Have you heard about the fourth trimester?
I’ll explain it in a way you might immediately understand why it’s so beneficial.
Imagine what the third trimester of pregnancy would be like for your baby.
Tightly cocooned in a warm, dark, comforting place.
There are no hunger pains or thirst.
No need to pass painful wind or bowel movements.
No strange smells or bright lights. Not even the feeling of air blowing on his skin.
There’s no discomfort from feeling too hot or too cold.
Abandonment is not a concern.
Safely inside your womb, it’s a perfect environment, tailor made for your baby.
Then suddenly, your baby is born into a world with of all these things he’s never had to deal with before! It can be quite a rude shock, and a scary experience for a helpless infant.
We say… bring on the fourth trimester!
What Is The Fourth Trimester?
The fourth trimester is simply an extension of the third trimester of pregnancy.
It gives your baby (and you) a gentle and loving transition to adjust to your new life.
The fourth trimester is all about recreating the feelings of comfort and security which your baby experienced in the womb.
A gentle beginning to life helps both mother and baby adjust with ease.
Will I be spoiling my baby?
A fourth trimester, or being responsive to your baby’s needs, does NOT spoil your baby or create bad habits.
In fact, it takes many months until your baby actually understands and realises that he and his mother are two separate beings.
There’s a big difference between independence, and interdependence. As human beings, we all need interdependence. Yet we celebrate independence and wear it like a badge of honor, when we are biologically designed to need others.
Human beings give birth to very immature infants. A newborn isn’t able to fend for themselves and still has much developing to do outside the uterus.
Your baby can’t escape if they sense danger or fear. They can’t go and find mama or dad for security or a cuddle. Nor can a baby chase mama for a feed whenever hunger or thirst calls.
Newborns need us, our comfort, skin to skin, eye contact and loving words to fully thrive.
A gentle adjustment into their new world in the form of a fourth trimester can make a huge difference to how baby feels, and how new parents can cope with parenthood.
Babies cry because it’s their only means to alert their parents that they have a need to be met. It can make parent’s self esteem and confidence plummet if nothing seems to work.
Research tells us being responsive to a baby’s cries teaches a baby important life skills, such as how to be a productive adult.
Give your baby, and yourself, the gift of a fourth trimester.
How Long Is The Fourth Trimester?
The fourth trimester is three months long. It begins after the birth of your baby and ends after 12 weeks.
Giving your baby a fourth trimester can make for such a more enjoyable, soothing time for all involved.
So how can you give your baby a fourth trimester?
Here are 8 great ways to recreate womb life.
#1: Wear Your Baby
Wearing your baby is a great way to support your baby through the fourth trimester.
How? Wearing your baby (at least during the fourth trimester, or longer) can recreate several conditions from the womb.
Baby will be feeling:
- Tightly supported all over, like his womb home
- Close to mama’s heartbeat, that he knows so well
- Warm and cosy next to your skin.
It’s no wonder this study has shown that wearing your baby results in up to 51% less crying and fussing.
“At the time of peak crying (6 weeks of age), infants who received supplemental carrying cried and fussed 43% less overall, and 51% less during the evening hours (4 PM to midnight).”
Make sure you choose a safe and suitable baby carrier or sling.
Front ‘pouch’ style and outwards facing carriers are not good for babies bodies.
They put weight on the baby’s spine, and are not best for baby’s hip health (their legs tend to just hang from the carrier).
#2: Bring On The Skin!
Skin to skin contact (completely naked, no wraps/swaddles) is absolutely divine and has so many benefits for your transitioning newborn, as well as for new parents!
In fact, it’s one of the best methods to help support breastfeeding and to create oxytocin (the hormone of love and bonding, which is abundant at birth and when breastfeeding).
Even if you’re formula feeding, skin contact is a great way to increase bonding with your baby.
Dr Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC, says skin to skin contact offers the following benefits for your baby at birth (and beyond):
- Baby is more likely to latch on
- Baby is more likely to latch on well
- Maintains his body temperature normal better even than in an incubator
- Maintains his heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure normal
- Has higher blood sugar
- Is less likely to cry
- Is more likely to breastfeed exclusively and breastfeed longer
- Will indicate to his mother when he is ready to feed
Skin contact for at least one hour post birth should be strongly encouraged.
Weighing and measuring is nowhere near as important, as this once in a lifetime attachment phase, which should be as undisturbed as possible.
Dim the lights and snuggle up to that gorgeous, naked baby.
“When a baby is swaddled it cannot interact with his mother, the way nature intended. With skin to skin contact, the mother and the baby exchange sensory information that stimulates and elicits “baby” behaviour: rooting and searching the breast, staying calm, breathing more naturally, staying warm, maintaining his body temperature and maintaining his blood sugar.” — Dr. Jack Newman.
#3: Fill’er Up!
Many babies absolutely love being in a nice warm bath.
Some babies may not like a bath at first, as they don’t enjoy the air or cold on their skin as their clothes come off, but they soon grow to love them!
If you’re not confident on how to hold a baby in a bath, you can ask your midwife or maternal health nurse for a demonstration – or you can just jump in the bath with your baby for added skin to skin benefits.
The soothing water surrounding your baby creates an environment similar to what he or she would have been used to in the womb.
