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The Fourth Trimester

woman holding baby beside man smiling during the fourth trimester

Not everyone is familiar with the fourth trimester, but it’s the first 12 weeks after you welcomed your baby.  It is a magical time of physical and emotional change as your baby adjusts to being outside the womb, and you adjust to your new life as a mommy or mommy of another little one.

The term “trimester” might sound strange as your baby is already born, but think how much baby still needs to develop over the next few months.  From the senses refining to learning how to control their reflexes and responding to mommy and daddy.  Moving from the familiar comfort of your warm, dark and quiet womb, to a noisy, bright and often cold environment, a whole new world, is a major change for your baby. The fourth trimester is a time for your baby to get used to the variety of noises, lights, smells, sounds and sensations of the outside world.  Your baby’s constant need to be held, carried, and fed isn’t your fault—it’s just how babies are. The silver lining is that while the fourth trimester can be very challenging and lets face it, maybe a little overwhelming, it is also the first chance to truly bond with your new baby. Your baby will discover a whole new world and you’ll have a front row seat to all the development and discoveries.

How is my baby going to change during the fourth trimester?

Your baby goes from being a tiny peanut who can’t lift their head or see anything more than a few cm in front of them, to an adorable, smiling baby who is getting ready to roll over for the first time.

  • Newborns may appear cross-eyed and can only see about 20 – 30cm in front of them. They also can’t see colours clearly, and prefer black and white images. They also love to look at human faces, and by one month, they can recognize their parents’ faces. By three months, your baby will able to follow a moving object across the room.
  • Newborn babies are basically a ball of instincts, with their movements and reactions mostly controlled by newborn reflexes. By 3 months, their movements become more active and deliberate, they smile responsively.  They become social too.
  • Newborns can’t lift their heads, use their hands deliberately, or control their body movements much. By 3 months, newborns can usually raise their head and chest during tummy time, take swipes at moving objects, and bring their hands to their mouth.

What happens to me during the fourth trimester?

Adjusting to this new way of life can be challenging.  Women who often need just as much TLC as their babies do.

  • It can take weeks or even months for your body to feel totally normal again.  And while you recover from childbirth, you may experience soreness, cramping, healing of wounds, and will experience several weeks of postpartum bleeding.
  • Hello mood swings and “baby blues” There is a major hormonal change experienced by moms in the first few weeks after birth, because their bodies are shifting from the onslaught of pregnancy hormones to a more normal hormonal make-up. Don’t worry, these blues usually resolve within 10 days of birth.
  • If you are experiencing mood swings that last beyond the first 10 days postpartum, or that are making it difficult for you to function normally, contact your doctor, as you may be experiencing a common, treatable postpartum mood disorder, such as postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.
  • If you are breastfeeding, you may experience engorgement, sensitive or tender nipples, and middle of the night leakage. Most moms experience at least one of these. See a lactation consultant before you leave the hospital if your nipples are very sore when nursing, to check if your baby latches properly. If you are still experiencing pain or other problems while breastfeeding after a few days at home, seek help from your doctor or breastfeeding support group.

Tips for the Fourth Trimester

Your body is so powerful

Whether you had a vaginal or c-section birth, your body is powerful. Your body nurtured and grew a whole human (or more) for nine months. You’re a Rockstar!!  Don’t put pressure on yourself to ‘bounce back. Give yourself time to heal. 

You may feel overwhelmed – and that is OKAY!

Being responsible for a tiny human is incredibly demanding and overwhelming. Your time will no longer be yours. You may experience sleep deprivation, challenges with breastfeeding, and a host of other challenges. It is okay to feel tired, annoyed and to accept it is not all that glamorous after all.  Don’t be too “proud” to ask for help.  Bring your support network along the journey.  Your partner, close family, nanny etc. will be happy to lend you a hand while you take a much-needed nap or even a shower.

Hello new world!

To help your baby transition into this new world, try swaddling, babywearing, skin to skin, baby massaging and close contact as much as possible. These activities will help your baby stay calm, relax and also enhance your bond with each other. 

Feeding time is also bonding time

Feeding your baby presents an amazing bonding opportunity. You will be able to make eye contact and be close to your baby. In the beginning, a feeding routine may not be possible. However, by feeding on demand, you will, later on, see patterns emerge.

Outsource what you need to

Be ready to take it easy. Order ready-made meals. If the house is a mess, let it be. Bringing a human into the world and then having to maintain life can be hard. Outsource what you need to, consider things such as:

  • get take out, or just keep it very basic.
  • getting help with the house, or just do minimal tidying up.
  • take help from friends and family who offer.

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