What is The Fourth Trimester?
Imagine what the third trimester of pregnancy would be like for a baby: tightly cocooned in a warm, dark, comforting place. There are no hunger pains or thirst, no need to pass painful wind, no strange smells, no feeling the hot or cold — just a perfect environment tailor made for a baby.
I’m sure you can also imagine suddenly being born into a world with of all these things can be quite a rude shock!
A new baby isn’t born being able to fend for themselves and still has much developing to do – they can’t escape if they sense danger or fear, go and find mum or dad for security or a cuddle, nor can a baby chase mum for a feed whenever hunger or thirst calls… they completely rely on us for every single need.
A gentle adjustment into their new world in the form of a fourth trimester (which is named that way in order to be perceived as an extension of the third trimester) can make a huge difference to how baby feels and how mum and dad cope with parenthood.
Babies cry because it is their only means to alert their parents that they have a need to be met (and they will not stop crying until it is met), which can in turn make parent’s self esteem and confidence plummet if nothing seems to work. This is because they start wondering what they are doing wrong and if they are useless parents (they’re not).
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 some simple ways to recreate womb life.
- Use a sling/wrap
Baby wearing can be a life saver in the early days. Using a sling can recreate several conditions from when baby was in the womb. Feeling tightly supported all over, close to mum’s heartbeat, warm and cosy. Both parents can use a sling to offer comfort to baby and strengthen your bond.
Make sure you choose a safe and suitable baby carrier – www.babywearingireland.ieis a great source of information. You can even get a sling consultant out to your house!
- Skin to skin!
Whether you are breast or formula feeding, skin to skin is a great way to increase bonding with your baby. Skin to skin contact offers the following benefits for your baby at birth (and beyond):
- Regulates his body temperature better even than in an incubator
- Maintains his heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure normal
- Has stable blood sugar
- Feels safe and calm so is less likely to cry
- Receives good bacteria from your body to promote good gut bacteria in baby and boost immune system.
- Is more likely to breastfeed exclusively and breastfeed longer
- Baby is more likely to latch on
- Baby is more likely to latch on well
- Will indicate to his mother when he is ready to feed
- Bath time!
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.
- Bed Sharing or Co-Sleeping
Just like with cot sleeping, there are also safe co-sleeping guidelines. Both sleeping methods have risks if not practiced sensibly. Le Leche League have a 7 step guideline to safe co-sleeping. You can find the information here http://www.llli.org/sweetsleepbook/thesafesleepseven
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 mum is close by. He can smell you and even touch you, without insecurity. Its also a great way to make sure mum gets her much needed rest.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘sleep when baby sleeps’.
Especially in the fourth trimester, focus only on what you and your baby need – and 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 and enjoy those sleepy cuddles.
- Feed on demand for breast and bottle fed babies.
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. It is important to follow your baby’s lead to allow her to create a milk supply to meet her individual needs.
There are lots of places to get support with breastfeeding. (Cuidiu, La Leche League, Friends of Breastfeeding, Postpartum doulas) or the most qualified experts in breastfeeding – IBCLC’s (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants).
You can find breastfeeding support in the following places:
- Cuidiu www.cuidiu-ict.ie
- Le Leche League www.lalecheleagueireland.com
- Friends of Breastfeeding www.friendsofbreastfeeding.ie
- Association of Lactation Consultants in Ireland www.alcireland.ie
- Irish Premature Babies www.irishprematurebabies.com
- Irish Multiple Birth Association www.imba.ie
- Doula Association of Ireland www.doula.ie
- KellyMom www.kellymom.com
If you choose to bottle feed remember your baby has been fed constantly throughout pregnancy. A three or four hour routine can be difficult for a new baby to adjust to. Also it is helpful to remember that a new born tummy is the size of a small marble/malteser and so they thrive on little and often. Paced bottle feeding can ensure your baby takes as much food as they need, without being forced to drink more to ‘finish the bottle’ Trust your baby to take what they need and this will help to avoid lots of spit up and tummy pain.
You can find more information here: http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/feeding-tools/bottle-feeding/
- Getting Out and About
Once you have recovered from birth it is important to try to get out and about. Every baby is different so trial and error will find the best way for you. Lots of babies love the motion of the car but some do not like the car seat so this can cause you stress. Some babies love the buggy for the ride, others would rather be worn or in a parent’s safe arms. Make a date with a friend to meet for a cupa somewhere or just take a gentle stroll around the block. The fresh air will help to lift your mood and may help baby to sleep.
- 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.
Remember ‘This too shall pass’.
Sleep deprivation and discomfort is part of the job of being a parent, but it can be made much easier by:
- Sharing the load where possible – accept and ask for all the help you can
- Make sure your partner spends time settling baby too (he/she needs to learn – and baby will learn how daddy/mammy does it!)
- Seek out a postpartum doula if you can afford it
- Making sure you get a break/time out. Even a trip to the supermarket, coffee shop or 5 minutes in the garden
- 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 – it WILL get easier. Savour the good times & breathe through the tough ones. Take lots of photos ☺
Doula Jen x