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  • Writer's pictureMegan Dunn

What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is a critical pathway for our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), connecting our brain to various essential body functions, including digestion, mood, heart rate, and immune response. Through the control of our breathing and heart rate, the vagus nerve directly impacts our stress response and our ability to calm ourselves down.

How to strengthen infant vagal tone

  • Spend time with your baby skin-to-skin. For at least the first 3 months your baby will be happiest in your arms and those of other close caregivers. A safe baby wrap or sling will make this a lot easier! (see below)

  • Nursing your baby at breast stimulates the vagal nerve and aids in digestion, rest, and calming

  • Some oral exercises your Lactation Consultant can show you help stimulate the vagus

  • Gentle touch and massage are shown to reduce stress and improve baby's sleep. Start a routine for baby massage after bath time or during another time during the day (see for techniques)

  • Rhythmic movement including rocking your baby in arms and helping them gently move (see below)

Baby Carriers: Backpacks, Front Packs, and Slings For your baby's—and your own—comfort and safety, follow these guidelines when purchasing and using baby carriers.

  • Infants born prematurely or with respiratory problems should not be placed in backpacks or other upright positioning devices, as the positioning in these devices may make it harder for them to breathe.

  • Some sling carriers may curl your baby's body into a C-shape, which greatly increases the risk of breathing problems. If you use a sling, your baby's neck should be straight and their chin not pressed into their chest, and make sure you can always see their face.

  • In any type of carrier, check frequently to ensure that your baby's mouth and nose are not blocked by fabric or your body and that airflow is not restricted.

  • The International Hip Dysplasia Institute recommends inward-facing carrying for the first six-months of infancy to promote optimum hip development. While outward-facing may not be harmful, the inward-facing position is acknowledged as hip healthy.

Movement aids in baby's development and helps improve feeding skills. It's a wonderful way to interact and play with your baby. Pick a time when baby is happy and content. Try each of these for a few minutes at a time. Rocking: Lay baby on their back on a firm but soft surface (like a blanket, carpet, changing table), hold their hips and thighs and gently push/pull them up and down.

Side-Lying Rocking: Roll baby onto their side, put one hand on their lower back, and the other on their tummy, and rock them up and down by sliding them along their side. Roll to the other side and repeat.

Side-to-side Rolling: With baby lying on their back, bring their hands and feet together and roll baby side-to-side. Video:

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