10 Things to know about the fourth trimester
The 4th trimester is a crucial part of your newborn’ baby's life- a time to bond and adjust to the world. Read more about the 4th trimester:
What is the Fourth Trimester?
The fourth trimester is a term coined by Dr Harvey Karp and it refers to the 12 week period immediately following the birth of your baby. It’s a time of great change for you, your family and your baby- a time where everyone needs to adjust to a brand new person in the world.
What is the fourth trimester like for babies?
For your newborn, everything they know has changed. They’re suddenly in the outside world, and it’s nothing like the existence they’d known previously. This can be a huge shock for babies, and adjusting to the world can be hard at first.
There are lots of apps and devices out there designed to try and re-create the conditions in the womb for new babies. That’s why white noise is so effective in helping them to sleep-it sounds a lot like the noises babies are used to hearing in utero.
For a new baby, the world can be extremely over-stimulating- all the new sounds, sights, smells and sensations they’re being introduced to constantly is huge!
During the 4th trimester, your baby will go through a lots of changes as their hearing and vision develops and is fine-tuned. They start to take in more of the world around them, becoming more vocal as they do it. Became, yes, they will cry. Probably a lot.
What is the Fourth Trimester like for new mums?
As a new mum, the fourth trimester is also a time of great changes. Your body has been through a lot, and is continuing to change as your hormones now work to produce milk for your baby- whether you choose to breastfeed or not.
Other physical changes are taking place too, as your body recovers from pregnancy and birth- your tummy will be swollen for a while after birth, you may have cuts or tears to heal from, or a larger wound if you had a caesarean section. You may experience sore or painful breasts, night sweats and fatigue as you adjust to life as a new mum. And emotionally there’s a lot going on too.
After birth, your hormones are likely to be a little erratic and you could be feeling a little low, tearful or anxious for a few day. This is completely normal, but its important to recognise it and ask for support if you’re feeling particularly low for a longer period of time. There’s a lot to deal with during the fourth trimester, so accept help if its offered, and if it’s not, then ask for it.
On top of all the emotional and physical changes taking place, you also have a brand new baby to care for, and all the additional challenges that this brings. And let’s not forget the broken nights and frequent feeds.
The fourth trimester can be a lot, very quickly. And its easy for us to tell you that you need to rest- but honestly, if the chance arises, then take it. Taking care of a new baby can be exhausting in the early days, and this is the time where your body- and your baby- really needs you to put your own care at the top of your priority list too.
10 things to know about the 4th trimester
Yes, the fourth trimester can seem daunting, but you have a brand new little one to nurture and to love- so there are some incredibly beautiful moments to be enjoyed at this time too. Here are ten things you should know about the fourth trimester, that might just help you make the most of this precious time with your baby.
Swaddling and swaying helps
Newborn babies have something called the Moro, or startle reflex. You might have noticed your baby doing it already, when they seem to literally jump out of their own skin all of a sudden. This is normal, the body’s natural reaction to a loud noise or sudden movement, but it can also happen seemingly randomly as your baby sleeps too.
Swaddling or wrapping your baby (safely) in a blanket or large muslin cloth can help them to feel safe and protected. Swinging or swaying gently can also help at this time, as the motion mimics the sensation of being in utero, helping baby to feel relaxed and calm.
Read Dr Harvey Karp’s advice on swaddling here, and safety advice on from the Lullaby Trust here.
Skin to skin is amazing
Skin to skin as soon as possible after birth is an amazing way to not only bond with your baby, but to help them feel safe and secure too.
Studies, like this one, have also shown that babies who have skin to skin contact with their parent is able to regulate their own body temperature more quickly, and this can also help with establishing breastfeeding too. It’s especially recommend for low birth weight babies or babies born early.
And it doesn’t have to be just after birth either. Skin to skin during the fourth trimester is always beneficial, so try to do this as much as you can during this time. Bathtime is great opportunity for skin to skin.
Babies wake to feed
In case you needed reminding- babies are supposed to wake frequently for feeds- so don’t assume your baby is going to ‘sleep through’ any time soon. Especially during the fourth trimester, your baby is going to wake at least every 2-4 hours for a feed, so embrace this if you can. Enjoy those precious cuddles- but get someone else to help out if you need them to.
If you’re breastfeeding, your partner can help out by winding the baby afterwards, and you can also express some milk for a bottle when they’re a little older too. The night feeds can seem lonely at times, but accepting that it’s just part of this special time can make it a little easier to get through.
