The 4th Trimester
Oh, hi there. It’s Tamara here. Before becoming a mother, I had never even heard the term ‘The 4th Trimester’.
I thought that pregnancy had 3 trimesters, after which the baby was born and VOILA! Pregnancy is over! What I didn’t understand was that my baby’s need for 24/7 comfort, care, warmth, and soothing would continue long past the birth. The first few months would be especially demanding and difficult.
Dr. Harvey Karp describes this intense period of adjustment as ’The 4th Trimester’.
Many species are born being able to walk, and even run.
The infant’s very survival depends on its ability to stand up and go within that first hour of life outside the womb.
As we know, this is not the case for baby humans.
In fact, baby humans cannot so much as hold up their own heads when they are born! Let alone walk, or run.
The reason for this is our huge brains (and thus, our huge heads).
If human beings stayed in their mother’s wombs long enough for them to be able to, say, hold up their own heads, then the vast majority of babies would be too large to fit through their mother’s narrow birth canals.
So, our babies are born very weak and extremely dependent on us for absolutely everything.
Because our babies are born ‘too soon’ in this way, they often are not born with the coping skills needed to be at peace with life outside the womb. And thus, it can be helpful for parents to consider the first 3 months as something of a 4th Trimester.
The 4th Trimester is the first 3 months of life in which your baby may be in your arms, but he or she would still very much appreciate being kept in a womb-like environment.
How can you create a ‘Womb-Like’ Environment?
Well, let’s consider what the womb is like for a developing baby:
- Baby is never hungry.
- It is never too hot, and never too cold.
- Baby is being squeezed tightly.
- The womb sways, bounces, and moves almost constantly.
- There is the steady, loud, rhythmic sounds of Mother’s heartbeat and blood flow at all times.
Of course it is impossible to recreate this environment completely! However, with just a few small tweaks it is easy for parents to mimic this environment, which will bring great peace to their young infant and the entire household.
My best advice to brand new parents surviving The 4th Trimester is this:
- Hold that baby. Yes, life will happen and it will mean that you have to put the baby down sometimes. But remember that just days ago your infant was being held & cradled 24/7. Living in a world where you are put down on a flat surface and left alone is a big transition.
Hold the baby as often as you can manage. Baby wearing can be a huge life safer— giving you your hands back, while the baby is still snug and close.
- Learn to swaddle, and swaddle tightly. Yes, it’s true that some babies don’t love to be swaddled, but there is a reason why people all over the world— from Timbuktu to Tennessee— swaddle their babies in one way or another!
It’s because most babies love it. Be aware that baby may fuss for the first 5 minutes of a good, tight, swaddle. But ultimately most will drift off into blissful relaxation.
3. Be prepared to do some bouncing and swaying.
When in the womb, your baby is being sloshed around nearly constantly. With your every movement, baby is jiggled left and right. This movement is comforting to your wee one. The stillness of the outside world can be overwhelming and scary.
- Invest in a good Sound or ‘White Noise’ Machine, and crank that thing up high!
There is no need to pick one up that will play sounds of rain drops on tin roofs, or crashing waves, or whale songs. A simple, steady, white-noise will do the trick.
The logic here is that the womb is actually a very loud place. In his book ‘The Happiest Baby on the Block’, Dr. Harvey Karp equates the noise level to that of a loud vacuum cleaner.
Blood pumping through arteries, heart pounding, Mom talking and laughing, air coming in and out of the lungs, intestines gurgling; the womb is noisy! Recreating that environment with a good, loud, steady sound machine can bring a new baby a lot of comfort.
- Keep baby close to its food source.
In the womb, baby literally never once feels the unpleasant sensation of hunger. All of its caloric needs are met steadily via the umbilical cord.
Feeling intense hunger in the first few months can, quite literally, feel like the worst thing that has ever happened to your baby.
6. Remember this period of near constant holding, and swaying, and swaddling, feeding, and white noise machines is only temporary. Empathizing with your baby, and viewing this time as simply an extension of your pregnancy can give perspective and help you through those long days and nights.
7. While you are at it, go ahead and read Dr. Harvey Karp’s book, ‘The Happiest Baby on the Block’. It was a game changer for me!
Tell us about your experience with ‘The 4th Trimester’.
Do you have any advice to offer new parents who are going through it for the first time?