Pregnancy has three trimesters, but newborn babies are so small and vulnerable that for them, the first few months of life outside the womb are truly a “4th trimester” of pregnancy. For new mums, welcome to this new trimester of motherhood!
These early days with your new baby are some of the most beautiful and precious of your life together. It’s all about focusing on your new baby, breastfeeding, and bonding.
The first 12 weeks with a newborn can be some of the most exciting and wonderful – and also tiring and challenging! Both mum and baby are making huge transitions as they learn from each other, and grow together on a physical, emotional and psychological level.
It is important during the fourth trimester to help babies make a gentle adjustment to their new world outside the womb. This can make a huge difference to how the baby feels and reacts to everyday events and stimuli. It shapes how mums and dads cope with the new rhythms and realities of parenthood.
Think about it from the perspective of a newborn baby. In the 40 weeks since conception, they have spent every moment in a warm and nurturing environment where every need was attended to.
Now, in the world outside the womb, they are adjusting to a more varied and sometimes startling world of sound, colour and stimulation. It is even thought that colicky babies cry from being overstimulated. This is just one example of how life in the fourth trimester can present new adjustments for mothers and babies alike.
Here are five ideas for how to enjoy the fourth trimester together with your baby:
Make the Transition More Like the Womb
In the fourth trimester, it is helpful to make the baby’s everyday experience feel as “womb-like” as possible. Wear your baby in a sling, wrap or baby-carrier to help mimic the feeling and movement of being in the womb. Babies often prefer to be carried this way so they can feel closely snuggled up to their mother’s body. It’s a familiar and comfortable sensation for the baby.
During breastfeeding, try doing as much skin-to-skin contact as possible. This helps the baby’s senses feel calm and soothed. Holding the baby close to the mother’s heart is also important since the mother’s heartbeat is a familiar sensation from the womb.
Another way to help the baby feel womblike again is to take baths together – the warmth and water vibrations will remind the baby of being in the womb. Life in the womb was full of motion, so get moving. Take a walk, push a stroller, or drive in the car.
Many babies will fall asleep more easily if they are riding in a car seat or in a baby carrier or even just being held on mum or dad’s chest while quietly pacing through the house.
Latching is easier if everyone is relaxed, and latching is key to successful breastfeeding so doing as much as possible to re-create the womb environment can also help facilitate a positive breastfeeding experience.
Create a Peaceful Environment
The arrival of a new baby is a huge life transition, and it all happens overnight. You need time to cope, so take it slow and lower your expectations about yourself. You will not “get it” all and that’s OK. Just do the best you can, one day at a time.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to tiptoe totally around the baby – lower the sound levels and lights in the house, but don’t make a big effort to stay quiet during the day.
Practice routines, not schedules and perhaps create a breastfeeding sanctuary. Also, be prepared to adjust as you go – figure out what works for your baby to help them stay calm and peaceful. Try swaddling your baby – it works for a lot of babies to feel safe and secure.
The fourth trimester is the time to get started with breastfeeding. This is a critical opportunity to bond and enrich the baby’s health and nutrition with the minerals, micronutrients and immunity boosters that are part of “nature’s perfect baby food.”
Keep in mind that with breastfeeding, there is no “normal.” It’s not unusual for newborns to breastfeed every 2-3 hours around the clock until they regain their birth weight. It might seem tiring at first, but it’s important to keep breastfeeding the baby whenever they want to feed – this is known as “feed on demand” breastfeeding.
And don’t worry about “running out of milk!” Breastfeeding works based on demand and supply – the more breastmilk your baby demands, the more your breasts will make! So keep it going.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help – there is lots of breastfeeding support that you can get online, in the community and from your partner and friends.
Take Care of Yourself
It might sound like the last thing on your mind, but as a new mum, you need to make a strong and conscious effort to take care of yourself too.
Learn to love your new body. A new mother’s body is gradually returning to its normal shape – don’t worry about stretch marks or a soft belly! Internal organs that moved around during pregnancy will soon shift and return to their place.
Try to enjoy the daily rhythms of life with a newborn, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Taking care of this little child right now in this moment is the most important work of your life.
Take care of your breasts. There are a few things you can do throughout the breastfeeding journey to keep your breasts feeling good and healthy, avoiding sore or cracked nipples.
Let go of all expectations about sleep and schedules and follow the advice to sleep when baby sleeps – seriously! Getting enough rest should be one of your very top priorities. Keep in mind that as a new mum, your hormones are still unpredictable. Don’t worry about skin breakouts, dry hair, or moments of frustration or ill temper. No one is judging – least of all your beautiful baby!
Just go with the flow – don’t stress about making mistakes. Every day with a newborn is a huge learning experience as you build a relationship with this new amazing person in your life. Praise yourself when you do great – keep a positive attitude – make it fun, and remember to laugh every day.
Minimise your external obligations and time commitments. Don’t make promises to yourself or others that you can’t keep – don’t travel if you can help it. Ask friends and family members to visit you instead of the other way around.
Most of all, be sure to ask for help: from your partner, family, friends, and professionals like lactation consultants (if needed). In a way the fourth trimester requires the same type of self-care as still being pregnant – take care of yourself, eat nutritious foods, dress comfortably, and get as much sleep as you possibly can.
Enjoy your “Babymoon”
Just like every marriage has a “honeymoon,” every newborn baby and mother should hopefully get to enjoy a “babymoon” phase of spending lots of time together and getting to know each other.
Don’t worry about schedules and get rid of your expectations – instead, just spend time with the baby and enjoy this first 12 weeks – it will come and go so quickly, and you’ll be amazed at how far you and the baby have come!
Do you have any tips or reminiscences from your “fourth trimester?” How did you and your baby get to know each other during that fourth trimester? Leave a comment and let us know, or join the discussion at the Medela Australia Facebook page.