Not all babies love bathtime at first
Bathtime is a whole body sensory experience for babies, but not all of them are going to love it straight away. The new sensation of being undressed (and cold!) and placed into water takes some getting used to. And then imagine taking them out of that nice, warm water and back into a cold room again!
This is where the handsfree towel really is an essential new baby must-have. You want to wrap your baby up as quickly as you can once they’re out of the water, so having it there ready to go is a game changer. And because you wear it like an apron, the towel traps your body heat inside it’s double layers, so when you scoop them up out of the water, they’re instantly cosy and you can just enjoy cuddles. Bliss!
Read more about what to do if your baby cries at bathtime.
Recovering from childbirth can take a long time
We’re all different, and even those women who seem to ‘snap back after childbirth without a fuss’ may still have some recovering to do behind closed doors. Pregnancy is a huge deal. So many changes take place, and carrying a baby can be a huge stressor on the body. Childbirth is an additional stress on top of this, and both can have an emotional impact too.
The fact of the matter is that recovery from pregnancy and birth doesn’t happen overnight. It can take up to 12 months to recover fully, so don’t rush it. Rest as much as you can.
Your emotional Wellbeing is important
Your mental health is important, and especially in the forth trimester. There is just so much going on at this time, and you’re likely experiencing less sleep too, which can only exacerbate low mood or anxiety. Speak out if you’re struggling- there is support out there for you.
And please don’t assume that this only goes for the fourth trimester. Post natal depression can be diagnosed as late as two years post birth, so even if your baby is a little older, your emotional wellbeing still counts.
Broken nights and lack of sleep is hard
Yes, it’s hard. Being woken frequently and having a whole new person to care for 24/7 is hard work. And it’s really ok to admit that. Nobody is perfect, there is no such thing as ‘super mum’. We’re all just doing our best, so if you’re finding that the fourth trimester is hard work, know that you’er definitely not alone.
Your body might not bounce back
It’s both normal and expected to gain weight and for your body to change during pregnancy. Your breasts will grow, you’ll store more fat (to produce milk for your baby) and you might experience a whole host of other side effects- ranging from piles to varicose veins, swollen feet, headaches and even a sudden appearance of curly hair- it can happen! But it’s normal. And it’s normal for things to take a while to settle back again too.
Remember we said that it can take up to 12 months to recover from pregnancy and birth? It’s true.
Some days are harder than others
We won’t lie, some days will be tough. But know that this too shall pass.
You know your baby best
No matter what we say, or the books say, or the lady next door says… YOU know your baby best. You are your baby’s world. You’re their advocate and the only person who truly knows them inside out. Trust your instincts and do what works for you and your family.
What can I expect in the 4th trimester?
The fourth trimester is a time of great change. Emotionally and physically, there’s a lot going on, plus your baby is working hard to adjust to life in the outside world too. This is the time to take things slowly, to help your baby settle into the world, and to take care of your own wellbeing too.
You can expect sleepless nights, a long recovery from pregnancy and birth and some especially joyful moments and you become a new family.
Is the 4th trimester the hardest?
The fourth trimester can be hard work. You’ve been through a lot with pregnancy and childbirth and your baby is 100% reliant on you for everything. It can be hard at first, knowing what your baby needs- but it does get easier. Trust your instincts and remember that whatever you’re going through soon shall pass.
What happens to your baby in the 4th trimester?
Your baby undergoes huge physical and developmental changes during the fourth trimester. They will become more aware of the world around them, develop their vision, be able hear more and will start to recognise your voice above all others. s
During the fourth trimester, your baby will learn new skills, begin to communicate with you and will eventually learn to adjust to life outside the womb. It’s an exciting and magical time, but hard work none the less.
How do I enjoy the 4th trimester?
Try to remember that the fourth trimester is such a short time in your baby’s life, albeit an intense one. As your baby grows and develops new skills, you will start to see more of their personality and the person they’re destined to be. You will interact more with them, play more and you’ll even get some smiles eventually.
All of this is to say, try to enjoy these days as much as you can, but don’t be afraid to admit when things are hard. You’re allowed to feel drained, exhausted and frustrated, that doesn’t take away from the amazing moments.
Rest when you can. Take time to enjoy gentle exercise. Get outside every day if you can and take lots of photos. Enjoy skin to skin, take a bath together, practise baby massage. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Accept help if its offered and ask for it if it isn’t.