Most parents think that 3 trimesters of pregnancy is enough! But wait there’s more! Once your baby is born, people often refer to the first 12 weeks of your baby’s life as the fourth trimester. What does it mean? Find out how you can help your baby adjust to life outside the womb.
What is the Fourth Trimester?
As your pregnancy progressed, it was broken down into trimesters. Your baby has spent 3 trimesters inside the womb and experts now say that the first 3 months outside the womb could be considered an extension of this third trimester. The fourth trimester starts the moment your baby is born and lasts for the first 3 months of your baby’s life. It’s basically letting your baby adjust to the outside world gently, warmly, snugly and closely.
There are plenty of followers of the fourth trimester mindset although it may sound very strange to some. Keeping your baby close actually makes a lot of sense and can definitely help boost the emotional attachment between you and your baby. It helps to understand this theory, if you can imagine what life was like for the baby inside the womb, especially during the last trimester – warm, dark, cosy, constantly fed and rocked by your movements and comforted by the sound of your heartbeat. Birthing into the world, full of new stimuli and experiences is a real shock to your baby – there’s a lot to adjust to outside the womb. Babies cry because they are hungry, cold, or tired – in utero these things weren’t an issue. The baby won’t stop crying until their needs are met, so our job as parents is to meet their needs.
Think of the fourth trimester as helping your baby adjust to their new world. You could try the following suggestions with your baby.
Offering lots of cuddles and contact especially skin to skin contact. Babies love your natural smell and it is very comforting for them. It is also a great way for baby to bond with Dad too. Skin to skin contact is a really beautiful thing in the first hours after birth and can be very beneficial for your child. Even if you have a caesarean and medical checks take over, try to ask to hold your baby as soon as possible. The first moments after birth are a once in a lifetime experience and a great chance to start off with as much contact as possible. In a few short moments you will bond as a family.
Bonding During Feeding
Getting close to your baby is also important to promote successful feeding. It helps baby to latch on and also indicate when he is ready to feed. Even if you are not breastfeeding being close during feeding increases bonding and a sense of closeness with your baby. It also helps baby to maintain his body temperature and heart rate.
Swaddling – whilst skin to skin contact is ideal in the early days, it’s not physically possible all day. You wouldn’t meet your needs or get anything done! When your baby needs to be put down, a swaddle can help recreate that comfortable feeling experienced in the womb. Bubbaroo are the swaddling experts. Our Joey Pouch Swaddle Wrap and Joey Pod Transitional Swaddle were designed to help your baby specifically in the fourth trimester and beyond. A swaddle recreates that snug feeling that baby felt in-utero and can assist them to sleep soundly and safely in that fourth trimester. Read more about Swaddling and its many benefits to calming your baby.
Many babies enjoy movement – that’s why the car and the pram can easily put them to
sleep. It is very normal for a baby to protest if they are put down to sleep on a flat motionless surface like a cot or bassinet – it takes time to learn about their new environment. Generations have used rockers and baby carriers to help babies adjust to the life outside the womb.
Wearing your baby on your body can help to give baby both the closeness and movement that they crave in the fourth trimester. A baby carrier helps you to keep on the move because let’s face it, there are things you need to do. You can keep your hands free to do other things like preparing a meal or throwing on a load of washing. Check out Baby Mumma Perth consultant, Alyce Mostert’s website for more information on baby wearing.
Sleeping Close By
Having your baby sleep nearby during the first 6 -12 months of life can really comfort your baby. Since baby has become accustomed to being close to you, keeping your baby nearby for sleep offers baby more opportunity to feel close. You may find that you sleep better too and baby will feel reassured knowing that you are nearby. Room sharing has also been shown to lower the risk of SUDI (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). You may wish to read more in our blog on co-sleeping here.
Bath time can be a very important sensation for baby to simulate the in-utero environment. The bath water is warm and provides the watery floaty feel the baby had in utero. It can also become an important part of your bed-time routine as a warm bath makes baby very relaxed as they wind down for bed. Read more on bed-time routines here.
White noise is a helpful tool that can help baby doze off to sleep or stay asleep. Having this background noise is helpful to block out other noise that may wake the baby such as the door bell, pets or birds outside or noise in your street such as building work or rubbish trucks. White noise is usually the static noise you hear on the radio – you can just leave the radio out of channel and not too loud, just enough to be in the background. It should be a gentle consistent sound, not dissimilar to the noises baby heard in utero – constant but muffled. Babies have often been known to fall asleep to the sound of the vacuum or the washing machine however these have a fixed end time and may lead to baby awakening when the noise stops.
Adjusting Your Expectations
Letting go of schedules – your new baby is not a programmable device. You need to tune into their needs, You cannot ‘spoil’ a newborn baby – they need as much attention as you can give them. Babies will create their own routines but don’t try to make them stick to your schedule.
Harvey Karp says the best way to calm your newborn and get him to sleep is by re-creating the noises, movement, and snug environment of the womb. Karp, an assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, describes the first few months after birth as the fourth trimester. “Babies are out of the womb”, he says, “but they’re really not ready for our world. Most babies doze much better when surrounded by some of the soothing sensations they enjoyed in the womb. These sensations work so well because they turn on a calming reflex – an off-switch for crying and on-switch for sleep that all babies are born with.”
Being so close and offering so much “womb service” to your baby can be exhausting and we fully acknowledge that the early days of parenting can be extremely tiring. We’ve been there and can totally empathise.
Ask For Help
Always try to share the load or ask for help where you can. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Give yourself small breaks every now and then. Perhaps if a friend or relative comes to visit, ask if they’re able to watch your baby while you go out for a walk on your own, or sit in the backyard and have “time out”. Perhaps your partner can care for the baby while you prepare dinner or go out to the shop or catch up on some much needed sleep.
If you don’t have any friends or family nearby to help, you may wish to employ a post-natal doula if you can afford one. A post-natal doula can help with the care of the baby, breastfeeding issues and generally assisting you to recover and by offering practical support. My Irish friend living in London with no family support employed a doula and found this of great benefit to her when her first baby arrived.
Share the Load
You and your partner could try to take turns settling the baby. It’s a great opportunity for dads to learn how to settle the baby and your baby will learn to settle with both parents – this is good idea because going forward your baby will not rely solely on you for settling.
The fourth trimester is a time of learning, adjustment, recovery and getting to know your new little one’s personality. Believe me it will pass quickly so enjoy those precious moments with your little one when they’re so small and dependent on you!