One day on the plane, I watched the new grandmother calm a crying baby so quickly and gracefully. In the middle of the flight, the baby in her arms suddenly burst into tears. After a few piercing shrieks, Grandma picked up her mad companion and began a ritual repeated by adults all over the world… since time immemorial! She pressed the girl’s tummy against her shoulder; made a continuous sound “sh-sh-sh” in her ear; tapping rhythmically on her bottom and at the same time rocking her torso from side to side, like a snake making its way up the slope. In less than a minute, her tiny little ball was sound asleep.
It’s tempting to think that someone who can soothe babies has a “gift.” But comforting babies has nothing to do with special talents, it has to do with understanding a simple yet completely counterintuitive fact about babies… they are all born 3 months premature! Let me explain. People are very immature at birth. Small horses can walk and even run on their first day of life. Our newborns, by comparison, need our help even to… burp. Think of their first 3 months as an extension of the life of the fetus, a virtual 4th trimester. That’s why our job in caring for babies is to mimic the womb – an enclosed space full of shaking motions and louder than a vacuum cleaner! Most novice grandparents instinctively rock and hug their crying tiny grandchildren. This works because these sensations can turn on the soothing reflex, a natural “switch” for crying!