In the months before your baby was born, you divided time into chunks of 12 weeks, or trimesters. After three trimesters (or so), your baby was born. According to a theory developed by Dr. Harvey Karp, this is about 12 weeks – or one trimester – too early. Dr. Karp coined the term “Fourth Trimester” to refer to this period of both infant development and maternal recovery.
The healthcare providers at New Canaan Pediatrics understand that this Fourth Trimester calls for care that is unprecedented; round the clock attention, feeding, changing diapers and nurturing.
What is the Fourth Trimester?
The fourth trimester is the first three months following the birth of your newborn. Dr. Karp says, generally, when a baby is born full-term, their heads have grown to the maximum size that can fit through the birth canal but their brain development would truly benefit from another 12 weeks in the womb.
What happens in the Fourth Trimester to Baby?
The fourth trimester is a time of transformation. Your child will never again make such strides in growth and development as they do in these three months. Your baby will build on their initial instincts to startle, suck, grasp, and root for food. In three months, these instincts will develop into hunger recognition, reactions to outside stimuli and increased muscle strength.
In these short three months, your baby will open their arms and legs to a more relaxed, “stretched-out” baby who can hold up their head. While at birth they can see in grey-scale just 8-12” away, at three months your baby will typically see a full spectrum of color, all the way across the room. They will recognize and react to you, siblings, caregivers, toys and bottles.
Because your newborn baby could still benefit from time in the womb, it’s helpful to mimic that in utero environment whenever possible. You can follow the 5 S’s of the fourth trimester to help the baby’s comfort:
- Swaddle: Keep newborns swaddled to keep them warm and mimic the cozy feeling of being in the uterus. As soon as your Baby begins to turn themselves over, stop swaddling at night.
- Stomach or Side Position: Being held stomach down supported by your forearm or on their side can help soothe your baby. This position is only for holding your baby; when they are sleeping, place your baby on their back.
- Shush: In utero, babies heard a constant sound of blood rushing around the body. Using a white noise machine, or simply playing white noise sounds outside of the womb helps calm your baby.
- Swing: During pregnancy, babies were in motion, regularly being swayed back and forth by the rhythm of your walking and movement. A swing can help recreate the feeling of perpetual movement when you need to rest.
- Suck: Sucking is an inborn instinct, a source of comfort and reassurance for babies and the reason pacifiers remain a top item on baby registries. Ask your New Canaan provider for help in determining when your baby needs to feed and when they would like to suck for comfort.
Neonatal Care is Four Trimesters, Not Three
Be sure to take your baby to all pediatric appointments, especially during these first three month. Your New Canaan healthcare provider will ensure that your baby is healthy, developing as expected, begin immunizations to protect their health for years to come and can address any and all concerns you have during these appointments.
Fourth Trimester Care Should Include Mom Too
Moms require just as much care after birth as your baby does, and for just as long. Hormone levels have just dropped dramatically, increasing the risk of depression and anxiety. You may still be healing from a caesarean birth or from an episiotomy. Sleep may be in critically short supply. Ask for help from your partner, grandparents, friends and family. Say “yes” when someone offers to cook, clean or run errands for you. This is their way of caring for both you and for your baby.
If you need additional resources such as soothing techniques or help with breastfeeding, ask your New Canaan provider. We would be delighted to direct you to classes and webinars that discuss topics such as baby care, post-delivery care for moms, and lactation techniques.