We’ve long been told that pregnancies last for three trimesters. The nine month period of pregnancy is broken into three blocks of time where we can track baby’s development and mum’s experiences. Birth was considered to be the end of that road. But over recent years, both medical professionals and experienced parents have come to acknowledge that birth and the first twelve weeks is actually an extension of pregnancy which has come to be known as the fourth trimester.
But what does the fourth trimester really mean? It’s the whirlwind first 12 weeks after pregnancy and birth. The idea of the fourth trimester is to give both mum and baby a chance to transition into their new lives together. For a new mum, it’s an opportunity to deal with the physical and emotional changes they are experiencing. For baby, it’s a chance to adjust to life outside of the cosy, safe and warm womb they’ve been calling home. Every fourth trimester is different, but here’s six things you need to know about the fourth trimester.
#1: There’s no such thing as a “bad” baby or a “good” baby
If you’ve had babies before, there’s a strong chance you’ve been asked “is she a good sleeper?” or “is he a good feeder?”. Maybe someone has commented on what a “good” baby you have when they’ve been sat chirruping away in a cafe. These comments and questions might be well-intentioned, but we know that to a new parent they can feel quite loaded. Your baby isn’t good or bad. They’re just a baby. It doesn’t matter how much they cry, or how much they fuss – there’s a wide range of common behaviours amongst babies, especially in the fourth trimester. Just because your little one isn’t “perfect”, it doesn’t mean you or they are doing anything wrong.
#2: You are not alone
It’s a cliche for a reason, and that’s because it’s true. Raising a child takes a village and there are many, many other people experiencing similar things to you in the fourth trimester. We see so many people in our Happy Mum Happy Baby Facebook group finding solidarity and support in community. There’s a lot of power in a shared experience so look out for community groups local to you, check out baby classes nearby and seek out other Mamas in the same boat. But beyond that, your midwife, your GP, your health visitor, your support network (whatever that looks like) all want to help you. Be sure to check out our maternal mental health resources too.
#3 You’re not going to enjoy every minute
Speaking to Gi during the Happy Mum Happy Baby Virtual Event in October 2020, Izzy Judd, Illy Morrison and Debbie Le all spoke about the Fourth Trimester and all agreed that it is impossible to enjoy every.single.minute of those early, hazy days of motherhood. It’s an old fashioned view that mothers should be Mary Poppins practically perfect in every way and feel #grateful #blessed at all times. When you’re exhausted and covered in poo, sick and/or breast milk, sometimes it’s impossible and that’s OK! Caring for a newborn baby is a rollercoaster with exceptionally high highs and sometimes crushing lows. The fourth trimester is all about giving yourself time to adjust to that. If you feel like the bad moments are outweighing the good, it might be worth talking to your midwife or GP about postnatal depression.
#4 You know your baby better than anyone else
While everyone from your own mother figures to the lady next door might have an opinion on how you should be looking after your baby, you know your baby better than anyone else. The fourth trimester is the time you get to know exactly what they need and want from you. While you probably (read: definitely) feel incredibly vulnerable and are likely to second guess yourself on multiple occasions, when those well intentioned people start giving you advice that is conflicting to what you know about your baby, trust your own instincts and what you’ve learned about your tiny human. You will learn what their cries mean,
#5 Your baby is going to get a lot of sleep but you might not
In the fourth trimester, a new baby will snooze for an average of 14-17 hours over a 24 hour period. The bad news is that their sleep schedule is usually pretty erratic. Their sleep cycles are generally fairly short, meaning they’ll wake more regularly. Babies also usually don’t know the difference between days and nights either so when your body is telling you it should be asleep, theirs isn’t getting the same message. Towards the end of the fourth trimester (at around 6-8 weeks) they’ll start to sleep less in the day and more at night. While it’s unlikely they’ll sleep through for another few months because they’ll still be night feeding, you’ll start to get longer periods of sleep and when they finally do sleep through the night, you’ll feel like you’ve spent a week at an all inclusive spa in the Maldives. Possibly.
#6 You can’t spoil a newborn
Let’s face it. If you’d spent nine months living in a really comfy, cosy environment that felt warm and safe and secure and you suddenly found yourself in an environment that was completely alien to you, full of loud noises and bright lights and new experiences, you’d probably be a bit out of sorts too. Many experts tell new mums that babies are born “too soon” and say that in the fourth trimester they should be treated like foetuses and their care should mimic that of the womb to make their transition to the real world as smooth as possible. Things that might help your little one adjust include skin-to-skin contact to calm and soothe, babywearing to mimic the gentle movement of pregnancy, feeding on demand and swinging and movement, again to mimic the everyday movements they were used to when you were moving about in pregnancy.
Want to know more about the fourth trimester? Check out our chat with Izzy Judd, Illy Morrison and Debbie Le at the 2020 Happy Mum Happy Baby Virtual event below: