The Fourth Trimester: Adjusting to Life With a Newborn
You undoubtedly know about the three stages of pregnancy or “trimesters”, but did you know there is also a “fourth” trimester? In a nutshell, the fourth trimester refers to the first 12 weeks of a newborn baby’s life.
It’s a time of big changes for both mother and baby, and it’s a period of adjustment where you get to form a bond with the new addition to your family. Here’s what you need to know about the fourth trimester, what to expect as a new parent, and how to cope:
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Does the Fourth Trimester Really Exist?
Absolutely. The term “fourth trimester” got coined by a pediatrician named Dr. Harvey Kemp at the turn of the 21st century. In a nutshell, the fourth trimester is all about the experiences newborns have in the first 12 weeks of life outside of the womb.
It was also originally about how new mums can prevent colic in their babies. Today, it also encompasses how mothers of newborn babies cope with the new changes and demands placed on them and their lifestyles.
How It Affects Newborns
As you can imagine, it takes some time for newborn babies to get used to life outside of the womb. The moment they are born, the lives of newborns are transformed; they're now living in a strange and confusing environment that they will navigate in new ways.
How It Affects You
Once their babies are born, mothers have to shift their focus and attention onto their newborns. This often leads to feeling overwhelmed during the fourth trimester. Mothers frequently feel physically and mentally drained keeping up with the demands of their babies.
Additionally, first time mothers are learning how to care for a newborn baby without any prior experience to draw upon.
Helping Your Baby Adjust
What should you expect in fourth trimester?
Your newborn baby will need a lot of time, comfort, and support to get used to its new, unfamiliar surroundings and the visual presence of other people; they may not settle into a new daily routine quickly.
So how can new mothers' help newborns adjust to their new life in the fourth trimester:
Create a Sense of Safety and Security
Babies have spent the first nine months of their lives suspended inside an enclosed space. They are no longer in that space and will need time to adjust to those changes. You can help by creating a physical sense of safety and security with plenty of swaddling and swaying.
Skin-to-skin contact is something nursing teams encourage all mothers to do with their newborn babies when possible. There’s even scientific proof to show there's a “statistically significant positive effect” on newborns with skin-to-skin contact (particularly if they are breastfed).
Feeding on Demand
It can be tempting to set up a feeding schedule for your newborn baby from the moment you arrive home from the hospital or your place of labour. However, it does makes sense to feed them on demand. Otherwise, they will be hungry and continue crying until they get a feed.
Getting the Support You Need
Of course, the focus isn’t just on your baby alone during the fourth trimester. The discussion surrounding the challenges and changes that mothers face during this time is extremely important to acknowledge.
As your baby’s mother, you also need help and support during this transitional period in both your life and your newborn’s life. Here’s how to get the support you need:
Encourage Your Partner to Work as a Team
Firstly, if you have a partner or spouse, work as a team. Get your partner to help you with things. Having a baby be dependant on you alone, can feel like a huge weight on your shoulders. But know that you can extend your need for help to your partner can help lift that load.
For example, you can ask them to help with bedtime, bottle feeding, changing nappies, and bath time. This also gives your partner more time to bond with your baby during this crucial time in your lives.
Ask Family and Friends for Help
Extra help from family and friends can also be crucial. Have you heard the saying "It takes a village"? That can really apply to raising a child 😉. Some mothers or fathers might face their parenthood journey without a partner and might look to extended family and loved ones for emotional and physcial support with things like household cleaning and getting groceries.
Take Things Easy
Finally, you need to try and take things easy. That means getting sleep whenever possible. If you have the luxury of asking a family member or friend to help watch your baby while you have a nap, don't feel guilty about asking.
You should also ensure that you eat and drink healthily to keep your energy levels up.
Acknowledge Your Emotions
The emotional changes that a mother will go through are sometimes less obvious but even more powerful than the physical journey that occurs through pregnancy, labour and post birth. It's essential that mothers are aware of the emotinal aspect of the fourth trimester, voice their feelings and speak up if your feeling down.
The fourth trimester is undoubtedly a tough time for both mother and baby. But, the good news is there are some things you can do to make this period in your life easier for both you and your newborn baby
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