Nursery

Designing a sensory smart nursery for your new baby

If you’re a creative mom with high sensory thresholds (in other words you like things brighter, faster, noisier, smellier and blingy-er) then you have to stop and read this blog – learn from my mistakes! I couldn’t wait to paint bright, child-like murals on my new baby’s nursery walls. I loved shopping for bright, cheerful and noisy mobiles. I looked for bright, primary coloured prints and fabrics and lined the cupboards with beautifully scented cupboard liners…all as a way of showing my love and excitement for my upcoming adventure of becoming a mommy.

Looking back, I could have saved myself a lot of time, effort and money had I known then, what I know now. I also think my family and I would have had more sleep when our baby was a little newborn “sleeper” (or insomniac!). Of course, as luck would have it, I was not blessed with a baby who had the same sensory temperament as mine – instead I got a jittery, fussy baby who seemed to become quickly overloaded by her sensory world. And all my efforts to show her love ended in loads of tears – both hers and mine!

Just as each of us has a unique personality – so too does each of us have a unique sensory temperament. Some of us love digging our toes into the sand while others shudder at the thought. Our preferences can vary from sense to sense (we can love fast, stop-starting rides at the theme park and hate loud noises) and even from day to day – some days we seem more tolerant to the shrill of our excited children than other days! It’s important to meet your newborn before deciding on what kind of nursery you will design for him/her. Looking at the goodness-of-fit between your newborn and his sensory world is the key to success!

The other thing to consider is that your baby’s sensory system is very immature and takes a while to develop and mature. So his sensory system will not handle sudden loud noises or bright lights as well as an older person’s sensory system would. A baby’s sense of smell is especially sensitive. Less is thus more for your baby.

Your baby has come from the protected and muted sensory world of the womb to a very harsh reality.

Here are some tips for helping your baby adjust:

  • create a calm area for sleeping, nappy changes and dressing.
  • ensure his sensory environment is a quiet one – at least initially. Respect his sleep times and try lengthen these sleep cycles. Even if it means you cannot clean while he sleeps!
  • keep the temperature moderate, not too hot or too cold and use a temperature gauge to monitor this. When monitoring your baby’s body temperature, check his body temperature by feeling the back of his neck, rather than his face, hands or feet. As a tiny baby your baby’s hands and feet will not have very good circulation and can often be colder than the rest of his body. His circulation should improve after the first few weeks. He may get cold very easily at bath time, so being organised and quick will make sure that he warms up quickly.
  • use gentle light – you can soften the light in the room by making sure that there is no light directly above where you are changing your baby, putting in a low voltage bulb, using a dimmer switch, a night light or blue lamp. This will also decrease the amount of light shining directly into his eyes. It may be helpful to put yourself in your baby’s “shoes” by trying to see his perspective from his nappy changing spot. Make sure that his view of the room is not too busy (e.g. lots of bright colours, pictures or toys). When he is older he will love a more stimulating view with fun mobiles and toys.
  • some colours are alerting while others are calming. Bold lines and strong contrasting colours are great for learning and play time but can hamper sleep in his sleep space. Keeping neutral colours for the walls of his sleep area and bright colours for rooms where he spends his calm-alert play times of the day can help him stay in a just-right space of alertness for the task at hand.
  • Use gentle detergents on his clothes and to clean his linen and baby furniture and toys. Remembering that although the smell is not too strong for you – it can be very overwhelming for your baby. Also remember to choose your spray or perfumes carefully. Choose milder perfumes and position where you spray them far away from your baby’s direct line of smell – i.e. not close to your chest where he lies his head.
  • Use blackout curtains to help control bright natural light during the day.
  • Use muted background noises or music to help mute stark sounds in the environment. The sound of a fan, heater or white noise CD can block out the alerting, stop-start sounds which can rouse your sensitive baby from his sleep.
  • use soft fabrics which have been washed to soften them for clothes and blankets. Although mini jeans and jerseys can be cute, they can cause some babies discomfort.
  • using a nesting cushion such as the one from NurtureOne (https://nurtureone.co.za) to create a soft womb-like sleep space which grounds and contains your baby.
Your newborn is only a sleeper for such a short while and bending to his every need in this early stage will not result in a spoilt baby! Do what you can to replicate the womb space in the early days and allow your baby to slowly be introduced to the bright, exciting sensory world around him. The most important thing to achieve in these early days is to get to know your baby and respond to his subtle signals.
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