When you got pregnant, it's likely that you immediately began researching all the things. I know I did! Those are your motherhood instincts already kicking in as you prepare for the most important journey of your life. Chances are that within the first week you were already set on what to expect for each trimester of your pregnancy. But as you're doing your research, you come across something talking about the "fourth trimester" that stops you in your tracks. Hold up...I thought there were only three!!
Don't worry, you'll still get to have your baby right around that 9-month mark. It may not make a whole lot of sense as to why your baby's first few months outside the womb would be referred to as the fourth trimester, but hopefully this will clear it up.
So, what is the fourth trimester and why do they call it that? The "fourth trimester" term is built around the notion that babies are all really born too soon. Renowned pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp suggests that if a woman's body could handle a growing baby for three more months, your little one would come out a lot more ready to face the world. Their senses and reflexes, as well as their sleeping and feeding patterns, would look more human-like and less fetus-like.
The truth is that your baby still really thrives in a womb-like environment those first three months. Here we'll help you understand this time a bit better and give you tips to care for your newborn during the "fourth trimester."
Why it's Called the Fourth Trimester
The fact that anyone would suggest your baby could benefit from 3 more months inside the womb may sound a bit silly to you since pregnancies have been resulting in healthy babies since the beginning of time. And could you imagine being pregnant for 52 weeks?!!! No, thank you.
But if you pay attention to the details during your infant's first few months of life, you'll notice the mental and physical developments that occur that make them much more "baby-like."
If you compare human babies to other animals, for example, we notice that those babies join the world with a lot more capabilities (such as walking or being able to make their way to they mom to feed on their own.) Human babies, on the other hand, need 100% of their care from you to survive. They are born with natural reflexes, and that's it!
Here are some examples of how your baby's senses are limited during the 0-3 month timeframe:
- Sight - When a baby is born, her vision is still quite blurry.
- Sound - Your baby can hear when they are born, but discerning individual sounds takes time to develop.
- Touch - Your baby still wants to be wrapped up tight in a womb-like atmosphere. Having so much space can actually be very overwhelming for a new baby.
- Reflexes - your baby is born with a natural reflex called the Moro Reflex (which we go into depth here). Your newborn baby will often feel a free falling sensation that causes them to suddenly move their arms, startle, and cry.
You might be thinking, but my child will go through many developmental milestones as they grow. How is this different?
If you've been through or are currently in the newborn stage, then there is probably a big lack of sleep going on (by you at least), with a whole lot of eating and crying.
Since your baby still has so much developing to do, the fourth trimester will probably consist of more crying and feeding than you ever thought possible. And because your baby's tummy is so tiny, she'll need to feed at least 8 times in 24 hours initially...sometimes even 10+ feedings will be needed in those early weeks.
Since her senses are so underdeveloped, it is difficult to not be overstimulated when they are awake. If you try to put yourself in their situation, it's really not hard to see why they might so fussy.
Tips for Helping Your Baby in the Fourth Trimester
If we could keep our babies in for 3 extra months, we'd experience a lot less crying from our little ones, and not such a serious lack of sleep deprivation. But, we know there is never really going to be any such thing as a fourth trimester of pregnancy. So, what can you do to make this transition go more smoothly?
In the womb your baby is used to being fed on demand, being rocked from side to side, listening to constant whooshing sounds, all while being wrapped up tightly. You'll want to mimic this type of environment as much as possible.
These are some ways to do that:
- Swaddle your baby - This is one of the best things you can do four your newborn. The outside world is full of space, something your little one is not accustomed to. Wrapping your baby tightly in a swaddle (such as weighted one from Dreamland Baby) will soothe them and will also alleviate their Moro (startle) reflex.
- Offer your baby a pacifier - Your baby will have a natural tendency suck when they aren't feeding. Pacifiers calm your baby and help you both get more sleep.
- Use white noise - Did you know that the sounds your baby heard in the womb were louder than a vacuum cleaner? Even though it would make sense to make a quiet space for your baby to sleep, utilizing white noise will likely help your baby sleep better.
- Wear your baby - Using a sling or wrapping your baby close to your body can help him stay calm, sleep better, and be happier. This probably also means that you can get more done without having to tend to an upset baby.
- Feed on demand - If your baby is hungry, feed them! They are not ready for a schedule at this point.
Don't be afraid to keep your baby super close to you those first few months. Don't let anyone tell you you're spoiling them by doing so...you're not! You'll be giving your baby exactly what they need to grow and thrive.
Though the fourth trimester isn't technically a real thing, we would all do better to think of it like that. Having grand expectations isn't developmentally appropriate or realistic. At this stage, your baby will thrive off of a womb-like atmosphere. By creating that for them, they will be healthier, happier, and so will you.