Soothing Your Baby (Part 2)

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VIDEO | 08:50

Senior dance movement therapist Suzi Tortora teaches caregivers ways to soothe their baby by identifying what sensory activities best support the baby.

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Suzi Tortora: Babies tell us how they're feeling through their body actions and behaviors. Each baby has a unique way that they use their body to understand and sense what's going on around them. And they are especially tuned into how their primary caregivers, you, are expressing your feelings through your body and your actions. Actually, babies first rely on the support they receive through your body-to-body contact with them in order to learn how to regulate, that means to gain control of their body sensations and their feelings.

Young children with medical illness are especially vulnerable to sensory input, and can be easily distressed if there's a bombardment of sensory input. Did you know that we actually have seven sensory systems? There are the five that we all know and then there are two movement based systems. I'm going to teach you how to think about activities using each one of those systems, so that you can learn how to identify what sensory activities best support your baby to soothe him or her. Discovering which sensory input helps most will really help you learn how your baby will calm, or also how to engage your baby.

Now, let's go through those seven senses. The first is taste. Babies learn a lot by the sensory sensation of tastes and flavors. Think about what your baby enjoys in regards to taste. Do they like sweet or sour things? Are they still breastfeeding or maybe sucking on a bottle? That takes us to sucking. The oral sensory input can be a really organizing and soothing way for your baby to calm. Maybe sucking on your breast with breast milk, or sucking on a bottle or of course, a pacifier. That rhythmic element that happens through sucking can be very organizing on a deep sensorial level.

Biting, chewing and swallowing is also very internally soothing for a baby. So you can think about the quality of taste and the physical sensation of sucking, eating and biting as one of the senses that is stimulating or organizing your baby. Next is smell, your baby is going to be most sensitive and aware of your scent. So perhaps you have a piece of clothing like a scarf that you like to wear and having it around you for a little while and then taking it off and using it as a cozy blanket for your baby can really help your baby sense your presence, even if you're not right next to her.

Next is the visual sense. Eye contact is very important as a way to engage your baby. But not all babies are ready to really look at you. Sometimes the baby needs to look and then look away. And it's very important to allow that ebb and flow to happen and be in your baby's control. So take a moment if your baby's looking away, allow them to look away and then be ready for when they turn their head and look back at you. If your baby closes her eyes, that may be a cue that she's really taking in too much visual input. And so allow that to happen and you can connect to your baby in another way.

For example, hearing your voice, that's the auditory input. Perhaps if your baby can't take your visual contact, you can come in close and just whisper, "Good morning. I see you're waking up. How are you feeling today?" Notice how I came to the baby's side, parallel to her ears so that the visual sense was not in the way and she could just hear my voice. I could speak to her here and have her look at me and hear my voice and that's two sensory inputs. So again, you can notice if your baby's looking away while you're here, maybe the visual is too much and you can just come to the side and say something sweet in her ear.

Next is touch, the tactile sense. The way you touch your baby is going to communicate a tremendous amount for your baby. So think about, especially with medical procedures, sometimes the baby is going to be a little bit more sensitive to touch. So one day, she might like one type of touch and another day, she or he might respond to a different quality of touch. We might want to come and approach the baby and just let the baby sense our body coming close, sense the heat of our hands, and maybe very gently just stroke the air right around the baby first.

And next, we might want to place our hand and let it really settle. Let the baby feel the quality of your touch and take it in and make it firm enough that the baby really senses your presence. Too light a touch can actually be agitating for a baby, then we can think about the quality of the stroke. Maybe just pressure will feel good to the baby. Or maybe if your baby has some tubes and a port, we might want to just keep our hands in the lower part of your baby's body, just gently putting your hand across their abdomen.

And I'll just demonstrate with this hand, very gently. Circling our hand clockwise or counterclockwise, just cupping our hand around their belly can be helpful. Or think about the quality of our strokes. Long, stroke slow, alternating one side to the other, or maybe pulsing, squeezing strokes. Or if we lift up the baby, that's also tactile, right? The front of the baby's body is in touch with my shoulder for example. We can think about downward strokes. These are a little quicker or slower.

Again, remember that rate. Rate of the timing all of that's going to change the baby's response or tapping, patting the baby. Actions downward, are soothing and organizing. Actions upward are organizing but activating. So think about what your intention is in the quality of your touch. And then also this is a full body touch. As opposed to just a gestural touch with your hands. Maybe your baby just needs to hold your hand. And that might be all your baby can tolerate. Or maybe just horizontal stroking of your baby's forehead, or around the scalp with two hands. One hand touch and two hand touch are really two different sensations.

Next, we get into those movement senses I was telling you about. Proprioception and the vestibular sense. Proprioception is about your body boundaries. It's felt through pressure. And the vestibular system is about moving your body through space. So let's do that example of lifting the baby up again. I can put the baby up on my shoulder and I can hold the baby really firmly. If I'm holding the baby firmly, she or he is really going to feel the pressure of her body or his body against mine. And that's going to give some sensory input as well. The moment I start to move around, or even bounce, brings in the vestibular system and that also can stimulate the baby.