Why Birth and In-Utero experiences can impact Sleep
Sleep is impacted by 2 things.
"It's as simple as that."
Even though sleep is a natural function of the human body, there are a lot of things that can interfere with our body's natural abilities and we have become less and less attuned to our own needs and instincts, making it hard for families nowadays to maintain a healthy relationship with sleep for the whole family.
Families I work with are often surprised about the level of "investigation" required when we seek Holistic Solutions to their sleep challenges. We cover everything, from breathing patterns, the sleep environment, the atmosphere during meal times, screen time, sleeping positions, toxin exposure and even going back as far as time spent inside the womb and the day of birth...
What do Experiences in Utero and Birth have to do with Sleep?
When we get ready for sleep, we become still and less distracted by everything around us. As a result, feelings may rise to the surface. Emotional upsets are stored in the Limbic System (the seat of our emotional body in the brain) and in the cells of our bodies. If we don't allow these emotions to fully express and release, they will be stored in the subconscious mind and can be triggered by current events in day to day life. Babies and adults alike.
Your best move as parent is to offer safe connection by helping whatever needs to happen for daily and past upsets to heal, during the day. Laughter and crying (while being supported) are great ways to drain intense overwhelming feelings and offer access to healing. Letting babies and children know they are safe even though the feelings may be hard to experience, anchors them. It's important to understand that our jobs are not to simply stop all crying but to offer connection and support while our children are working through these feelings and healing from upsets. "You are safe, I know this is difficult. I am here" will encourage healing and connection.
It is only natural then that experiences in Utero and Birth can lead to stored "upsets" in all human beings. And therefore, when working towards sleep goals, it is important to address early experiences.
When it comes to the inner world of the prenate and developing baby, David Chamberlain is a LEGEND.
His book, "Windows to the Womb" illuminates just how sentient and aware the fetus is, starting
already from conception... This information is revolutionary in challenging long-held myths in medicine and psychology. We now are just beginning to comprehend how dynamic and responsive life in utero truly is and this view is in stark contrast with the failed view of fetal passivity and unconsciousness held in the past.
Through an accumulation of scientific breakthroughs in the last half-century in embryology, intrauterine photography, 3D Ultrasound and other sensitive instruments of measurement, we are now able to observe not only physiological growth but also the evolution of human behavior in the womb.
Access to this new bank of information make us unique among our ancestors who lived on earth before.
"We are the first generation privileged to see into the secret womb."
We have made huge leaps in understanding human reproduction and how both the male sperm and female ovum play equal parts in the creation of a new body. However, there were times when debates as to who really caused conception raged for 250 years! Some reasoned that all the parts of a person resided in the sperm and would grow up in the fertile matrix of a woman's womb, while others thought the combination of sperm and semen was needed to produce a baby..
Scientists have gone to great lengths to discover the first movements, and since the 1950's, growing embryos have been observed closely and as a result, movements were classed into the following categories after decades of well-documented research:
1. Self Initiated, Voluntary Movements:
At first, it was thought that all movements were reflexive but later it was learned that movements were in fact graceful and spontaneous and included uniquely individual expressions. With each new movement, came new evidence of emotional expression. It was also discovered that REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep starts at 21 weeks after conception and it is believed that dreaming plays a critical role in brain development while being a powerful experience for the fetus with more gross body movements, faster breathing, increased oxygen consumption, facial expressions and even higher production of certain steroids.
During the last half of pregnancy, a fetus can be seen achieving better and better integration of several behavioral states. These states recur repeatedly and become stable over time. There are two sleep states (active/REM sleep and quiet sleep) and two waking states (quiet awake and active alert). After birth, a fifth state, crying is added.
2. Reactive and Defensive Motion:
Several studies explored the impact of the wide range of environmental disturbances that make both the mother and baby vulnerable. Tangible evidence of the experience of fear was also observed when it was noted that disturbances like sudden loud sounds frightens the fetus into emptying its bladder.
It also became clear that babies can cry the last half of life in the womb...
3. Interactive Social Movement:
It was revealed how babies get curious and interested to participate in communicating with life outside the womb as they are social creatures, like us unique loving body touch and equal measures of aggressive kicking/hitting actions were observed among multiples in utero.
Myths about babies that are still today perpetuated by medical caretakers
The Scientific study of baby senses, dates back to 1885 by Wilhelm Preyer, a preeminent German physiologist. He reported that life for the fetus was isolated and little influenced by sense activity and that they have no opportunity to feel "displeasure".
Sadly, while none of Preyer's assertions turned out to be true, they were deemed "scientific" and made a strong impression on Western medicine and the newly forming specialties of pediatrics and obstetrics. Preyer's ideas became part of the "new" thinking in psychoanalysis and psychology and consequently, these nineteenth-century ideas about babies have continued to survive and influence human thinking about babies in the 21st century...
Failure to appreciate the continuum of babies senses in prenatal and postnatal experiences has led to inappropriate protocols that separate babies from their parents and unnecessary interference with breastfeeding and bonding in hospital birth.
Another surprising fact that the book reveals is that life in the womb involves at least a dozen senses!
The 12 - not 5, Senses
Chamberlain eloquently lists the 12 senses, verified and researched, helping us to appreciate just how sensational life in the womb really is!
1. The Tactile Sense in passive and active modes
2. Thermal Sensors
3. Pain Channels
4. Hearing and Listening
5. The sense of Balance (vestibular system)
6. Taste - the Gustatory Sense
7. Smell - the Olfactory Sense
8. Mouthing to Explore Objects
9. Sucking and Licking for Pleasure
10. Precocious Early Vision
11. Psychic Sensing
12. Transcendent Sensing
In Chamberlain's work as psychologist, he started to use hypnosis in 1974 and the spontaneous sharing of memories by his patients of their womb and birth traumas, encouraged him to do formal research to test the reliability of memories shared in hypnosis. He was able to show that the memories were reliable and not fantasies and that babies are aware of their primal journeys and store it at deep levels of consciousness.
The vast majority of babies arrive in hospitals today greeted by medical specialists who are still not sure whether babies actually see, feel pain, learn, and remember what is being done to them. Well-intentioned physicians, immersed in their protocols, employ painful or scary procedures, confident that no permanent impression will result from their way of "delivering" and welcoming babies.
"They are dreaming", Chamberlain says.
The way medical doctors view infants has taken on increasing importance in countries where 95 % of babies are born in hospital and, of those, 30% or more, are arriving surgically. The psychological aspects of birth were considered irrelevant. No wonder people find it hard to believe that a traumatic birth, whether cesarean or vaginal, can have significant long-term consequences.
Even just bright lights, strange voices and a cold room can be scary for a newborn baby. Being born is a shocker. We need to acknowledge our babies feelings...
Now it is undoubtedly clear that babies are NOT what we used to think and that they are sensitive, cognitive and vulnerable to trauma from experiences in the womb and at birth.
A Space for Sleep to happen naturally
And therefore, offering them AND ourselves true connection while helping them to work through these and other big feelings as they grow up, will ultimately enable the family to grow closer while fostering space for sleep to happen naturally.
More about the Author:
As mother of two darling babies, Certified International Maternity Institute Baby Planner Consultant, Holistic Pregnancy & Child Sleep Practitioner and Happiest Baby on the Block Educator, Marise Hyman provides worldwide maternity and sleep coaching for expecting/future/new parents through Marise Hyman Maternity Coaching – setting them up for success, so they can sail into their new lives with confidence!
She is also the founder of the Luxmama Club & ParentPrep offering a variety of social and educational events in Luxembourg designed so parents can make the most of becoming and being a new parent in the modern world today.