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This post-delivery period is synonymous with major change from all points of view, both physical and/or mental. Unfortunately, this 4th trimester of pregnancy is very often forgotten and future mothers do not hear enough about it before going through this stage. There is indeed a lot of questions around this subject.

If the 3 trimesters of pregnancy are well known and marked and if it is easy to find a lot of information on this period of time, the information that we receive on this 4th trimester very often comes down to breastfeeding or physical rehabilitation only. Everything else is to be discovered as you go.

In this article we try to provide a little more information on this subject!

The concept of “matrescence” or “continuum”

The term matrescence was coined in 1973 by Dana Raphael, an American anthropologist. She writes in a breastfeeding essay that “Childbirth brings about a series of dramatic changes in the new mother’s physical state, emotional state, relationships with others and even in her identity as a woman. I distinguish this period of transition from the others, calling it “matrescence” to highlight the mother and focus on her new way of life. “

Jean Liedloff was an American writer who spent two and a half years deep in the South American jungle living with Stone Age Indians. In her book The Continuum Concept she offers a new understanding of how we have lost much of our natural well-being and shows us practical ways to regain it for our children and for ourselves.

This time can be tough for those who are learning to be a mother at the same time as they first become one. It can also leave the mother upset and disoriented by her own and others reactions, that she cannot control.

Many changes are seen in the mother’s body and mind during this time

The need to bond with  baby

It is often described as a need for intense fusion between mother and child, the desire to be one, during the first three months of the baby’s life. This is often difficult for mum, especially for previously “independent” women who find this idea of coalescence difficult to recognise with the women they were before.

The immediate entourage of “helpers” around a new mum can also participate in adding to a mothers distress if they comment on the excessive mothering of your child (as they see it!) which would make them a “clingy child”, incapable of independence while growing up. These reflections challenge the mother’s primary reflexes surrounding the arrival of their child!

The baby’s “survival” reflex

The human newborn is the most immature of mammalian babies, it has a physiological need to be carried, touched, enveloped. Since the dawn of time, the survival and development of the human baby has depended on interactions with the adults around them, and in particular with thier mother. It is important to understand that the child is programmed to seek contact, warmth, food, interactions. Crying is the way to draw the mother into contact. It is necessary to its “survival” and the survival of our species over the past millennia.

During pregnancy, your child was fed, warmed and oxygenated by your body. After birth, doing all of this on its own requires previously unknown efforts. Contact with mum gives them the warmth, security and milk they need, so there is no reason to want to stay “in bed” on their own, away from you. This is why very often we hear mums say that their baby only wants to sleep in their arms. 

This last trimester must be seen as a kangaroo trimester, the physical extension of the pregnancy fusion. As soon as your little one becomes more autonomous, it will spontaneously leave this reassuring cocoon. So do not hesitate to use the co-sleeping, baby slings and skin to skin contact to reassure him. Listen to your instincts, trust yourself!

Focus on mum

Hormones

In mum, significant production of oxytocin (the attachment hormone) takes place in the first moments after birth. Also present in the mother’s body are endorphins and prolactin, at very high levels. These 3 hormones are also released at each feeding. Of course, these hormones facilitate these behaviours of mothering and attachment, but do not determine them and it is not necessarily necessary to have given birth to feel the effects. Fathers and even adoptive parents have been shown to secrete these hormones on contact with their children.

Physical side

On a body level, the regression of the structures put in place during pregnancy is part of a journey towards a new balance, and it takes time! The uterus is gradually returning to its place. During pregnancy it multiplied to 40 times its size and in the first days after giving birth it still weighs almost 1 kilo. Its supporting ligaments have been stretched, and the perineum has not yet regained its original tone. The abdominals used for the posture have been stretched, and the straight legs (the chocolate bars) have lengthened by 15 cm. You also lost an average of 7 to 8 kg which corresponds to the size of your baby, its placenta, its amniotic fluid and the oedema present in your body at the end of pregnancy. Childbirth is probably the only time in your life when you will lose so much weight in a matter of hours! It is therefore important for the mum to spend extended time while her body recovers and gets used to all these changes.

In addition, taking care of a newborn takes time and energy. Do not hesitate to delegate all the tasks that are not essential. But this is not about leaving the entire responsibility to your partner. He too is going through this upheaval phase and he too can get tired. For the couple, it’s a big change in their everyday habits. A new family balance must be created.

Ask for help!

Do not hesitate to surround yourself with family members, friends or even to call in caregivers or a housekeeper. In many cultures, the 40 days postpartum is a period when the mother is completely relieved of her obligations to focus on her physical recovery and the bonding with her baby and it has been proven that these mothers have less post natal depression. 

As an African proverb says: It takes a whole village to raise a child.

This period is precious: it is also about becoming a mother and thereby changing status. Follow your desires and the pace of your baby. Take time for yourself to help your body regain strength after this ordeal. Forget the normal social rhythms and take advantage of this “Golden month” to fully experience this transformation, your matrescence! 

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This article was written and published in French by Laudavie in France on the 21st May 2020 and has been translated and adapted for an English speaking audience.

To find out more on the subject:

Liedloff, “The concept of the continuum: in search of lost happiness”, 1975.

Books :

“Live well in the fourth trimester of pregnancy” by Ingrid Bayot (midwife and trainer in perinatal and breastfeeding), Eres editions.

“Living the fourth quarter naturally” by Julia Simon (Naturopath), First Edition.

Designed and produced in France, Calmosine Breastfeeding contains organic ingredients and was developed alongside Midwives in France. Containing Fenugreek to help boost milk supply, passiflora and dog rose hip to help with stress and anxiety, magnesium for energy levels and biotin for skin, hair and nails. Calmosine Breastfeeding is proven to help improve mood, tiredness and increase milk supply.

Calmosine Breastfeeding contains organic plant extracts from plants grown and harvested by farmers committed to using sustainable and environmentally friendly growing methods.

See the results of the 2019 Calmosine Breastfeeding Trial

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