The fourth trimester
The fourth trimester is a name given to the first 12 weeks of your baby’s life.
After nine months in a warm, dark and quiet environment where they were constantly moving and only had a small space, the loud noises, bright lights and wide open spaces of the world outside the womb can be overwhelming for your baby.
Experts believe that newborns benefit from parents mimicking the kind of safe, secure conditions they had while they were in the womb during the first few weeks of their life. So while babies are born after the third trimester of pregnancy, creating your own fourth trimester can help them adjust to life in the outside world.
What happens during the fourth trimester?
These 12 weeks are a huge period of change for both you and your baby. You are adjusting to becoming a parent and looking after a newborn and they are going through some major developmental changes, going from mostly sleeping to being more awake, alert and interested in what is happening around them.
Swaddling your baby or wearing them in a sling can help them to feel secure and settled. This is because the feeling of being wrapped and held closely is familiar to them.
During pregnancy, your baby was always being rocked and swayed as you moved about. Holding your baby and swaying, rocking their Moses basket or crib or walking around with them in your arms or a sling can mimic the motion they felt in the womb, helping them to feel calmer and safer. This is also why so many babies settle to sleep in the car or while being pushed in their pram as motion and movement is relaxing to them.
Skin to skin contact is also important. Your midwife will usually encourage you to have skin to skin cuddles with your baby straight after they are born but this doesn’t need to stop once you are at home.
Taking time to cuddle your baby and laying them on your chest with your bare skin touching each other will be very reassuring to your baby and great for bonding. It also encourages you to take time to rest and recover after the birth, which is very important.
Spending time skin to skin will encourage your body to release oxytocin, a hormone which produces feelings of love, happiness and peace and which plays an important role in breastfeeding. It will also help regulate your newborn’s temperature, heart rate and blood sugars.
What else should I be doing in the fourth trimester?
In the womb, your baby could hear muffled noises, the sound of the amniotic fluid moving around and your heartbeat. Try to keep your little one away from any loud, startling noises and keep their environment calm and quiet.
Some new parents find their babies respond well to playing recordings of womb noises, white noise or pink noise. Simply letting your baby lay on your chest so they can hear your heartbeat can have a very calming effect.
When your baby was growing in your womb, they never felt hungry. Your placenta provided with the nourishment they needed constantly so feelings of hunger can be very distressing for your newborn.
Feed your baby on demand rather than trying to follow any strict routine or feeding schedule. And try not to wait until your baby is crying with hunger- look out for early cues that they may be ready for a feed like smacking their lips, moving their head to the side and rooting, putting their hands to their mouth or simply seeming more alert and awake.
After so many months living in amniotic fluid, many babies find having a warm bath relaxing. It is also a good time for you to bond with your little one and spend some quality time together.
How can I look after myself during the fourth trimester?
The fourth trimester is not just a period of adjustment for your baby, there is a lot going on for you too. Newborn babies are very time-consuming and the responsibility can feel overwhelming. Add to that the fact you are exhausted and still recovering from the birth.
It’s vital you take this time to rest, recover and focus on your newborn. Accept any help which is offered by loved ones and don’t worry about letting things like housework slide for a few weeks.
Don’t try to do too much and lower your expectations of yourself. You have just grown and given birth to a new human being, that is already a huge achievement so allow yourself time to simply enjoy and get to know your baby.
Don’t feel pressured into having lots of visitors either – take this time to cocoon yourself away from the world. There will plenty of time for your baby to meet everyone you know later.
Limit visits to close family and friends who you know will accept you as they find you and will offer practical support like bringing meals, caring for your older children if you have any, looking after your newborn so you can sleep or helping out with jobs around the house.
Make an effort to eat a healthy, balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids so you don’t become dehydrated. Listen to your body and don’t push it too hard so stick to gentle activities and exercise at a slow pace in these first few weeks after giving birth.
Rest whenever you can and if you manage to settle your baby to sleep, take a nap yourself. You need time to recover and rebuild your energy levels.
If anything is concerning you about your physical or mental health, speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP. They are there to help and support you so don’t suffer in silence or worry about anything on your own.