What is the “fourth trimester”?
The fourth trimester, a period described by expert Dr. Harvey Karp as the first three months of a baby’s life, is a time when a newborn is adjusting to life outside of the womb. It’s filled with a tremendous amount of changes and development for the baby, and is becoming more and more recognized as an important phase of a little one’s early days.
You probably thought you were finished with trimesters when you had your baby. But the word “trimester” can also be used to describe the first three months after birth, from day one to the day your baby turns 3 months old.
In the fourth trimester, your tiny daughter or son has just moved from the familiar comfort and noises of your warm, dark womb to a bright environment full of unsettling new sights, sounds, smells, and sensations, as well as shifting temperatures.
This period of adjustment to the world outside your womb is a time of enormous change and development. There’s so much for your little one to get started on, from refining and developing all her senses and controlling her reflexes to learning how to respond to you and your partner .
A huge transition for your new baby
Newborns have only their instincts and reflexes to control their behavior and movement. Some of their senses are still developing, and they have to start learning to interpret the sensory information that’s flooding in.
So lets quickly compare the two different ‘worlds’ your baby has lived in:
Pretty different huh? On top of this the big thing to understand is that in utero the baby’s world was constant, each day was the same, the stimulation didn’t change, but now they are born each day is different – ever changing, ever stimulating!
They can see, but their vision is blurred.
They can hear, but they can’t yet understand the meaning of the sounds they’re hearing.
They can feel, but the reassuring and snug comfort of the womb has been replaced by disconcerting open space.
Skin to Skin Contact
Such a brilliant baby calmer! Being in contact with your warm, naturally (un)scented, skin is heaven for a baby, it helps to stabilise their body temperature, heart rate and stress hormones and stimulates the release of oxytocin – the love and bonding hormone – in you both. Topless cuddles, shared baths, baby massage and bedsharing are all great skin to skin experiences for your baby and you.
Sharing a bed with your baby is an amazing way of getting more sleep for everyone, babies are generally much calmer and sleep more easily if they sleep with you in your bed, yet it is such a taboo topic and although 60% of parents will share a bed with their baby at some point it’s a subject that makes society very uncomfortable, but…it is an *amazing* baby calmer!
Imagine how snug your baby was at the very end of your pregnancy inside of you – now imagine how strange it must feel to them after they have been born and have so much space around them! The absolutely best thing you can do is to envelop your baby in your arms, but for times when you don’t want to or indeed can’t then swaddling is an option. Swaddling is becoming increasingly popular, however there are important safety guidelines to be followed if you choose to swaddle your baby, if you are breastfeeding please make sure feeding is established before swaddling and take care not to miss your baby’s hunger cues if you are feeding on demand:
- Never swaddle over your baby’s head or near his face
- Never swaddle your baby if he is ill or has a fever
- Make sure your baby does not overheat and only swaddle with a breathable/thin fabric
- Only swaddle your baby until he can roll over**
- Always place your baby to sleep on his back
- Do not swaddle tightly across your baby’s chest
- Do not swaddle tightly around your baby’s hips and legs, his legs should be free to “froggy up” into a typical newborn position.
- Lastly start to swaddle as soon as possible, do not swaddle a 3 month old baby if he has not been swaddled before.
** The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends swaddling for babies 0-14wks.
Wearing your baby in a sling is one of the ultimate ways to keep them calm and happy. It increases the time a baby spends in a state of “quiet alertness” – a time of contentment when they learn the most. When a baby is in utero they spend 100% of their time in physical contact with us – yet the moment they are born this is estimated to drop to only 40%! Babywearing also means 2 free hands!
Choose your sling carefully. A good sling will be easy to use and will support both yours and your baby’s spine whilst not placing any pressure on your baby’s growing hips – newborns should always be carried facing inwards with a “frog leg” pose, not a crotch dangle pose so commonly used by commercial baby carriers. Also seek to carry in an ‘in arms’ position – i.e: how your baby would be held if you were holding them! This great picture from JePorteMonBebe highlights this newborn hold position perfectly.
Babywearing is a great way for dads to bond with babies!
It is quite common for a baby to cry once placed in a sling, this does not mean that they hate the sling – it just means that you need to move, so get dancing! As with swaddling,babywearing is becoming increasingly popular, however there are important safety guidelines to be followed, the TICKS acronym below neatly sums them all up:
The “tiger in the tree” position below, taken from baby yoga, is often magical, stopping a crying baby in an instant!
Babies love sound, but for many not the sound you might think. For many babies a hoover is much more calming to a baby than a lullaby. A special white noise CD, such as THIS, can be played on loop whilst your baby sleeps to help keep them calm.
If your baby is hungry nothing will calm him, so watch for his hunger cues. Feeding is always better if it is baby led, not led by a routine – whether you are breast or bottle feeding. Remember as well that your baby may not always be hungry for a full feed, they may want a quick drink, a quick snack or just some comfort sucking. Babies also find sucking the ultimate relaxation and comfort tool. Sucking helps a baby’s skull bones to return to their normal position after birth as well as providing them with comfort and security. If you are not breastfeeding you might find your baby will relax when given a dummy/pacifier.
The womb is a wet, warm place. The world as we know it is dry and cold! Sometimes a nice deep, warm bath can stop a baby’s tears in seconds – even better if mummy or daddy goes in the big bath with baby too as skin to skin contact is a wonderful baby calmer.
If all else fails many babies stop crying the minute they hit the open air – I’m not sure if this is because we are usually moving (e.g.: walking over cobbles with the buggy/ bouncing in a sling and the drone and movement of a car) or because of the change in air – but it works!
Your baby’s brain is well developed at birth, but it’s far from mature. It’s like a sponge, soaking up everything that happens. The more the brain is stimulated at this stage, the more synapses (connections) will form. (Synapses are the pathways between brain cells that enable us to think.)
At some point in the fourth trimester, you’ll probably notice your baby:
- Breathing more steadily, startling less, and developing more controlled movements.
- Settling into more consistent sleep and feeding patterns.
- Learning to self-soothe.
- Interacting with family and friends, objects, or music with greater attention and for longer periods of time.
By the end of your baby’s fourth trimester, you will have seen a remarkable physical, mental, and social transformation take place.