The Fourth Trimester is the name given to the first 3 months of your baby’s life. It begins when they’re born and they transition from their cosy home in your womb to their bright and cold new world. Biologically speaking, human pregnancies are way too short (even though from a mother’s point of view, it’s an eternity). Humans have to be born much sooner than is ideal to accommodate our huge brains. Think about other newborn animals – they’re up walking around within hours of birth, whereas humans take about a year to learn to walk. It’s a big deal to be born so prematurely. We rely on our mothers for everything and are completely vulnerable for the first years of our lives. The first 3 months are especially vulnerable as we continue our basic development. This is why it’s helpful to think of your baby as a foetus who is living outside the womb. The development strides which your baby takes outside the womb in the Fourth Trimester are as important as their development inside the womb.
This post is largely about your baby’s development, how they perceive their world and how you can help them settle in. For our post about caring for your newborn’s physical needs check out our blog post – First Days With A Newborn.
While in your womb, they listened to the rushing of blood through your uterine arteries. This noise is actually very loud at 90 decibels – that’s about as loud as a lawnmower! So, as you can imagine, their quiet nursery is actually deafening silence. White noise is great for helping your baby adjust to their new quieter environment. White noise is defined as noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities. This helps your baby to relax by mimicking the consistent noise in your womb and also masking any sounds that may startle them.
Young babies need lots of reassuring touch. Disregard anyone who tells you you’re spoiling your baby. Newborns cannot be spoiled, (one more time for the people in the back) NEWBORNS CANNOT BE SPOILED. So don’t hold back on the cuddling, rocking to sleep, singing, baby-wearing, anything that makes your baby feel closer to you. Remember, they’re transitioning from being inside your body, all of this sudden empty space around them is extremely unnerving.
Skin-to-skin contact is hugely beneficial in this early stage. Your baby will be comforted by your warmth, your smell and your heartbeat. Skin-to-skin also helps your baby to latch on and encourages your milk supply to come in. When skin-to-skin contact isn’t possible, try wearing your baby in a sling. Baby-wearing is extremely beneficial for both baby and mother. Studies show that babies who are regularly carried in a baby carrier are more relaxed, put on weight faster and cry less. Slings are often referred to as “transitional wombs” because the baby’s body is completely nestled and they’re close to their mother’s heartbeat, movements and voice. Benefits for mammy include having both hands free, burning extra calories and, of course, a relaxed baby! Remember, when using a sling always ensure your baby’s breathing is not obstructed by the sling or your body, read instructions carefully before using a sling and check the minimum weight indicated by the manufacturer.
When your baby is born, their vision is blurry and they find it difficult to distinguish between colours and objects. Your baby will only be able to see 8-12 inches in front of their face. During the Fourth Trimester, their sight develops rapidly as they gain control over their eye muscles. Your baby’s eyes may look crossed or wandering, this is completely normal and will usually correct itself by 3 months old when your baby’s eye muscles become stronger. Look out for signs that your baby is willing to focus on objects. Use toys with high contrasting colours (black and white) as these are the easiest patterns for them to see.
Your baby’s favourite thing to look at is your face. Studies show that babies are most happy when looking at the face of the person who cares for them. So bring them close to your face often and chat to them about your day – they’re great listeners, and we listen to them enough!
Allow yourself to use the Fourth Trimester as an “excuse” as to why your baby is crying when nothing appears to be wrong. Remind yourself how much of a huge transition your baby is going through and it’s not your fault that the transition is so major. All new mothers experience those moments of “why is my baby crying? What am I doing wrong?”. Well, you’re not doing anything wrong, it’s just the Fourth Trimester!
Give yourself a break and remember that your transition is also huge as you let go of how your life was before and try to embrace the overwhelming shift into motherhood.
For our post all about your recovery after giving birth and your mental health during this stage see our post about Postnatal Recovery.