Being swaddled or held close with a fair amount of deep pressure is probably one or the most soothing and regulating sensory experiences you can give a tiny baby, as this supports their ability to self-regulate and aids neurobiological organisation. This in turn creates a sense of inner and outer peace in their mind, body and brain. Some babies prefer the human touch but some just prefer swaddling with a blanket or cover.
This form of comforting gives the whole body proprioceptive input and deep pressure touch, especially if your baby is positioned in full body flexion (see image below). Proprioception is like your body’s GPS – it tells you where your body is in space and where all your body parts are in relation to each other. In order to feel secure and grounded in this world, it’s essential that this system is working well and that it supports and works with other essential systems for function, such as your balance and touch systems.
If your baby seems to need a lot of this kind of touch or input, it can be a sign that it is seeking a little extra support with its self-regulation. This is completely normal and especially common in premature babies, who missed out on being squished into full flexion in the womb in the same way as full term babies.
Swaddling is good as long as you’re not overheating your baby with too many layers. Wrapping them nice and snug with their body, arms and legs tucked into full flexion will give the full calming experience that soothes their whole system. You may also want to add regular doses of full body deep pressure touch to help with overall regulation. Remember that nothing can compete with your comforting touch, soft voice and gaze, as this communicates safety and increases regulation, and also helps release good neurochemistry in the form of oxytocin and serotonin.
Every child has a unique pattern of taking in and responding to information from the senses about their world and their bodies”
(Williamson and Arizalone, 2001)
Some babies do struggle with touch so if your baby wants constant holding or none at all, or goes from one extreme to the other then this is most likely related to difficulties with sensory modulation and something we can help you understand. We can also guide you in how best to increase your baby’s ability to process sensory information well and build a tolerance in these areas.
If you would like support to do these things, we will be covering this and so much more at the Encounter Baby sessions.