The term the fourth trimester is used to describe the first three months after birth. It is a time of huge transition for a new baby that previously was snug and safe inside the womb.
There is research that states that human babies could benefit with a further three months gestation in the womb and that this is not possible because of the size of the human head. Babies are born totally dependent on their parents and need to learn how to function in the big wide world. Animals, on the other hand, are often born ready to walk and move a few hours after birth.
The concept of the fourth trimester helps us to understand the transition that a baby must go through during the first few weeks of their life. Used to a constant dark, warm and secure environment inside the womb, the outside world must seem cold, bright and noisy when they first arrive into it!
They also now start to experience feelings of hunger and thirst. How they deal with these new cues will be a learning curve for them and for you!
How to help your baby adjust to the fourth trimester
"During the first three months of life (the fourth trimester), its impossible to spoil your baby by letting them suck or stay in your arms for hours. Does that surprise you? It really shouldn't when you remember that you were lavishing her with these sensations twenty-four hours a day - until that moment of birth. Even if you hold your baby twelve hours a day now, it's a giant reduction from her point of view." Dr Harvey Karp, The Happiest Baby on the Block
The fourth trimester is a period of adjustment. Newborns only have their instincts and their reflexes to help them control their behavior and movements. Your baby needs you to help them adjust through this time of huge change and development.
Here are a few ways that you can help them adjust to life outside the womb.
Crying is the way that your baby communicates. Babies cry more in the fourth trimester than at any other time in their life. Crying is the way that babies survive and thrive, it also helps them to relieve tension - blocking out background noise and stimulation.
Pick your baby up and soothe them. Babies can never have too many cuddles!
2. Skin to skin
There is a reason that skin to skin is recommended straight after birth. It is a brilliant way to calm an unsettled baby. It also stimulates blood flow, which helps to release oxytocin - also known as the happy hormone. Great for helping to get mamas milk flowing too. Your baby will be soothed by the warmth of your body and the familiar sound of your heartbeat.
A newborn has a very small tummy, and it doesn't take much to full it. Newborn feeding is baby led - they will let you know when they are hungry and need a feed. Watch for feeding cues, like opening their mouth, turning their head towards the breast, or sucking their fingers. Babies find sucking comforting and will often feed to help settle themselves.
The great thing about feeding, whether it is breast or bottle is that it is the perfect time to bond with your baby.
Wrapping your baby snuggly in a swaddle is a great way to recreate the secure feeling your baby had inside the womb. Wrapping the arms, but allowing the legs to move to the 'froggy position" is the safest way to swaddle your newborn. Swaddling will also help them to sleep
5. White Noise
It is noisy in the womb! Your baby has spent 9 months listening to the blood pumping around mums body at the volume of a vacuum cleaner and then we bring them home and pop them in a quiet room to sleep. White noise is a great way to recreate the familiar noise they have had in the womb.
Carrying your baby in a Peek-a-Baby wrap carrier is the perfect way to make them feel like they are still in the womb. They are close to you so feel like they are constantly been cuddled. Often babies who spend time being carried close spend less time crying.
A stretchy wrap also allows you to be hands-free so you have the freedom to get tasks accomplished while you keep your baby physically and emotionally close.
During pregnancy, your baby is constantly on the move with you. They get used to being rocked by the gentle sway of your movements. Getting up and moving around with your newborn may help to settle them rather than sitting still.
8. Deep Bath
The womb is warm and wet. Sometimes a nice deep bath can settle a newborn quickly. Especially if mum or dad get in the big bath with them for some skin to skin!
We are all different
There is so much to learn when you have a brand new baby. Whether it is your first or your fourth. All babies are different and have different personalities. What works for one baby may not work for another. What works for one family may not work for yours.
Take your time to learn about each other and you will soon be in tune with your baby's needs.
Enjoy this special time with your baby.
Photo credit: These stunning images are from Chantal Judd.
Chantal runs Bloom and Blossom with Chantal and is passionate about working with mothers and babies. These images are from her Birth/48 hours' collection. www.bloomandblossomwithchantal.com