The fourth trimester oh how I wish I knew about you before Sidekick arrived.
Now there is actually a lot of information about it on the web but I found that the parenting books didn’t touch upon it.
So here’s a crash course on the fourth trimester and tips for embracing it.
Simply put the fourth trimester is your last trimester.
Oh I know baby is no longer in your belly, but if you think of the first three months of your newborns life as an extension to your pregnancy, it’ll make more sense and it’ll make life so much simpler.
Due to the size of our brains our babies are born before they are really ready. If we waited until they were we couldn’t physically birth them. Due to this they do an unbelievable of growth physically and mentally in their first three months. But because they are born too soon the world is scary and uncomfortable for them and this is where you come in and the fourth trimester.
If you think that your little bundle of joy was used to a nice warm, dark environment where sounds were muffled and light was muted and everything they needed was right in that environment. Then all of a sudden they are in a cold, bright, noisy environment where they have to wait for things. No wonder they come out screaming!
This is why they need you, why they don’t want to be put down and why they want to sleep on you.
You are their safety, you are the only thing that makes sense to them.
So what can you do to make it easier on them and by extension you? Well read on!
Accept and plan for this period
If you plan to see the first three months of your babies life as an extension of your pregnancy you will feel less inclined to get back to ‘normal’. Not that your pre-baby life is going to return, there’s a whole other person now to consider. But just like you took it a bit easier in your pregnancy try and do the same now.
Accept that you are your babies safety zone and this means lots of baby cuddles, by doing this you can plan ahead. Like ensuring you’ve got frozen meals that are easy to heat up and can be eaten with one hand.
If people offer to help tidy up, pick up the shopping, fold your laundry accept it. I found this to be hard to do but just give it a go.
As baby is only likely to settle on you and your partner to sleep, yes even at night, plan for it. Sleep in shifts. I and Hubby worked on 90 minute shifts (1.5hrs) as that is one adult sleep cycle. At night we tried to each get at least one three hour chunk of sleep (2 sleep cycles).
Not going to lie I never got a 3 hour chunk due to breastfeeding on demand but I at least got some sleep.
Skin to skin
You know how important it is to have skin to skin when baby is first born but its important to carry it on after that first moment.
Skin to skin (completely nekkie, no blankets, swaddles) produces the happy hormone oxytocin, so you and baby are happy and you bond. If you spend time with your baby doing this you will learn to read their cues, hunger, tiredness, nappy.
It also helps baby regulate their breathing and temperature. If baby is overwhelmed and crying this can help them calm down. It provides a nice transition from the womb meaning they are less stressed.
This is also a brilliant way for your partner to bond with baby.
I have a very clear memory of one night, probably when Sidekick was maybe a month old and Dada had come in from work. As all new parents are we were both exhausted, however Dada was in a new job so it was all a bit much. I was in the kitchen and came through to find Dada on the sofa with Sidekick on his bare chest. He was awake but had his eyes closed. Both of them were at peace.
So whip off your top and take baby out of their cute baby grow and just feel each other.
Wear your baby
I so wish I had the carrier I’ve got now (a Tula Free to Grow) than the Babybjorn I bought for Sidekick, it would have made the first few months so much easier.
Get yourself off to a Sling Library, the UK Sling Library should help you find your closest, if not just type in your area and sling library.
A sling library will give you a chance to try on different slings using a doll and they’ll give you advice.
