The fourth trimester: Everything you need to know

Posted in Mother care.
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The first three months after birth is a time of great adjustment for mum and baby and this period is often referred to as the fourth trimester.

The fourth trimester is an extension of the womb experience for baby. Emotionally speaking, your baby isn’t ready to leave the womb, so your newborn’s behaviour is often unsettled at this time as he learns to adjust. This is totally normal.

“Unfortunately we are in a society that is all about getting back to ‘normal life’ – getting your pre-baby body back and showing the world that you’re on top of everything,” says postnatal and early parenting specialist, Karina Lane. “What comes with that is the pressure to get your baby to ‘toe the line’ and slip into a routine, so you can carry on with life as normal…”

Take it slow

The trouble is, most babies have no idea there’s even a line, let alone have the capability to follow it.

“Your baby is not biologically hard-wired to [slip into a routine],” says Karina. “This is why so many new mums end up with babies who are unsettled, or not able to sleep in the way they want them to sleep, which causes a lot of undue stress.”

Instead, Karina encourages new mums to take it slow in the fourth trimester. “It’s our job to fall into step with baby’s life and with what baby needs, because they’re brand new to the world,” she says.

Womb-like experience

Lane recommends replicating your baby’s womb experience as much as you can. Keeping things quiet and soothing will help you tune into your baby and understand what they need. “A lot of their behaviour is about getting as close to that womb experience as possible,” she says.

Coming from the womb-world, your baby is used to:

  • Being constantly fed
  • Being contained in a small space
  • Being rocked
  • Hearing your voice
  • Being warm
  • A bath-like environment

To ease your baby’s adjustment into this world, think about how you can recreate this environment.  You can never go wrong with giving your baby plenty of love and contact through this special time so give yourself permission to do just that. Swaddling with a lovely stretchy wrap, breastfeeding and safe contact naps can all help.

And if your baby is feeling fractious and over-stimulated, try using a white noise machine to soothe your little one. The My Baby Soundspa Lullaby Projector has some lovely natural sounds, as well as gentle lullabies, to choose from at bedtime that will help lull them to sleep.

Throw out the ‘rule book’

“I don’t want new parents to listen to any of the rules that say your baby should behave a certain way,” Karina says. “You need to respond to all those things because that’s your baby telling you they need help, they’re struggling with this crazy new world that is so different to their dark, wet, muted environment.”

With all of the elated excitement surrounding a newborn, it can sometimes be difficult for a new mum to manage other people’s expectations. Setting rules for eager visitors who mean well can be tough, but clear boundaries are necessary to preserve the sanctity of the fourth trimester.

Mother and father sitting on couch holding newborn baby

Confidence in the fourth trimester

Karina encourages new mothers to have confidence in the way you want to manage your baby’s first few months. Set limits on how many visitors your baby will see and how long the visits will go for. Let your visitors know your rules on handling or otherwise stimulating your baby.

“There are a lot of ways you can do it. Parents are putting this out there during their late pregnancy now,” she says. “A nice big social media announcement of what their preferences are when baby arrives.”

Talk it over with your partner and agree together how you would like the fourth trimester to be. Will you be open to receiving visitors in the early days, or keep it time for close family and friends only? Your partner can act as gatekeeper here, letting people know something along the lines of ‘‘we’re still working together to find our feet, please come and visit us next week”, or whatever suits you.

Just as much for new mums

Not being clear on your expectations can quickly come back to bite you later. When your visitor list overflows, it’s very easy for your baby to experience far too many sensations and quickly become over-stimulated. Soothing an over-stimulated newborn is a challenging job and a good reminder that honouring the fourth trimester supports new mums just as much as new babies.

“It’s really going to help you be in tune with each other and bond beautifully with each other,” says Karina. “You’ll have a much better understanding of what your baby needs, in terms of being content and relaxed and healthy.”

Caring for a newborn is exhausting, especially coming off the back of nine long months of pregnancy and then giving birth. Taking things slowly, prioritising a quiet, peaceful environment and keeping visitors to a minimum helps new mothers find balance. This is the time for you to recover from birth and enjoy getting to know and fall in love with your baby.

“The fourth trimester is mother nature’s trick of making sure you just enjoy each other,” says Karina.

This is a sponsored post for BIG W, where you can find everything you need for pregnancy, baby and beyond.

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