Have you ever noticed how your newborn is cute but completely vulnerable? Babies are born with soft spots on their heads, fragile necks, and an inability to see clearly.
Unlike a baby lizard or a foal, human babies don’t have a single instinct for survival. They can’t stand up by themselves, feed themselves, or take care of themselves in any reasonable way. That’s a part of what makes parenthood mildly terrifying. Babies are born before their brains are fully developed.
It’s only after three months outside the womb that newborns even learn to smile, roll over, or do anything worth Instagramming about. Those three months of continued postnatal development are called the fourth trimester.
Is the fourth trimester important?
Once babies emerge into the world, their senses are largely undeveloped. They can see, but their vision is blurry. They can hear, but they struggle to pick up on individual sounds. Their neural pathways and nervous system are still developing during the fourth trimester, largely influenced by their surroundings and experiences.
The fourth trimester is also a time when they’re adapting to noises, lights, smells, sounds, and sensations vastly different to those in the womb so it’s important not to overstimulate them.
Your baby will grow both mentally and physically in the fourth trimester in ways that are just as important as the developments in any of the previous trimesters. These postnatal developments – from refining senses to controlling reflexes to learning how to respond – can all go smoother with plenty of love and support.
What happens during the fourth trimester?
Though it can be tough for parents, the fourth trimester is also an exciting time in your baby’s life.
At this point, crying is one of the most important ways your baby can communicate with you. They could be crying from hunger or because they have a sore tum from feeding all day.
A doula can help you distinguish those cries to know how to respond better, which in turn will reduce family anxiety because no one likes to hear a baby cry.
Aside from crying the only other thing your baby will do a lot is sleep. Sleeping helps a newborn’s brain process sensory stimulation. But of course, babies haven’t grasped the concept of night time, so it can take a while for them to adjust to nocturnal sleep patterns.
During the fourth trimester, your baby will begin to startle less and sleep through noise and other disturbances. Hallelujah.
Newborns have tiny stomachs, which means they consume small amounts often. Expect at least eight feeds within a 24-hour period.
If you choose to breastfeed, it can take around six weeks for your body to sync up with your baby’s needs. Then, you’ll become efficient at producing just the right amount your bub needs. I can work with you to make sure you’re setting up a great feeding routine.
Newborns have a long way to go after they’ve left the womb to improve their senses. During the fourth trimester, they’ll start to differentiate between objects. By around 8-9 weeks, their vision can almost match an adult’s.
Babies have well-developed senses of smell, taste, and hearing. Your scent will be familiar to them from the start and your baby will recognise your voice from the womb. By the end of the fourth trimester, they may even start making their own sounds.
Regular skin-to-skin contact can help your baby feel soothed. It also helps ease crying, stabilise the heart rate, and improve breastfeeding. Swaddling helps baby feel snug and can mimic their experience of the womb.
How to support your baby in the fourth trimester
If you want to get where your baby is coming from, just think about the nine months he or she has spent in the comfort of your womb. It’s going to take a while for them to adapt to this stimulating new world.
Every baby adapts at a different pace to the outside world, but a few things make help them feel soothed and supported, including:
- Providing skin-on-skin contact – the familiar sound of your heartbeat even helps to regulate baby’s own.
- Feeding on demand.
- Babywearing and swaddling your baby. Placing baby in a sling mimics the experience of the womb.
The fourth trimester for mum
So far, we’ve looked at how to help your baby feel comforted and safe during the fourth trimester. But something that’s equally important – and all too often overlooked – is mum’s transition during those first three months.
The fourth trimester for mum hardly differs from the third, except now she’s got a newborn to cope with. Her body will be aching from the birth and will likely need the full fourth trimester to recover.
Everyone associates hormones with pregnancy, but they’re still going haywire during the fourth trimester. There’s a huge drop in estrogen and progesterone and your body needs to adjust all over again.
Most women will go through the “baby blues”, when the initial endorphin-driven high post-birth wears off. There are mood swings, crying for seemingly no reason, and maybe a drop in patience. Some women will face postnatal depression and anxiety.
Many women also experience an identity crisis and pangs of longing for their old self, when life was lived on their own time, catering to their own needs and desires.
It’s a turbulent time for mothers, which makes it all the more important they get adequate support during the fourth trimester.
How to survive the fourth trimester
It’s equally important you look after yourself in the fourth trimester. Sure, baby is going through some big changes. But don’t forget, you are too. Here are a few ways that might help you survive the fourth trimester:
Mums always pivot all their attention to their newborn but self-care is also so important. A happy mum makes a happy baby, so your needs matter.
Self care is all about nourishing your soul. It could mean getting some much-needed rest, treating yourself to a gentle massage, having a bath, or reading a book with a cup of tea. A doula can give you some space to do those things that help you feel like you again.
Schedule some me-time
That fourth trimester can be draining, but it’s a lot easier to cope if you have some time for R&R. Find someone – a doting grandparent, godparent, partner, or a postnatal doula – to take care of baby while you treat yourself to a long bath, a walk, or even just some quality reading time.
Set up a support network
It’s almost impossible to raise a baby alone. Having plenty of support is what is going to help you survive the fourth trimester. Support might include having lactation consultants, pediatricians, and other medical professionals at the ready.
Support also comes from within your community. From friends willing to take your dog for a walk. Parents willing to deliver home cooked meals. Aunts and uncles ready to babysit newly-made siblings. It could even involve buying a postpartum doula package to make sure mum’s needs are met.
Being prepared for the fourth trimester can help you survive it a little better. Arrange a consultant with The Postnatal Doula to find out how a postpartum doula can provide support in this important time.
Looking for a special gift to give the soon-to-be mum? Check out our postpartum gift vouchers and provide support and care for her in the fourth trimester.