You may have heard a little about this stage ….perhaps a friend has mentioned it, you may have come across it in a pregnancy book, stumbled across it online or maybe a midwife has mentioned it to you but some of you might have not heard about it all and so I thought I would write simply about this incredible part of your postpartum journey and what it means for both you and baby.
So, what is the fourth Trimester?
Well, it is a term popularised by Dr Harvey Karp, a renowned American Pediatrician (although it had first been talked about in the 1970s) as the first three months following a baby’s birth and is seen as a period of adjustment for both babies and mothers.
Imagine for a moment you are a baby in the womb…
- cocooned in a safe, warm and comforting dark place
- no hunger pains or feelings of thirst
- no need to pass painful wind
- no strange smells or bright lights
- no sensations of hot and cold
It is the PERFECT environment and then suddenly they embark on what can sometimes be quite a long and difficult journey through the birth canal and then arrive earth-side.
It’s bright, it’s cold, it’s full of unknown sounds, noises, smells and can be a total sensory overload so just think about that for a minute.
In can be useful to keep this at the forefront of our minds and then embark on a gentle beginning which helps both mama and baby adjust to their changing worlds.
Personally, I like to think of it as a sacred time for mother and child to really meet one another and take the time to build a relationship outside of the womb. The baby learns to communicate with mum , signally to her with cues and cries and the mother has time to understand her baby’s needs, learn to interpret their cues and build that wonderful connection through the power of touch.
Newborns need us. As humans we have the least developed brains at birth compared to any primate and so newborns are not developmentally ready to thrive in the outside world without some serious TLC. They need us for comfort, for food, eye contact, loving words, cuddles and so by starting the postpartum journey slowly it can make a huge difference to how mum and baby feel.
What can I expect during the fourth trimester?
Well you can expect a lot of crying and fussiness, but remember that it is their survival mechanism. It is the closest thing they have to verbal communication and if you look at it as a call to help then you will soon realise what is needed. It also helps them to block out any other noises or stimulation or anything else that is suddenly becoming too intense. It also releases tension. So I would ask these questions to my baby when he cried:
- are you hungry?
- could you be tired?
- do you need changing?
- are you maybe too hot or too cold?
- are you uncomfortable (do you need winding?)
- are you just feeling far away and need a cuddle?
You can also expect broken sleep.That is part of newborn life I am afraid but if you know that then you can start to prepare ways to make it more comfortable for you. Such as taking naps when the baby sleeps. maybe figuring out a plan for you and your partner if baby is bottle fed. If you are breastfeeding then you will be the food machine but as my mother told me “All you have to do is feed the baby”, everything else can wait (or be done by someone else.) Having that mantra really allowed me to keep hold of perspective in amongst the fog of early motherhood, hormones and intense emotions that accompany those first few months after giving birth. Babies tummies are also so small and empty quickly hence the feeling that your baby is constantly feeding.Keeping baby close can help with sleeping but also it helps to feel cocooned, safe and warm. Tips to follow.
You have to remember that everything is NEW for those gorgeous babies, every minute, second they are experience something for the first time and with that come a lot of processing for the brain to do which is why sleep is so important for them and for children as they grow. It allows for connections to be made and life begins to make a little more sense.
How can I help soothe and transition calmly?
We basically want to recreate those feelings of comfort and security of the womb in the first few months of their life.
The key is to breathe. Always. Try to take 5 deep breaths before reacting – it is really hard to do and sometimes you won’t be able to but its worth a try. Also try to think about what they too have been through. You will have just lived through your own intense and incredible experience and with that takes a lot of healing, so be kind to yourself. There is no rule book and there is no rush.
Dr Harvey Karp uses the 5S’s to bring about mimicking a little of life inside your womb.
- SIDE / STOMACH POSITIONS
My extra one is SING – not only is this good for baby to hear your vibrations but for mum too as it can instantly help calm you and I still use this today with my toddler.
Other things to think about:
- Lots of skin to skin contact – there is proven research about the benefits of this and how it links to bonding and forming close attachments. It is the best feeling in the world holding your baby so close to your heart and you will have a wash of oxytocin every time.
The other benefits of skin to skin are:
– it can help a baby to breastfeed more easily
– helps regulate the baby’s body temperate
– regulates their heartbeat, respiratory rate and blood pressure
– less likely for baby to cry
“… with skin to skin contact, the mother and baby exchange sensory information that stimulates and elicits “baby” behaviour: rooting searching the breast, staying calm, breathing more naturally, staying warm, maintaining his body temperature and maintaining blood sugar.” Dr. Jack Newman
- Wear your baby – it will help create feelings of being in the womb. They will feel tightly supported all over. Close to mama’s scent and heartbeat and warm and cosy snuggled right next to your skin. [ always make sure you find a suitable and safe carrier for you – sling libraries are great and there are lots of people to ask on forums and Facebook groups to hear reviews and tips]
- Warm baths – personally I think its nice to have a bath together so just get your partner to pass baby to you in the warm water and enjoy that skin to skin closeness. It again creates a similar sensation he or she would have been used to in the womb. Just make sure you have someone to pass the baby too before getting out of the tub but make sure you have chance to enjoy the soak too.
- If in doubt, boob out! I can speak from 2 different experiences here. With my first I was regimented with my feeding and wanted to time each feed and had an app to record how long he was feeding on each breast. It completely took over my days. He also wasn’t putting on enough weight initially which made me anxious too. My boobs hurt so much sometimes I would cry before feeding him because I was in so much pain and dreaded him latching on. Fast forward to 2 years later with my second son. I fed as and when he told me he wanted it…..basically if he cried and I couldn’t soothe him I would offer him the breast. I breastfed this time around for 6 months with no pain, no cracked nipples no mastitis (and he was a super hungry baby.) The difference? I was calm, I was relaxed, I didn’t feel any pressure from anyone about when and how often I fed him. I just trusted my intuition (as a mother it is super powerful!) and kept him close. I fed him when I needed to and for me it made a huge difference to my well-being. I even moved house a week after having him and still no problems and I am sure it was because I responded to his needs without worry or hesitation, so he knew I was there for him and with that I believe there comes a trust and reassurance for both mother and child.
- Fresh Air – This for me what my therapy. Every day I would try and get outside for a gentle stroll around the block. it didn’t have to be far or for long but to know that I could go outside and generally if baby was a little fussy it would calm him and it certainly would calm me – still does!
Now you might be reading this, thinking it all sounds great, but it seems a little exhausting! Well yest it can be sometimes but the key is to remember that nothing is permanent and everything is just temporary when the going to tough and then the going is good, appreciate it for what it is. I like to think of the phases as waves….you just got to ride the big ones out and enjoy the lull of the quiet stillness in between – you soon learn to find your own rhythm.
How can I make it a little easier?
Share the load where possible – you and your partner are both parents and its good practice to ask for all the help you need.
Make sure your partner helps to settle the baby too – give your arms and body a rest.
Make sure you have time for yourself. I am a firm believer that in order to a be good mother you have to have some time to be you! Even if it is just a quick run to the supermarket or grabbing a coffee etc. In our household Daddy always does bath-time. If gives me a little breathing space and a chance to have a moment for me.
check your expectations – be sure you are not expecting too much from yourself or your baby.
I really hope you have found this useful and I would love to hear your thoughts about this incredibly vital stage of birth healing. Please leave any comments/questions you have