Congratulations! After 9+ months you’ve finally met your little bundle of joy. You’re ready to settle into your new “normal” only that new normal feels utterly chaotic. How can you seamlessly transition from a crying newborn to an engaging, smiling 4-month-old? It’s called a perfect Fourth Trimester.
The Fourth Trimester: Yes, It Does Exist! Let’s discuss what it is, how it impacts you and your baby, and how to create the perfect fourth trimester.
What Is The Fourth Trimester?
The fourth trimester is a phrase that refers to the first 3 months postpartum. More specifically, it is a technique that gently transitions your newborn from the womb to the world. Why is this important?
Baby makes huge strides both mentally and physically in the first few months following birth; these changes allow it to function as an independent being from mom. Prior to the 4-month mark, the baby is so completely dependent on mom that it’s as if your baby still needs to be in utero.
Consider your baby’s limited senses at birth and into the third month: Sight is blurry, hearing is indistinct, and baby feels a wide void of space where there once was snugness.
How Does the Fourth Trimester Impact Mom, And Baby?
The womb is your baby’s home for over 9 months. It is warm, dark, and noises from the outside environment are muted. By contrast, the world your baby is rudely introduced to at birth is cold, bright, and noisy in a jarring way. What a major change! Your baby needs time to adapt.
During this adaption, your baby is likely to cry more than at any other time in its life. It usually peaks at 6-weeks then gradually tapers off by the time your baby is three months old. Don’t let this crying or colic cause you undue anxiety as developing a plan of action to create a perfect fourth trimester will overcome this challenge. There is a method that will allow you to soothe your baby to such an extent that the crying is minimal.
Method To Create The Perfect Fourth Trimester
The fourth trimester is a time for you and your baby to adapt to your life changes, and with your love, help, and support this transitional time is easier for your baby.
Dr. Harvey Karp author of The Happiest Baby on the Block has an interesting take on this fourth trimester and how he says it relates to colic. He proposes the way to create the perfect fourth trimester is by incorporating the 5 S’s listed below which will result in a physiological calming reflex in your baby. (Reference)
The 6th “S” is a personal addition and after reading why I think it’ll be an addition for you too. 😉
Just think, in utero, your baby was snug, pleasantly confined. Outside the womb, the startle reflex jars your baby’s tender senses. Soothe your baby and create security by swaddling. Unless your baby is of an extremely grumpy temperament, swaddling for the first few months will help your baby sleep more soundly. If you think your baby doesn’t like being swaddled because they break out, try swaddling tighter.
Tight swaddling gives your baby ongoing touch and support similar to what was experienced in the womb. Just be sure to practice safe swaddling techniques.
My third baby wanted to suck on her fingers so she continually managed to break out of her swaddle, but when I left her unswaddled she actually became more frustrated with her inability to make her fingers stay in her mouth; she also didn’t enjoy smacking herself in the face. I solved the problem by “double swaddling”. She now quiets as soon as I pull the swaddles out.
I will use a swaddle that gives her the use of one hand and her fingers around 4 months. I currently use this swaddle and this one. Had I known I’ve have a swaddle Houdini on my hands I probably would have purchased a miracle blanket swaddle instead. I may try using a muslin blanket within a swaddle I already have to secure her arms better.
This “S” may seem controversial. We are told to lay our babies on their back to help prevent SIDS. However, Karp is not promoting stomach sleep over back to sleep. Temporarily placing a fussy baby on their left side or on their stomach can aid in digestion and activate baby’s calming reflex. Once your baby is calm and drowsy, even in phase one of their sleep cycle, turn the baby over onto their back. Do not leave your baby unattended while on their side or stomach.
Think white noise. While in the womb your baby heard the continual flow of blood rushing through arteries, a sound two times louder than a vacuum cleaner. There were other noises to add as well, your heartbeat, your digestive system; a regular cacophony of constant white noise.
To block out startling environmental noises and to recreate soothing noise, use a sound machine while the baby sleeps. There are good options for the baby’s room as well as portable options for car seats and strollers.
