What is the fourth trimester?

Updated: Oct 11, 2020

The fourth trimester, this is something that you may have been hearing more and more about. I'm sure many of you have lots of questions... Is this actually a thing? What does it mean? What actually is the fourth trimester?

I decided I would put together a little post to answer your questions, explain how helpful it can be to understand and what you can do to make it as smooth as possible.

Everyone knows that pregnancy has 3 trimesters, so what is the 4th trimester? It's described by an NCT Antenatal Teacher as; ‘The Fourth Trimester is a way of describing the period after birth when both parents and baby are adjusting to their new lives.

‘We think of other trimesters as being three months long, and we can think in terms of roughly another three months after the birth to make the adjustments to being a new family.’

So lets look at it from your little ones point of view...

What is the fourth trimester like for your baby?

Your little one has been really comfy inside of you for nine months, and has now got to deal with life outside of the womb, where there are so many different smells, sights and sounds it's sure to be sensory overload! Your little one has been used to being fed whenever they want, sleep whenever they want and are kept at a constant temperature surrounded by the amniotic fluid and are gently rocked most of the day with you moving around.

Life outside the womb is pretty different don't you think! We have started bringing in gaps between feeds, sleeping in a different place along with all these different voices and smells it's no wonder they cry, they are scared and want you to come back to provide that all important familiarity.

Babies are more likely to cry for the first 3 months of their life compared to any other time, because they are adjusting to their new surroundings, now this doesn't make it any easier though does it! However the aim of learning about this, is to show you that lots and lots of other parents go through exactly the same experience which can help to make it a little bit easier, knowing your not alone.

So what can you do to help your baby through this phase...

How to help your little one through the fourth trimester...

Ultimately, just give them you! The closer your baby feels to you, more of the time the easier the transition will be and the happier they will be.

Now I know how overwhelming it is to bring your little one home, and then in the days to follow it dawns on you that this wonderful little person who you have brought into this world, is now completely and utterly dependent on you for everything. I wasn't prepared for how mentally and physically overwhelming that would be, how much it would change me in such a short space of time. However, had I known that it was okay to just 'be', it was okay to just allow us all time as a family to accept and process the huge change we were going through. I think I wouldn't have ended up down the path of PND that I did.

It's okay to just 'be', if you can completely remove yourself from your normal day to day, stop trying or feeling like you suddenly have to be superwomen and you have to suddenly show that you have had the baby, your back to being a size 10, the house is all together and so are you by day 3. You don't have to show that to anyone, you don't have to be anything to anyone.

Just 'be' you, soak up and slowly navigate your way into the whole new world of motherhood because it's bloody hard, and the more time you can give yourself in the beginning to get to know your little one, and for them to get to know you, the easier it will become.

Sorry... I went off on a bit of a tangent there.

However the point I'm trying to make is the best way to help your little one through this phase of approx. 12 weeks is to get to know each other, replicate as much as you can them being back in your womb, so lots and lots of skin to skin contact, feeding on demand, allow them to sleep near you, close to you. Swaddle as much as possible to provide them with the comfort and the warmth of feeling tight, and hold them close so they can hear your heartbeat. The best type of white noise there is :)

The fourth trimester is a real thing, lets look at when the crying should settle down.

Now remember crying is your little one's 'only' form of communication. So no matter what they need, want or feel this is the only way they can tell you. The crying in most babies peaks at around 6 weeks of age, this can lead to parents feeling like they are doing something wrong, and this is not the case. Developmentally they are starting to change as they are navigating the world in a different way, starting to smile at you, they are seeing you more clearly. The crying should settle down by 12 weeks of age.

This is then when they go through a huge developmental change which includes their sleep cycles maturing to that of an adults, which is known in the sleep world as the '4 month sleep regression' which really is a progression because your baby is progressing leaps and bounds at this stage and their brain is fully changing their way it processes sleep so no wonder it takes a hit!

So... be you, just be, allow you and your family and your little one time to get to know each other. You cannot spoil your little one through this period.

If you have any questions or would like further information on this topic or any sleep related topics, check out my other blog posts here or comment below :)

Rachel x

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