the fourth trimester
So you may have heard this expression before or it may be brand new. The fourth trimester refers to the first 12 weeks of a baby’s life. This time is so pivotal because it’s when you’re new to motherhood and baby is new to being earthside and this period of adjustment is HUGE.
It’s called the fourth trimester as it’s veiwed as an extension of pregnancy when your baby still needs as much safety and comfort as the womb. They’re having such huge developments in this time, they need you ALL THE TIME. Which is intense but necessary.
Being with you, has so many benefits. They feel more secure mainly, their brains actually develop faster because they’re not having to worry about where you are, their bodies grow softer, held babies are delicously pudgy soft babies which leads them to be flexble and great movers, basically in a nutshell they feel more loved.
The fourth trimester helps us understand why babies behave the way they do in the early weeks. In the womb everything was provided for them so easily, it was warm, safe and dark and they couldn’t be any closer to Mum, then inside her.
When babies are born, it’s like a massive sensory overload. They’re experiencing everything for the first time, breathing, the air, the cold, not being inside Mum’s belly, other people touching them, noise, being moved around, the list goes on.
When I think about this time, I think it’s so important to get behind your baby’s eyes. There’s a beautiful book called The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff who does just this in some of her paragraphs. When you get behind a baby’s eyes, you see how vulnerable they are. Their needs can only be met by you and the only way to communicate their needs is to be settled because they’re met or crying because they’re not and there is nowhere in between.
The first 12 weeks with your baby will be so hard and intense and overwhelming but there is lots you can do to take the edge off. You are learning how to be a mother just as baby is learning how to be in the world, we can’t expect this to be easy or happen ‘just like that’. But please don’t fear this time, it’s a huge period of growth where you get the gift of setting yourself free. You get to let go of so much ‘stuff’ that isn’t actually important and focus on what is. I often hear Mums say, ‘I haven’t even thought about work’, when it used to be their life because their heart has shifted.
A common experience of the fourth trimester is ‘I can’t put my baby down’ which is how babies are designed. It’s a survival skill for babies to wake when out of arms. This goes way back to when babies were born in caves with saber tooth tigers lurking round every corner. See the thing is our minds have developed in the last few hundred thousand years but our bodies haven’t. Our physical instinctual programming is all still there. Babies need to be held, it’s that simple and that hard.
All your baby really wants is you. Your touch, your warmth, your smell, your heartbeat and they feel calm. That’s why a baby will nap for hours on you but just minutes in their cots. And it always surprises me that noone ever thinks maybe the baby knows what they need, you, but instead we try to fix ‘the problem’ and assume there is something wrong with the baby. A different cot, a warmer sleepsuit, a side sleeper etc etc but maybe, there is nothing to be fixed.
We’ve been led to believe they don’t want us bascially because of consumerism and lifestyle. The more gadgets to hold your baby, the more it sinks in they shouldn’t be held. Outdated but overused sayings such as ‘you’ll make a rod for your own back if you never put that baby down’ enter your head as well as mothers being busier than ever with unrealsitic expectations of what we ‘should’ be doing during mat leave.
I also fully understand that everyone’s lifestyle is different and times have changed and women do need to put the baby down sometimes and even if you didn’t need to, you might want to.
I’m hoping through this guide to give you practical tools to really support you during this time and some honest expectations of what life with a new baby is like. Most mothers are having a hard time but because we don’t see it, we think we’re the only ones. Please know you are not alone and it is brave to be vulnerable. Lots of new Mums feel too much pressure to act like they’ve got it all together but what we desperately need is more openess that we don’t.