The Fourth Trimester: Explained
A guide to the fourth trimester.
IThe concept of the fourth trimester might be a totally new one to you. Basically it is the idea that the first 3 months of your baby’s life are an extension of life in the womb.
Compared to other mammals, human babies are much more vulnerable, requiring constant attention and physical contact. Other mammals are born with around 60-90% of their adult brain meaning they are quite self-dependent at birth, even walking straight away. But human babies are born with only 3 basic reflexes are in place – sucking, swallowing and breathing.
When your little one arrives they are completely dependent on you. They have gone from the safe, warm, quiet environment of the womb where they were never hungry, were always rocked and could always hear their mum’s soothing heartbeat to the bright, busy and loud outside world where they may be hungry, cold or stressed.
This theory can help to explain why babies need your constant attention and cuddles, why they sometimes may cry for what seems like no reason and why you shouldn’t expect them to be in any sort of routine when it comes to feeding or sleeping for at least the first 3 months.
Here are a few tips on what you can do to help your baby through the fourth trimester.
Feed your baby on demand
During baby’s life in the womb they received a constant stream of nourishment from you – they aren’t used to waiting! Don’t try to get your newborn to stretch too long between feeds. They may feed frequently but they are most likely only taking small amounts. A newborn’s tummy is tiny. They can’t take large volumes all at once but they do need a steady stream of nutrients throughout the day. This means that when they are hungry again you should feed them.
Skin to skin contact
Your baby is used to the warm environment of the womb where they could hear your heartbeat to soothe them. Laying your baby on your chest with no blankets, no wraps or no clothes will have many benefits including:
- Regulating your baby’s body temperature and keeping them warm
- Maintaining their breathing and their heart rate
- Allowing you and your baby to bond
- Keeping your baby calm
Keep them close and keep moving
In the womb, your baby is used to the constant movement they experience in the amniotic fluid as you move. They feel constantly close to you as they can hear your heartbeat. Now, in the real world they are sometimes expected to lie still in a cot or Moses basket by themselves. Of course, it’s not practical to sit and hold your baby all day long but keeping them close when they need comforting is the best thing. You can also wear your baby – slings and wraps keep baby close while allowing your hands to be free. You could also take them out and about, in the car seat or in the pram the gentle movements will help to soothe them.
Let go of sleep expectations
Every baby is different so try not to compare. And most importantly just let go of the expectations
Babies are not programmed to sleep! The question “Is he/she a good sleeper?” can set parents up with the idea that if their baby isn’t sleeping through the night or napping at regular intervals throughout the day then they are a bad sleeper. This isn’t the case. Every baby is different so try not to compare. And most importantly just let go of the expectations – if you change your mindset to not expect them to sleep for long intervals for the first few months then you will be less stressed when this happens. Having said that, of course sleep for mum is really important which is why the idea of sleeping when baby sleeps – whether that is nap times or at night – is a great one!
Even though you shouldn’t expect baby to stick to a schedule, you can still help to set your baby up to develop a routine later on. For example, when babies are born they have little concept of night and day. You can help them to gain an understanding of this by keeping things dark, quiet and calm during the night but by keeping curtains open and some background noise during the day.
Most importantly just try to relax and enjoy this special bonding time with your baby. They won’t always be this dependent on you!
Brighter futures start here
Discover more about infant development to help shape your baby's future
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, you eat a varied, balanced diet. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breastmilk, and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. Always consult your healthcare professional for advice about feeding your baby.