the womb, your baby is surrounded by amniotic fluid providing protection from mechanical damage and enabling the fetus to move. When the baby is born, the fluid is gone and the baby is born into an aerial environment, accompanied by the phenomenon known as gravitation. Prior to birth, the fetus was surrounded by water and did not experience gravitation, which means that the fetus was able to move freely and easily. Upon birth, the baby momentarily experiences the force of gravitation pushing him or her against the surface or pulling downwards. The newborn baby experiences all of his or her weight, with which he or she must resist the force of gravity.
Learning to breath: The change in environment also brings the beginning of respiratory breathing. The baby already practiced for the beginning of breathing in the womb, naturally not by actual breathing, but by practicing the respiratory movements he or she will need after birth. From this moment on, breathing becomes one of the basic and most important life-sustaining functions.
Suckling and swallowing: Another very important change brought on by birth is the beginning of suckling and swallowing. In the womb, the fetus received all vital substances from the mother via the placenta; after birth, the newborn baby must begin with independent feeding. This vitally important function of suckling and swallowing already develops in the womb between the 13th and the 14th week of pregnancy; however, it needs to evolve. Consequently, it is common for prematurely born babies to experience issues with suckling, as the suckling reflex has not sufficiently evolved. The fetus already prepares for the function of suckling in the womb by swallowing the amniotic fluid.
In the womb, the body temperature is constant and barely varies; the fetus is used to it, since its body temperature is the same. As the baby is born, the constant temperature enveloping him prior to birth is gone. The baby must accept the changes in temperature and begin with maintaining his or her own body temperature. The parents help with the maintaining the baby’s body temperature by dressing the baby in accordance with the external temperature. We should not overdo the dressing, so as the baby is not too warm; however, we also should not dress the baby too lightly, so that he or she is cold. This is important, as the newborn babies are not fully capable of maintaining own body temperature.
Adjusting to Light and Noise
Born into silence: Also important are changes in sounds surrounding the baby. Many parents falsely believe that the fetus in the womb is surrounded by silence and that all sounds the baby hears are coming from the outside world. They are wrong – the environment in the womb is very noisy and loud, as its surroundings are always active. The sounds the fetus hears in the womb are the sounds of digestion, blood flowing through the veins, the beating of the heart and pulsing of the arteries, the grumbling of the stomach when the mother is hungry and many others.
When the baby is born, he or she is actually born into silence. The newborn is no longer surrounded by the various sounds of the mother's body that he or she grew accustomed to and found soothing. After the birth, the baby has to adapt to different sounds he or she has not previously been accustomed to; to the sounds that are coming from the new environment and that previously went unheard, as they were muffled by the sounds of the mother’s body, the amniotic fluid, the womb and other surrounding tissues. The baby is only familiar with the voices of the mother and possibly of the father, sister, brother, everything else requires adjustment, especially silence.
Bright lights: The birth also brings exposure to direct light. For the newborn baby, light represents a completely new experience, as there was not light in the womb. Some believe that the fetus is able to detect a faint light shining through during the day; however, we can say that the womb is dark. Even though the newborn does not see very well after birth, he or she can detect the light immediately after birth.
All these, and numerous others, are the changes the newborn baby needs to adapt to in the first days and weeks of life. Some babies adapt to the changes quickly, other may require a little more time. The changes can in no way be avoided, as they constitute a part of the everyday life.
Špela Gorenc Jazbec is the author of a manual, Correct Baby Handling and Correct Choice of Appropriate Equipment and Accessories. She has bachelor of physiotherapy and works as a developmental neurological therapist in a community health center in Kranj, Slovenia. I work with children with developmental disorders and their parents. Špela is mom to 3½-year-old daughter and six-month-old son.