Do you remember the moment you felt your baby kicking inside of you for the first time? Maybe you rushed for your partner to feel your belly. Or perhaps you were standing in the clearance section at Target and almost grabbed the hand of the mother next to you that was holding the price tag of a pair of Joylab leggings.
These moments of movement are often thought of as a time when a baby is awake. However, the truth is that your baby's brain in that moment is most likely in an active state of sleep! A baby will rarely experience a wakeful state in utero. It is not until the third trimester that this occurs. And even then? It is only for about two to three hours within a 24-hour period!
Prior to that time frame, your little one's brain is being developed at a rapid pace as he starts to experience the different states of sleep - REM sleep (dream sleep) and nonREM sleep (deep sleep). And during those moments when you would feel your little one move were usually moments during REM sleep!
REM sleep is the time when we all experience the dream state. A time when the activity within our brains look almost identical to when we are in a wakeful state. A time when we can hear the outside world.
However, overtime we develop a mechanism that prevents us from acting out our dreams. This inhibitory mechanism blocks most signals from the brain that shoot down to the spine communicating to our voluntary muscles to move.
Thank goodness! Right?!
Well, it isn’t until somewhere between six to twelve months of age that this is developed! Therefore, the bursts of brain activity during REM sleep will produce movement for your fetus, newborn, or infant. This explains why you might see your newborn baby’s arms and legs twitching with the creation of facial expressions at certain times when sleeping. And with that, the occasional startled waking during the lighter state of sleep that can contribute to short naps at this time.
These are beautiful moments for which to be grateful. Because these moments of REM sleep in the early stages of your child's life are building the structure of your little one's brain which will contribute to the rest of his life!
Dr. Matthew Walker compares the state of REM sleep during this early stage of a child's life to an internet provider putting up cables throughout your neighborhood to bring you with high speed internet with loads of bandwidth. During REM sleep, neural pathways and connectors for those pathways are being created in your tiny nugget's brain at a rapid pace.
So ya see? All that sleeping your new bundle of joy experiences during those first few weeks and months are in fact crucial for your baby's future. And the movement that might occur? That's ok!
Sure. It might be frustrating at times when your little guy takes a short nap because he woke up due to his arm twitching. Just keep in mind that those are good signs of development along with the fact that it is a phase that will soon pass.
Until next time, sleep well!
Child Sleep Consultant | Postpartum Doula | Former Nanny
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Resource: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walk, PhD