You might have heard the term fourth trimester being thrown around, but what really is the fourth trimester?
The fourth trimester is the 12-week period immediately after you have had your baby. Not everyone has heard of it, but every mother and their newborn baby will go through it. It is a time of great physical and emotional change as your baby adjusts to being outside the womb, and you adjust to your new life as a mum.
You may find the term “trimester” odd, since your baby is already born. But think how much she still needs to develop over these next few months, from refining and developing all her senses and controlling her reflexes, to learning how to respond to you and your partner. The mental and physical strides your baby takes during her first three months are just as important to her development as those she took in your womb.
The fourth trimester is also a time for your baby to get used to the variety of noises, lights, smells, sounds and sensations of the outside world. Moving from the familiar comfort of your warm, dark and quiet womb, to a noisy, bright and often cold environment, is a major change for your baby. By offering her plenty of love and support in her first three months, you can make this transition easier.
During this time, baby will want to stay nice and close to mum and it’s a very special time between the two of you.
Helping your newborn adjust to the world
Dr. Harvey Karp, renowned pediatrician and author of “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” is credited for popularizing the concept of the fourth trimester.
According to Karp, even full-term human babies are born “too soon,” and he encourages parents to think of their little ones as foetuses outside the womb for the first 3-4 months of their lives.
But just how do you do that?
Swaddling and swaying
Babies spend 9 months in a confined and constantly moving environment. There are several ways you can re-create the sense of safety and security your baby felt before they were born. By swaddling your baby when you put them down to sleep, you will let them feel secure, and you might find they wake less frequently and sleep for longer.
‘Wearing your baby’ in a sling across your chest can feel familiar to them. But it’s important to make sure you use the sling correctly, since they can cause injury if not properly fitted. I personally did a lot of baby wearing with my son when he was born to eat dinner, clean the house and cook dinner. It is the only way many mums can get stuff done, especially during those night time witching hours.
Movement is also a great way to calm your baby. Gently swaying or rocking from side to side, walking whilst carrying them or even taking a quick car trip can settle your baby.
Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, if your baby is hungry, don’t wait for a scheduled time to feed them. Combine feeding your baby with skin to skin contact to reinforce close contact and comfort.
Having a warm bath is often a relaxing and comforting experience for newborns. Floating in the water is like being in the womb. It’s also a great way for you to bond, talk and sing to your baby.
Skin to skin contact
Skin-to-skin contact is usually referred to as the practice where a baby is dried and laid directly on their mother's bare chest after birth, both of them covered in a warm blanket and left for at least an hour or until after the first feed.
Skin to skin is an important in the moments after you give birth and the months ahead to enable bonding between baby and mum. Cuddling your newborn on bare skin is a great comfort to them. Your smell and the sound of your heartbeat is warm and familiar. This isn’t just for females and is important for your partner as well to bond with baby.
What does the fourth trimester mean for mum?
Parents also experience major transition during the first 12 weeks. The learning curve is real; it takes time to master those swaddling skills and distinguish cries of hunger from those of discomfort.
Additionally, birth parents may be contending with postpartum pain, breastfeeding challenges, and fluctuating hormones.
Throw in some sleep deprivation and it’s fair to say that new parents have a whole lot on their proverbial plates.
It’s important to take deep breathes and focus on both your own health and well being and that of your newborn baby. This first 12 weeks is all about you and bub, so take the time out from busy life and refocus whilst you both adjust. Your friends, cafes and dinner’s will all still be there.
When people offer help, take it
Most women go home from hospital after a couple of days and attempt to continue to do everything as before, with no help. Trying to juggle everything can be particularly difficult with newborn babies being very demanding and you are sleep deprived whilst you adjust to 3 - 4 hour feeds.
If you have a partner, encourage them to assist and participate in parenting as much as possible. The two of you are in this together and there are lots of things you both can do to share the load.
While you adjust to new life as a parent, you don’t want a procession of people coming over, especially with all your midwife appointments over the first week or so.
Family and friends can definitely help out by:
- looking after the baby while you rest
- bringing meals
- helping with household chores
- looking after your other children (if this is not your first child)
- accept help and don’t be afraid to ask.
Eat good, nutritious food
You will need lots of energy in those first few months, so eating a variety of healthy foods will help give you the boost you need. Some some light exercise will also help with your recovery and energy levels. But make sure to give your body time to heal and take it at your own pace.
Getting your food home delivered during this time or subscribing to a meal delivery service for the first couple of months can be a big assistance.
Sleep when you can
It might sound obvious, but you need to sleep. It’s going to take a while for your baby to settle into a routine and even then, they will have you up at all hours of the night. If you can, try and sleep when your baby is sleeping, or ask your partner or a family member to look after your baby while you get some rest.
When to see your doctor or midwife
Your body has been through a lot over the past 9 months. Your physical recovery will take time, but it’s important to speak to your doctor or midwife if you have any of the following:
- heavy bleeding or passing of clots
- high temperature or fever
- offensive-smelling vaginal discharge
- a hard or painful lump in your breast
- an area around stitches that is red, hot or oozing
- pain, tenderness or a warm area in your legs
Many women also experience the ‘baby blues’ in the first few days after giving birth, but if these feeling are not going away, it’s important you see your doctor as soon as possible. Postnatal depression affects 1 in 7 women in Australia, and it is nothing to be ashamed of, but you need to seek help.
Talk to your doctor or midwife.
Contact a maternal child health nurse.
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436, 7 days a week, from 7am to midnight (AEST).
Visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association website, or call them on 1800 686 268.
Call PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) on 1300 726 306.
Products to assist with fourth trimester
To assist with the fourth trimester, there are certain products to aid you by baby wearing and keeping baby near you whilst they are sleeping.
With our baby nests and foldable carry beds, you can easily put baby to sleep where you are in the house and feel comfortable to have baby beside you whilst you nap.
The ring slings and baby wraps are great for baby-wearing and keeping baby nice and close to your skin and warmth. This can be a major game changer in helping you to get things done around the house whilst baby is nice and content.
Our bedside sleeper is great for keeping baby nice and close to you whilst you both sleep and can be a major assistance in easily feeding baby during the middle of the night, so you can both get more sleep.
The first few months are about survival in many ways for both you and your baby, so do what ever you need to do, to make it work.
Fourth trimester aids:
- Aura baby wrap Ergobaby to wear your baby
- ergoPouch Foldable Carry Bed
- Mamaway Neapolitan Baby Ring Sling
- Purair Breathable Nest - Elephant baby nest
- Doze Bedside Sleeper
- Child Magazine (Surviving The Fourth Trimester: It Takes A Village).
- Harvard Health (The fourth trimester: What you should know).
- Kidspot (The fourth trimester: Yes, it's a thing).
- Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (The First Few Weeks Following Birth)
- Healthline (What’s with the 4th Trimester? Adjusting to Life with a Newborn)
- Unicef Skin to Skin contact
- Babycentre.co.uk (Your baby and the fourth trimester)