We might not remember it, but it stays with us: the experiences in the womb.
Babies, as well as adults, are often comforted by womblike experiences, or wombscapes. The Nucu Pad is designed to help newborns get better sleep by recreating the familiar feeling of the womb. To do that, we must first understand what that feeling could be.
Wombscapes: an overview
For those looking for a quick answer to what the womb is like, the answer in three words is: warm, compact and rhythmic.
Warm: the womb is the same temperature as the mother’s internal organs, around 37 C° / 98.6 °F.
Compact: the baby has the freedom to move and turn around, but the uterus is at all times compressed around the baby.
Rhythmic: the rhythms of the womb wholly encompass the baby. The mother’s heartbeat vibrates through the amniotic fluid, and the noises of breathing and digestion are ever-present.
The Awakening: the world as the baby knows It
During the 9 months in the womb, the baby undergoes several transformations: from just a few dividing cells into a fully-formed fetus – a tiny human ready to be born.
We cannot interview a baby about its experiences in the womb, but we can assume that at some point during those 9 months, there’s an awakening. A point in time when the baby starts to feel and react – to experience.
The sense of self doesn’t emerge until much later into the child’s development, so as we try to understand what it is like in the womb from the baby’s point of view, we must first understand this: for the baby, the womb is the only known universe, there’s no me, all the senses are jumbled together and everything is a curious mixture of wonderful, dreadful and new.
The senses: making sense of the world
From our tangle of human experience, adults have separated different senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. There are more than five senses and many of them are closely related: if you’ve ever eaten spicy food with a stuffy nose, you’ll know.
The Nucu Pad is a multisensory baby pad. ‘Multisensory’ means an experience experienced with more than one sense. The womb is a multisensory environment – and one that is quite different from our post-partum world.
- The baby is floating in amniotic fluid. It gets nutrients and oxygen through the placenta and the umbilical cord. It doesn’t need to breathe or eat. (The baby does pee, though).
- Gravity doesn’t play a big part.
- The baby grows inside another living system, the mother: the beating heart, the intestines processing food, movement, the taste of the amniotic fluid, the voice of the mother vibrating through bones and fluids… All these form a complex environment without clear boundaries. For several months, the mother is everything.
- The outside world (the neighbor’s dog barking, the rising sun, or lullabies from dad) is yet distant. A distant rumble compared to the thunderstorm of the mother’s existence.
The view: what does it look like in the womb?
Sight eventually becomes the most dominant sense after we’re born. Visual stimuli play a smaller role in the multisensory experience of the womb, but research shows that the baby’s brain is developing to process visual information also during pregnancy.
When the baby has its eyes open and it’s bright enough outside, a gleam of light may reach the baby – filtered through the mother.
To get an idea of what it looks like in the womb, here is an artist’s rendition of the view from the womb at night:
And here is an artist’s rendition of the view from the womb at noon:
The temperature: how warm is it in the womb?
The womb maintains a stable temperature of around 37°C / 98.6°F, matching the mother's core body temperature. This warmth is essential for the baby's growth and acts like a natural incubator, providing a safe and comfortable environment for development.
The soundscape: how loud is it in the womb?
Compared to a quiet room, the womb is a noisy place. The background noise level in the womb has been estimated to be between 70–88 dB1, which is the level of a busy street or an airport.
Sounds are carried by the amniotic fluid and the baby is surrounded by continuous rhythms from the mother: her heartbeat, breathing and digestive system, as well as the swoosh of blood.
The fluid and the tissue surrounding the baby will muffle sounds from the outside, such as singing or music. Especially high-pitched sounds will be attenuated. The voice of the expecting mother (either talking or singing) stands out from all the other noises.
The Nucu Pad is designed based on these sounds and feelings. The Nucu Pad has been used in NICUs (neonatal intensive care units) to comfort babies born prematurely. The combination of sound and vibrations brings a familiar feelscape to the otherwise alien NICU environment.
A taste of the future
The baby gets a taste of what’s to come starting at an early age.
The mother’s diet affects the taste of the amniotic fluid. By swallowing the fluid, babies are introduced to various tastes prenatally, which may lead them to accept different types of food more easily later in life.
The sense of taste (well-developed at birth) is another example of how differently developing babies experience the world around them. After the mother’s garlicky meal, for example, it will take some time (under an hour) for the volatile compounds to carry over to the amniotic fluid.
A taste of the future. And a taste of the past.
The rhythms: a day in the womb
The baby’s experience in the womb is one of rhythm, a jazz band of existence. A newborn will often be comforted by the same rhythms they’re so used to: walking, skin-on-skin contact, or the sway of the pram or car.
The feelings and experiences of the mother create another rhythmic environment for the baby: changes in heart rate and breathing rate form a living backdrop for a shared experience between mother and baby. What does a calm moment sound like? What is stress like?
The rhythms important for an unborn baby include:
- The heartbeat of the mother
- The mother’s movements and walking
- The vibrations of the mother’s voice
- Mealtimes (for both the mother and the baby)
There are also rhythms that become stronger after the child is born and develops:
- Day and night
- Sleep routines
Putting it all together: what it’s like in the womb
Everything after the womb is a uniquely alien experience. We cannot remember what it’s like, but wombscapes stay with us in places and experiences we find soothing later on in life: the sound of falling rain or flowing water, the gentle sway of a moving vehicle, or a hug from a loved one…
From the viewpoint of the baby, the womb is a multisensory experience (even if they might not use those exact words) – a sense of togetherness™ freely flowing from one sense to the next.
The Nucu Pad is designed to soothe babies with familiar feelscapes reminiscent of the womb. Get to know the Nucu Pad here.
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