AKA the First 3 Months
Just as you thought pregnancy was over and the trimesters were finished… Did you know that the first 3 months of your little one’s life is quite commonly referred to as the fourth trimester? This is because your little one has not yet figured that they are a separate identity and they are taking their time to transition to life in the big outside world. You will find that your little one spends most of the day with their eyes closed only waking to feed, particularly in the first 6 weeks.
After this time, you may notice that your little one starts to be able to stay awake for slightly longer periods of time and you may find that they begin interacting, socially, with their outside world perhaps even sharing their first social smile. Towards the end of the fourth trimester you may notice that your baby has ‘woken up’ to the world and has now started more purposefully and intently watching faces and objects and communicating with you in more ways than just crying. This is a beautiful time to begin to show them that you delight in their presence, make meaningful eye contact with them and mirror their babbling.
The transition into the outside world is a very daunting experience for a newborn baby. If you can imagine they have just spent 9 months tucked up in a warm, wet, cosy space where they had 24/7 access to nutrients, were surrounded by constant noise, soothed by constant motion and they were close to you. Then all of a sudden with out warning or reason they are suddenly and forcefully ejected in to bright lights where there is room to stretch, they suddenly have to work for and wait for their food, there is no longer constant motion, lots of sudden and strange noises, there is constant changes in temperature and they suddenly have to navigate sleep around day and night.
As you can see there is a lot for a newborn to adjust to and this may lead them to become quite unsettled and ‘fussy’ as newborns. I don’t believe in any bad bedtime habits, only what works for you and your family but during the fourth trimester this is especially so. Use this precious time to get to know your brand-new bundle of love and lay the foundations for creating emotional safety and security for them. You absolutely cannot spoil a newborn baby and there is no such thing as holding them too much or setting up bad habits, there is only what works for you and what feels instinctively right, for you. There is plenty of time after the fourth trimester for working on bedtime boundaries when your little one becomes more biologically capable.
Your baby may find comfort in an environment that mimics that of being in the womb, here are a few tips for settling your newborn in the fourth trimester:
White noise is a really effective way of settling a newborn baby, it can also be used right through to toddler hood as part of your bedtime boundaries and also to block out external noises and support them to stitch longer stretches of sleep. You don’t need an expensive, fandangled machine that has 17 noise options and an influencer-endorsed brand name. A free app played through an old tablet on airplane mode would be enough, just check that it has a constant play option and will be able to last the night. If you are looking for a machine, I absolutely love this one available on Amazon.
Skin to skin contact
This is where you lay your naked baby on your bare chest, there are many benefits to both parent and baby. Skin on skin contact is known to release oxytocin (love hormones), create a beautiful bonding experience, help baby feel safe, settle baby with the sound of your heartbeat, reduce crying and regulate their temperature. These benefits are not just for mum’s, the same benefits can also be gained through skin to skin contact with dad or another caregiver.
Generally newborn babies love being swaddled, a technique that wraps the baby up nice and snug with their arms tucked down by their side. Swaddling can be done with a blanket or muslin or with a swaddle suit. If your baby resembles a baby burrito, you’ve done a good job! Swaddling is a great step to calm a baby, provide security and comfort and help them to sleep for longer by calming their startle (moro) reflex which causes the baby to make small jerky movements. To read more about hip healthy swaddling have a look here.
For 9 months every time you moved, your baby moved too. They have become very accustomed to your rhythmic movement and would likely be sleeping whilst you were out walking or moving around during the day and would then wake up as you stopped or get into bed at night. Remember that feeling when you would just get into bed and settle yourself into a comfy position and suddenly baby would start an in-utero party?! You may find that as soon as your try to put your baby down in their crib or lay them still they become unsettled. Try holding them nice and close and sway from side to side or walk around with your baby to settle them.
A warm bath
If your baby is unsettled, try running a nice warm bath and getting in with them. The womb was a nice warm and wet place so replicating this environment can be very calming for them. Getting in the bath with the baby and holding them on your chest can have a very calming effect on your baby and promotes a release of oxytocin through the skin on skin contact.