Have you heard of the fourth trimester? Are you nearing the end of your pregnancy or have you recently given birth? If so, you might be interested in learning ways to help you and your newborn settle in to the first three months of life – creating a fourth trimester.
The fourth trimester is essentially the 3 month period post birth and is a period of significant adjustment where your newborn has to learn lots of new skills and adapt to life on the ‘outside’, all while you learn how to look after a newborn who depends on you for everything.
In the fourth trimester, your newborn is adjusting to the huge change of moving out of your cosy, dark and warm womb to a bright, noisy, cold and open space. Your newborn is undergoing enormous change and growth as he starts to learn how to sleep in different places which might also be on his own; learning how to latch on and feed properly at the breast when previously nourishment was just automatic; learning to control his arms and legs so he is less likely to startle; continuing to develop his sight and begin to look at objects and people; and beginning to ‘wake up’ to the world around him.
It is therefore not surprising that your newborn must learn to communicate his needs – by crying. Whilst this may not sound ideal to a sleep deprived parent, it is his way of telling you what he needs from you. Whilst the different types of cries can be difficult to decipher, crying often peaks around 6 weeks of age and improves in time as you and your baby get to know each other. It is important to remember the crying phase does not last forever and finding ways to help your newborn adjust during this period can often help to reduce the crying episodes.
How can you ease your newborns into the fourth trimester?
Wear your baby in a baby carrier or sling
The benefits of wearing your baby means your newborn feels safe and enclosed close to your chest, can hear your breathing and your heartbeat – all comforts that remind him of his time tucked up nice and warm in the womb. Plus if you are moving around, the gentle movement also helps to relax your baby and help him fall asleep.
Make sure you choose a baby carrier that is the right size, and is designed to have his face toward yours not facing outwards.
Breastfeed on demand
Newborns have very small stomachs and therefore require feeding regularly. For some babies, they may go 3 to 4 hours between a feed whereas others may only go 1.5 hours. The size of your baby, how easily he took to the breast and his needs for comfort and nurture will dictate how often he wants to be fed. If you are unable to breastfeed or choose not to, the feeding guidelines are more structured in terms of how much formula to give your newborn over a 24 hour period.
Don’t stress about setting nap time routines
As a new parent, you will be inundated with information on how to get your baby into sleep routines and the importance of getting him to sleep on his own. Whilst this may sound great for your preferred sleep routine, at this stage your newborn needs you to help him sleep. Again, some babies sleep well on their own from the start, and others don’t.
If your baby wants some extra comfort, let your baby snuggle in on your chest during the day. Again, this reassures your baby that you’re close as he can hear you breathe and hear your heart beat. In the early days, you could watch a movie whilst your little one is sleeping soundly on your chest. Just make sure that if you are feeling exhausted and might fall asleep yourself, you put your baby in his safe sleeping space such as the bassinet.
If I had my time over again I would not have moved from the couch for 3 months!
Give your baby warm baths
In the early days when newborns tend to cry a lot, sometimes a warm bath can soothe and relax them. Floating in the warm water may remind him of the womb and may help to settle your baby. Perhaps get into the bath with your baby and enjoy relaxing as well.
Regularly have skin to skin contact
Having your baby naked on your bare skin is a wonderful way to settle your baby as well as support his immune system, help him regulate his temperature and heart rate, and feel secure. Your baby is able to smell you and it can help your baby to latch on properly for breastfeeding.
Move with your baby
Swinging motions and walking can help to soothe your baby. For the previous 9 months your baby has been going everywhere with you and the gentle rocking or walking can help him feel safe and relaxed.
If none of the above works to help your newborn in the fourth trimester make sure you ask for some help as you will no doubt be exhausted. There are a lot of services available to new parents so take advantage of these when you need to.
It’s not only your newborn that is going through a significant period of change…
What are you learning during the fourth trimester?
How to breastfeed
Yes, you’re learning how to breastfeed, which can seem strange when you think it should be natural. For some mothers and babies breastfeeding is easy, but for many it can take a lot of practice to get it working well and can often take up to 8 weeks or more before it becomes more natural and easier. You need to work out how to position your baby and how to position your breast, which can be surprisingly tricky! I still remember having maternal child health nurses helping me squeeze and push my breast into position!
Sometimes women have issues with milk production, however feeding on demand helps to stimulate milk production and there are herbs which can also assist to promote lactation such as fennel, nettle and fenugreek.
Your hormones are changing yet again
I’m sure you’ve heard of the ‘baby blues’ which often occurs around 3 – 5 days after birth. The baby blues are thought to be a result of your hormones changing from those you’ve had throughout pregnancy to those required for breastfeeding. However; feeling the responsibility of having a newborn to care for, not getting enough sleep and perhaps not finding the time to eat well can all compound your emotions.
Getting out of the house in the sunshine, meeting up with family or friends and being part of a mothers group are all great ways to lift your mood.
The baby blues are a common occurrence and considered ‘normal’ however if it persists it is best to seek advice from your health care professional. Seeking help is not you failing as a mother, it is you thriving, as you are doing the best thing for you and your baby.
Your adjusting to considerably less sleep
There’s no way to dress up sleep deprivation. It isn’t pleasant and it can go on for a long time. I used to get very frustrated when people said to me ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ because my baby didn’t sleep. Well he did, but not usually for more than 20 minutes at a time during the day (better at night thankfully), so I won’t tell you to do that.
So, what can you do? Ask for help. It is the only way. You do adjust, and it is surprising how well you can cope on very little sleep. But unless you have a great sleeper (they do exist, I even know some) then make sure you ask for help. Let someone take your baby out for a walk while you have a doze.
Does the above sound exhausting to you? For many new parents whilst having your baby snug on you all day and night is ideally what you would like to do, it really can be exhausting when you are also going through an enormous period of adjustment.
So my tips for helping you through this fourth trimester are:
Ask for help
The fourth trimester is a tiring time for most new parents. Most of us haven’t experienced sleep deprivation quite like the first 3 months of your newborn’s life and it takes some time to adjust. Asking family and friends to come over so you can relax for a little while, or ask them to cook some meals for you, or get them to clean the house etc. It is ok for ask for help and we all need help at some point (me included).
Lower your expectations of what you can achieve
Try to lower your expectations of what you can achieve in the first 3 months. It’s ok to sit on the couch for hours on end feeding your baby and letting him sleep. In fact it’s such a beautiful time that goes way too quickly, so don’t think of it as ‘doing nothing’ think of it as nourishing your newborn and yourself.
If visitors want to come over and see the baby, don’t worry about making sure the house is spotless. They won’t even notice the house when there is a beautiful baby to look at.
Use your naturopath
Your naturopath can continue to help you through this fourth trimester as you establish breastfeeding and discover yourself as a new mother. Your naturopath can also provide advice about infant feeding as your newborn heads towards the 6 month mark.
As mentioned earlier, there are herbs useful for promoting lactation, as well as herbs and supplements useful for improving your mood if this is a concern, or supporting your ongoing nutritional demands. However; it is important you seek a qualified naturopath and don’t self prescribe, particularly if you are breast feeding.
Can’t find the time for a face to face consultation? Don’t worry I offer Skype or phone consultations so you can still get the support you need without having to leave the house.