The benefits of baby wearing are numerous and lets just get one thing clear and out of the way straight away. You will not, I repeat, will not spoil your baby by wearing, carrying or holding your baby all day long. It is complete and utter nonsense that you will. If anyone tells you different ignore them or start reciting this list to them:
- You are recreating the environment they know:
- close to your heartbeat – familiar sound
- movement – the constant rocking as you go about your day just like you did when pregnant
- supported all over – they are wrapped up, just like when they were in your tummy
- Cry less – bonus! A study on increased baby carrying showed that infants cried and fussed up to 43% less than those babies that weren’t carried. You can read about it here
- Learn/experience more – because they are more content and happy they are able to take in more of their new world and because they feel safe they aren’t as overwhelmed by it
- Understanding – because you are replicating things the baby has known for 9 months i.e. rocking, heartbeat etc. the baby begins to understand that these things are now occurring in the outside world. This reassures baby and provides them comfort and balance
- Smarter baby – because baby is directly under your nose you will interact with them more, talk to them more and even when you’re not they will see your facial expressions, hear your voice. They will also experience what you do, noises, smells, sights. All this environmental stimulus helps your babies brain make new connections
- Freedom for you – carrying your baby allows you to move, to escape the sofa and get fresh air. It allows you to do things like prepare a meal, eat. The list is endless, basically you’ve got your hands free!
Bed share or co-sleep
Ahhhhh controversial topic!!
I’ve written about being a reluctant bed-sharer (have I made up a word?) here. But I was never in any doubt that I wouldn’t co-sleep. That is having Sidekick in her own little space beside me.
Of course you need to ensure that you practice bed-sharing safely, the Lullaby Trust has produced a useful leaflet and the Gentle Parenting site has broken down what needs to be done to bed share safely.
The benefits of co-sleeping and bed sharing are that baby goes to sleep feeling secure and safe as they know mummy is close. They can smell and hear you and this gives them comfort.
You should also rest when they do. Note I said rest, not sleep and I also know that this is a hard one. A babies sleep cycle at first is 30-40 minutes so you’re not really going to sleep in that time frame but you can rest. Enjoy your little one been curled up against you, put your feet up and just rest. Yes I know there is laundry to do, food to cook, dishes to wash but try to rest as much as you can.
Release the boob
I’m pro breast feeding and you can read all about the benefits of it here.
Feed on demand, don’t try and make your baby fit a schedule. Their stomachs are tiny, they feed little and often for a reason. Trying to make them fit into a schedule is detrimental to their health. Belly Belly have a great article explaining why a schedule just isn’t a good thing for baby. Read it here.
Additionally the boob offers comfort and provides security. Remember this is a big scary world, having that familiar smell, taste and touch will alleviate a lot of stress.
I don’t mean go for a run, I mean go for a gentle walk. Carrier or pram take your baby outside and breathe.
Exercise releases endorphins which make you happy. Happy mamma, happy baba.
Start slowly and build up. Take your time, listen to the birds, go to the park. Talk to your baby whilst out, tell them what they can hear. This helps reassure them but also helps them build connections.
I know before I had Sidekick and for about 12 weeks after I felt this pressure to get out and do things, see people, join classes. Some part of me wanted to, I thought it would be good for her, but another part of me just didn’t. I found (and still do) the whole idea of getting to a class for a certain time so stressful. So now I just don’t.
I know I sound a lot like a hermit but if her naps work in favour so we can go to a certain thing then we’ll go, if they don’t oh well.
If you want to join things that’s great go ahead but don’t feel you need to just because you think you should.
It won’t last forever
I know when you are in the thick of it you will think it will never end. It does, time passes. I’m saying this even though Sidekick is asleep on me and we’ve been waking every hour in the night, but it does ease.
If you can just remember that your baby only knows you, that you are their safety, then it does make things easier. However also try to:
- be realistic – movies, books and other people can make us have unrealistic ideas of what is expected of us, our babies and parenthood. Take a moment to think about what it is you want for your baby and how you will get there
- share the load – get your partner babywearing, learning how to settle baby
- call in reinforcements – take up the offers of help
- get some alone time where possible – I used to go for a 20 minute walk whilst Sidekick was with Dada or Grammy, have a bath or just drink a cup pf tea whilst it’s still hot
So those are my tips for having a great 4th trimester. I hope you found them interesting and useful. Let me know what you think, if I’ve missed anything in the comments.