As a first time mum, I hadn’t heard about the fourth trimester until after my son was born. I was so very tired, he didn’t seem to sleep for long enough in the day, and he could be very difficult to settle. The evening screaming sessions were hard, and often resulted in my husband taking him for long night-time walks in the buggy just so he would stop crying and fall asleep.
And then the fourth trimester changed everything. When I heard about it, everything suddenly made so much sense. I started to understand a little more of what life was like for my son, I gained a better knowledge of what was upsetting him, and, crucially, I figured out some really effective ways to handle what was happening. It didn’t just make life easier for him to cope with, but it made life easier for all of us.
The fourth trimester refers to a newborn’s first three months of life. My interpretation of the phrase (and phase) is that these three months can be viewed as an extension of the three trimesters of pregnancy. A newborn is suddenly coping with the shock of leaving the womb and entering the world. The womb was a place where for nine months they were curled up very safely. The first three months in the outside world is very different. And so, it is a time of adjustment and of massive change. No wonder it is so stressful.
What worked for me and my son was for me to try and recreate the safety of the first three trimesters for him. We had occasionally swaddled him, but after understanding more about what he was feeling, we started doing it for every nap and every sleep. I don’t think it was so effective just because it solved the problem of him waking himself up with his startle reflex. I think it was so effective suddenly because once again he felt safe, secure, and curled up tight just as he had been in utero.
I held him close to me whenever I could, and particularly to settle and soothe him. We recreated the noises he heard in the womb with me shushing loudly and also using a radio tuned off station for some white noise. The louder it was, the more effective – I suppose the background noise was all pretty loud when he was still inside.
And after about three and a half months, this little baby emerged from the fourth trimester. He was somehow more settled and more aware. He was ready for the world.
So I’ve been thinking alot about the fourth trimester now that my second child, my little girl, is nearly four weeks old. Of course not everything will work again because all babies are so different, but there is no doubt that it is a philosophy that has once again helped us soothe and settle our child.
She is swaddled for every sleep. She is held close to me whenever she can be. Her favourite place is to lie on my chest, close to my heart, hearing that same beat she heard for nine months. I don’t believe you can spoil a baby. What you can do is help her know she is so very much loved.
Again, evening time sometimes becomes the witching hour. If she becomes overtired, the hours when darkness fall can be hard. But we have found a new trick. Our mini mouse will fall asleep if we hold her close, rock her slowly, and stand close to the dishwasher when it is on. Yes, that’s right, the dishwasher. We are guessing the sound of the water going resembles the sounds that she was so very familiar with for nine months.
And this morning a new revelation, the boiler cupboard. While the water was on as the shower was going upstairs, my daughter, tired from her bath, was crying. Yet when she was held close to my mother’s chest and while she stood next to the boiler cupboard, the sound of the water again lulled her quickly to sleep.
So there is no doubt in my mind that the fourth trimester is a wonderful way to view a newborn’s first few months. It is a time, I think, when they need the continued safety, security, sounds and sensations that they felt in the womb. We must ease them into this life on earth, and not rush them into becoming their own separate little people. They are, when they are so very new, just little babies – and I’ve learnt that my little babies handle this outside world best if they are introduced to it very, very gently.