I personally experienced the benefit of my hair stylist running the hair dryer on low during a recent appointment to keep my baby calm. 🙂 And if my baby is in a sling, but not sleeping, running the vacuum cleaner puts her right out.
Your baby continually swayed in motion while in the womb. Outside the womb, that soothing motion can be recreated with rocking, swinging, even riding in the car. A word of caution, though, you may want to gently wean baby off of these motions prior to 16 weeks or it can develop into a sleep crutch long-term.
Some people opt out of swings because they take up too much room and they eat up batteries. I found a compact portable swing that plugs into the wall and folds up for storage!
All babies have an intense need to suck. Sucking triggers a calming reflex and releases endorphins in the brain.
Babies don’t typically get their suckling needs entirely met with nursing or bottle feeding. As a result, you may have a fussy baby whose cries you interpret as hunger when they simply want to suck.
During your baby’s first couple weeks, in order to establish nursing production once it’s no longer primarily hormone controlled, but supply and demand you may want to allow the baby unrestricted suckling on the breast. After which time, a pacifier can help to calm your baby when they aren’t hungry.
If you opt for pacifier use, it is suggested that you find one suitable for your baby based on their age (i.e. newborn vs. 4-month-old), to use an orthodontic one, and aside from that it will vary greatly depending on your babies preference.
My youngest took to this newborn pacifier immediately; she didn’t care for others I tried. I also tried a pacifier holder suited for various pacifiers. Sometimes the baby will grab and hold on to it, other times, especially with a thick swaddle, the weight will pull the pacifier out of her mouth when she turns her head.
While this “S” is not part of Dr. Karp’s soothing program, it is an invaluable tool in perfecting the fourth trimester for your baby. Also called baby wearing, a sling is great for calming your baby, stabilizing their heart rate and establishing breastfeeding. Wearing in a sling or carrier is beneficial for both mom and baby. Whether you choose a wrap, a pouch, a soft-sided sling or a combination sling, make sure the sling is ergonomic and you follow safety guidelines.
Similar to baby wearing is a technique called kangaroo care. While largely used with premature infants, the benefits of kangaroo care are huge for full-term newborns as well. Kangaroo care is simply skin-to-skin time with your baby, preferably for two hours a day if possible, although any amount of time is beneficial
I found that after four weeks of age my baby got restless with this skin-to-skin time, but it can easily be incorporated while in a sling around the house, during deep-bathing time with your baby, or in the evenings before bed. This tube made it more comfortable, easing the strain on my back and arms.
A form of skin-to-skin time referenced in the previous paragraph is deep bathing. Mom or Dad can take a warm bath with their baby in their arms to calm everyone and get a nice release of oxytocin.
I’ve used most of the aforementioned calming methods since the birth of my first child. Four of the S’s are expounded on by The Baby Whisperer, and broken down into teachable modules in my online courses. I’ve found they do work!
For my third baby, necessity requires that I take an even more relaxed view of the first three months. I am doing that with the incorporation of the sixth “S” mentioned above. It’s made a huge difference in my mental state. I’m even more relaxed. A few more techniques you may want to use to truly create the perfect fourth trimester are as follows:
- Colic Calm or Gripe Water before sleep – this aids in multiple sleep interrupters like reflux, hiccups, and gas.
- Acupressure sleep point during your bedtime routine with baby.
- Gently placing a hand over your baby’s eyes to block stimulation.
- A baby hammock instead of a flat sleeping surface – research sites the possibility that a hammock much like the crescent womb could reduce the risk of SIDS.
- I opted for a cosleeper baby bed designed to function as a sling or hammock and hug my baby in a similar fashion to my own arms. I lay this in a bedside play yard/travel bed. I love it and so does the baby.
Pairing this fourth-trimester technique with E.A.S.Y. principles sets a nice foundation for a baby led routine around four months. More than anything else, though, this is a time to bond and build trust and security.
A knowledge and understanding as to why babies behave as they do during the first twelve weeks of life along with the tools needed to soothe their baby will help make this a less stressful, more enjoyable time for parents. They’ll never be this tiny again! 🙁
P.S. What tricks do you use to calm your baby?