Dim any bright lights and jump into that nice warm bath together – even dad can do this one so he can enjoy bonding time with his baby too.
#4: Bed Sharing or Co-Sleeping
Just like with cot sleeping, there are safe co-sleeping guidelines. Both sleeping methods have risks if not practiced sensibly.
As mentioned earlier, human babies are particularly vulnerable, and crying is part of their fear or danger alert system.
Many parents will be all too familiar with putting their baby down for a nap, only to find their baby quickly jolting awake — as if he or she was never even asleep.
This is a survival mechanism to protect against abandonment which you can read more about in the article, why does my baby wake up when I put her down?
By bed sharing or co-sleeping (which includes specially designed cots which attach to the side of your bed, to give baby their own safe space), your baby can sleep in safety knowing that mama is close-by.
He can smell you and even touch you, without insecurity. It’s also a great way to make sure mama gets much needed rest.
Especially in the fourth trimester, you must ignore that urge to do one more load of dishes or return all those phone calls.
It’s the perfect and most important reason to let it all slide and focus only on what you and your baby need.
It’ll make such a difference to how you feel when you’ve had more sleep.
Sleep deprivation is one of the leading contributors to anxiety and depression in new mothers, so take care of yourself mama.
#5: Offer The Breast If Baby Wants It
Breastfeeding is something your baby will become familiar with very quickly, from the moment she is born.
It provides her with a great sense of comfort.
She will feed often, especially in the early weeks, as she tries to establish your supply, re-fill her fast-emptying tummy, going through growth spurts and finding comfort and safety from being attached.
Here are 7 tips for coping with cluster feeding.
Breastfeeding routines and schedules can be detrimental, and at worst case, can lead to failure to thrive.
Failure to thrive has been diagnosed in some babies after following one of several methods touted by so called baby sleep experts.
Always seek breastfeeding advice from either peak breastfeeding organisations (like the Australian Breastfeeding Association or La Leche League). Or, the most qualified experts in breastfeeding, who are IBCLC’s (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants).
No other healthcare professionals have anywhere near the same breastfeeding education.
#6: Getting Out and About
Many of us know a parent who resents red traffic lights… because their baby will scream at every red light and sleep in between!
Some babies love the movement they feel in a carseat, which no doubt is similar to the movement they felt in the womb.
So don’t be afraid to get your baby out and about in the fourth trimester.
You may find your baby’s preferences may change over time too, so what they like (or dislike) now, can change suddenly.
Some babies start off hating the car and scream it down (because they feel insecure and want to be in mama or dad’s arms) only to become the biggest car loving fan – and vice versa.
If your baby enjoys being in the car, it’s a great opportunity to get some fresh air and get outside those familiar four walls at home that can get a bit boring after a while.
The same applies to the pram – some babies love them for the ride, others would rather be worn or in a parent’s safe arms.
#7: Swaddle Your Baby
Safely swaddling your baby in the fourth trimester with a breathable, organic wrap is another way to create a sense of security, just like she felt in the womb.
This may result in a more settled baby who cries less and sleeps better.
However, parents must be careful not to wrap their babies too tightly, as this has been linked to hip dysplasia.
The International Hip Dysplasia Institute warn: “The baby’s legs should not be tightly wrapped straight down and pressed together. Swaddling infants with the hips and knees in an extended position may increase the risk of hip dysplasia and dislocation. It is important to leave room for the hips to move.”
You can see a video about the correct and hip-safe way to swaddle your baby in our article, How To Swaddle A Baby.
For more information, visit the website of the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.
#8: Hammock Your Baby
There’s a reason why so many baby sleep schools and cultures rely on baby hammocks – because they work.
Babies love the feeling of being snuggled by the womb-like design of a hammock, as well as the gentle jiggling movement when they sway.
Babies tend to be more settled and have longer sleep durations in hammocks, which are especially helpful if your baby has reflux, colic or is premature.
Because they are portable, your baby can always be close by in her favourite sleeping quarters.
Before you buy, do your research and ensure the hammock is designed for sleep safety – when in the hammock, a baby’s neck should not be overly curved which may potentially block their airway.
Check out the Baby Hammocks website for more information.
Coping With An Attached Baby
You may be reading this thinking it all sounds great, but it seems a little exhausting.
Yes, it can be sometimes. But always remember: nothing is permanent, everything is temporary.
Even when it feels like it’s going to last forever – it’s not.
Sleep deprivation and discomfort is part of the job of being a parent, but it can be made much easier by:
- Sharing the load as much as possible – accept and ask for all the help you can
- Make sure your partner spends time settling baby too (he needs to learn – and baby will learn how daddy does it!
- Seek out a postpartum doula (post natal doula) if you can afford it
- Making sure you get a break/time out. Even a trip to the supermarket, coffee shop or a quick walk around the block while dad spends some bonding time with baby
- Check your expectations. Are you expecting too much from yourself and/or your baby?
Your baby does not behave in these way to manipulate or annoy you, but to teach you what he likes and needs – and what makes him feel most safe and loved. By being open to the lesson and remembering that ‘this too will pass’ (a great mantra when things get a little tough) you’ll be an expert on your baby in no time.
Hang in there mama and dad – it WILL get easier. But know that it’s always going to be much easier when baby isn’t crying at the same time as wanting the very things he was programmed to need.