We’ve mentioned before how important it is to take it easy in the early days after baby is born, and there are so many reasons why this is a good idea. Focusing solely on your baby, labour and birth is an incredibly stressful event and the beginning of lots of upheaval. Just as you are getting used to the changes that a new baby brings, your baby is having to make even more adjustments. This period of settling in to the outside world is known as the fourth trimester, and it is every bit as important as the last three that you and your baby have experienced together. So here are some tips to help you make the most of the fourth trimester.
What does fourth trimester actually mean?
The fourth trimester refers to the first three months of a baby’s life- that initial period on the outside of your womb. It isn’t a medical term, but it is a term that is widely recognised by many professionals and new parents, and one that is every bit as important as the previous three. The fourth trimester is all about making the transition from womb to world as easy as possible for your baby- and you- and about respecting the changes that are occurring for your little bundle.
Let’s start with the most important aspect! Your baby has been used to sleep on his own terms, and now that he is here, in your arms, there is no reason why his established sleep patterns shouldn’t continue. But suddenly, there are demands placed on him. Parents who want to take him places, people who want to visit, and that pesky day light that comes just as he wants to sleep. And why do these parents insist on sleep during the night, when he wants to be up and exploring?
Basically, your baby needs to learn good sleeping habits that fit into your lives, but you also need to understand the habits he already has. He isn’t born knowing when to sleep, and in the fourth trimester he has so much to take in and he is just going to want to sleep when he wants to! Sleep will be disrupted with the need to feed, and this is just something you have to get on with. But there are things that you can do to help soothe your baby and to ensure that he is able to fall asleep in this strange world.
By emulating situations that occurred in the womb, you can help your baby to find the fourth trimester as easy as possible. There is a theory that works on the 5 s’s:
- Sound. It’s noisy in utero! All that blood whooshing around, tummy gurgles and outside noises make for a pretty constant din to say the least. Then you are born and people start to whisper. Phones are switched off and televisions muted. But it wasn’t like this during the last three trimesters! Some babies can find silence unsetttling, so try your best to keep things as normal as possible- they will sleep through it! And if you’re trying to soothe your unsettled baby, try shhing him fairly loudly, as this will be reminiscent of the sounds he is used to.
- Suck. Babies are born with a sucking reflex, some stronger than others. This sucking reflex can help to soothe and settle newborn babies in the fourth trimester and it’s up to you how you provide that comfort- be it breast, pacifier, or clean finger. All are great for soothing and calming.
- Swaddling. We’ve already written about the benefits of this- read this post here. Swaddling helps baby to secure and snug in much the same way as they did in the womb.
- Swing. Some babies love the gentle motion of swinging as it reminds them of the feelings experienced in the womb, as you walked around throughout the day. You can gently swing your baby in your arms, or you can use a swing chair.
- Side/ stomach. Please use this with caution. Safe sleeping guidelines state that babies should only be placed on their backs to sleep. BUT studies have shown that some babies find that being on their side or stomach is very soothing. These are great positions for soothing and NOT for sleeping.
Lots of parents use other methods to recreate conditions of the womb in order to ensure a smooth transition into the fourth trimester, and it really is a case of trying and seeing what is best for you and your baby. For example, white noise (again we have already written about this) is a fantastic way of soothing babies who are finding the silence of the outside world a little difficult. Babywearing is another excellent way to help baby feel safe and secure a they were in utero-see this post for more info.
So now that you know what the fourth trimester is all about, perhaps it is easier to understand why your newborn baby may seem as unsettled as he does. Take it slowly. Be mindful of how stressful situations that we take for granted can be to a small baby. And if in doubt, spend time just being with him- show him love, understanding and patience. These days will be over before you know it.