We All Need To Talk About The Fourth Trimester

Or quadmester? Quatromester? Frimester? Whatever it’s official title should be, there’s no denying the Fourth Trimester is real.

It’s also known as the ‘forgotten trimester’, largely because you’d be hard pressed to find much info about it in most pregnancy apps and books.

Confused? Don’t be. The Fourth Trimester typically refers to the first three months of a newborn’s life, and covers the transition from birth to becoming an infant, and all the incredible developmental leaps that happen in that time. All of this coincides, of course, with your own recovery from childbirth – physical, emotional and hormonal.

Most pregnancy apps will happily take you up to somewhere around the 40th week of pregnancy, with regular notifications and updates that inform you about what’s happening with baby’s development, how your body is changing, and what sort of tasks you should have on your to-do list in preparation for baby’s arrival.

But what about advice on what happens after birth? All babies are different and they each have their unique likes and dislikes, which you’ll both learn as you go, but here are some key things to know to help you and your baby get through the Fourth Trimester.

What The Fourth Trimester Will Be Like For Baby

During the fourth trimester, newborns are still very much adjusting to life outside the womb. In fact, it can help to think of the first three months of a baby’s life as though they’d still prefer to be in utero.

Dr Harvey Karp, a leading US paediatrician and the founder and CEO of smart-tech and parenting solutions company Happiest Baby, has said, “We need to recognise that they’re evicted from the womb three months before they’re ready for the world.”

Up until birth, babies have been used to feeling tucked up and cosy in warmth and almost darkness; never feeling hungry; enjoying a regular soft, tumbling motion; and listening to the constant sounds of their mum’s heartbeat, tummy gurgles and muffled voice coupled with the droning, whooshing vacuum sounds within the womb.

Help A Baby To Sleep With The Aid Of Sounds

Typically, then, a baby will still want and look for all of these sensations and comforts in the first few months of life. When your baby sleeps, some form of gentle white noise might help keep her settled. Background sounds such as a pedestal fan on low, or the soft crackling of static on a radio go some way towards mimicking the kind of murmurs and rumblings she’s been hearing in utero for the last few months.

Cuddle & Soothe To Your Heart’s Content

Newborns also tend to love lots of time being held by their parents. Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth and regularly throughout the first few months of life benefit the baby not only with calming and bonding with her parents, but studies show it can also help regulate a baby’s temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate.

Dr Karp believes that what a baby really wants is “a fourth trimester of cuddling”. He developed a method of soothing babies known as the 5 S’s to help parents settle their infants: Swaddle; Side or Stomach Position; Shush; Swing; Suck.

“Give her plenty of snug wrapping/swaddling, shushing, swaying motion, holding in the side/stomach position and opportunities to suck,” he says in his blog. “They will make your baby feel back at home and trigger her calming reflex.”

When It Comes To Feeding, Go With The Flow

Whether you’re breast or bottle feeding, nursing will be a learning curve for both you and baby. Babies’ tummies are tiny when they’re born, and it’s typical for newborns to need at least eight feeds every 24 hours.

Hunger is an entirely new sensation for a newborn, and can most certainly cause a baby to cry, however she may give other hints she’s feeling hungry beforehand. Look for cues of hunger such as sucking her fingers, or bobbing and turning her head while her mouth is open.

Allow For A Little Activity

There’s not much a newborn can do in the early days and weeks. In fact, your baby relies entirely on her parents for survival. The only real activity time a baby needs in the fourth trimester is a little ‘tummy time’.

For a few minutes a day when your baby is alert and happy, place her on her tummy on a blanket or other soft, flat surface. It’s a great way to encourage babies to move and gain muscle strength.

All babies reach different milestones at their own pace, but by three months old, your baby may be able to prop herself up on her forearms and lift her head. Ask your midwife, paediatrician or health visitor to give you the basics and safety tips for tummy time.

What The Fourth Trimester Will Be Like For You

It can’t be overstated how much of a major event childbirth is, and while it’s common to receive a six-week check-up with your GP or midwife after your baby arrives, a 2012 study found that it may take some women up to a year to emotionally recover from childbirth and adjust to motherhood.

During the first three months of your baby’s life, it’s completely common to feel tired and overwhelmed while recovering from the birth, experiencing necessary hormonal changes, and adjusting to life with a new little person in your life – even if it’s your second or third child.

It can be easier said than done, but this is a time to be really (really, really) kind to yourself, and to put yourself first, like never before. Accept help when it’s offered, turn down visitors if that works better for you, and make life as slow and quiet as possible.

It doesn’t feel like it in the moment – and it’s hard to hold on to when you’re living exhaustion and overtiredness minute to minute – but just as it is with most stages of raising children, the fourth trimester days are long, and the weeks are short. On days that are a struggle, ask for help. This, too, shall pass.

A bit about Moment Health…

Moment Health is a technology company that aims to prioritise Maternal Mental Health and provide new parents with the tools and knowledge they need to sustain good mental wellbeing – from pregnancy through to parenthood.

The Moment Health app has been developed with clinicians and healthcare professionals. It will screen for perinatal, postnatal and associated anxieties, and include additional features such as a helpful guide to practical and accessible coping strategies.

At Moment Health, our mission is to make maternal mental health mainstream #MakeItMainstream.

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