For anyone not familiar with this term, the ‘fourth trimester’ is the initial three months in which a newborn adjusts to life outside the womb, and the parents adjust to life with their new family member. Dr Harvey Karp hit upon the idea after observing that human babies are born less developed than other mammals because we need to exit the womb before our large craniums become too big to pass through the mother’s pelvis. This means that babies are thrust into the world somewhat unripe and need to be reminded of their uterine world in order to feel secure and happy. Psychologists, such as Louise Kaplan, believe that it is not until about four months of age that a baby is able to perceive itself as a separate entity to its mother, which tallies nicely with the fourth trimester concept, marking a natural endpoint to this period.
This is obviously a time of great transition for babies and first time parents, but also second, third, and I’m sure, fourth and fifth timers and so on. A great deal of mental and physical development goes on in this period. This is somewhat more cataclysmic for babies, but has a huge impact on parents and siblings too. It can feel like you are lurching from one survival strategy to the next, but also that you are blossoming into a family, or new version of it. There is something new happening every day, and it is both a joy to observe your baby’s development and a struggle to keep up with it. Not to mention watching older children becoming big sisters and brothers, and helping them to find their feet in their new role.
I thought I would write a post celebrating the things which I loved about the fourth trimester and that helped me, Evie, and our family through these first months:
Co-sleeping has been a parenting choice with all three of our babies. For us, this involves both putting baby in a moses basket by our bed and bed sharing to different degrees. With each successive child I’ve spent more time sleeping next to them and less time settling them into the basket, but continue to make use of both arrangements. Needless to say, we observe co-sleeping safety rules. An all-time favourite mother and baby pastime of mine has to be co-napping. It is so lovely to snuggle up to your milk drunk babe in the middle of the afternoon, while the autumn rain pours down outside.
Breastfeeding is beneficial for the health of mother and baby in many ways, as we all know. The first time round it took a couple of weeks to get going and this was incredibly tough. With babies two and three it has been pretty great from the outset. It’s always hilarious hitting your roving toddler with a sudden shower of milk when the little one gets distracted by a sudden noise.
Massaging too, has been another preferred mother and baby pastime. Let’s face it, it can be a bit of a struggle to come up with activities for a two month old. Giving baby a little rubdown with sesame or almond oil, followed by a nice warm bath, is a relaxing way to spend that fleeting newborn awake time, and moisturises your hands. Also a great way to use up the perineum massage oil that I never got round to using;). Waste not. Even better, it seems to promote long, sound, sleeps.
Mindfulness practice is a new thing for me, but has helped me remain sane these last few months. Focussing on being in the moment helps to prolong and get the most out of those rare moments of peace that come by but rarely. I began to take slow walks with Evie in the sling, where I tried to really notice the world around us: the colour of the sky and trees, the sounds of wind (both weather and baby) and traffic, Evie’s snuffling noises. When I had the occasional opportunity to have a bath I lit candles and enjoyed watching the light dance across the water, playing through the steam. Being more mindful also helps in the less peaceful moments when the spaghetti is boiling over, our baby girl is crying in my arms, our toddler is pushing me towards the biscuit tin in a determined manner, and our big girl is shouting that she needs me to wipe her bum. To observe the situation and think ‘wow, I feel quite stressed, but this too shall pass’ is a bit of a safety valve. I can’t pretend I’m great at this yet, but certainly this is a start!
And playing cuckoo. You know the game. You say ‘cuckoo!’. Baby says ‘aaaah’. You say ‘aaah’. Baby says ‘gooooo’. You say ‘goo’. Exchange manic grin and gummy smiles. Repeat. Fantastic when you’re delirious from lack of sleep.
Wearing a baby, all wrapped in a sling is, in my experience, just lovely. With our little ones it turned out to be the very best thing for keeping them calm and contented during the early days and beyond. We started off with a Babyhawk Mei Tei. This is a fantastic sling for first timers with newborns, and can even be used for toddlers down the line. I have used it with all three kids in the last three months. Not all at once. Now that would be impressive. I have had a lot more use out of my Storchenweige the third time around, because I needed more than ever to nurse hands free. I can breastfeed one-handed with the Babyhawk, but I required all the hands I could get through the first weeks of constant feeding. I also had trouble doing a newborn back carry with it, though I know such things are possible. I’ve used wrapped front carries with the other children, but this time I learned a newborn nursing carry, and the art of the newborn back carry. That has been a godsend while cooking or racing round the garden. The wrap sling has taken me some time and effort to master, but I have to admit it is the comfiest and most versatile option. The only drawback is needing time to wrap carefully and make gentle adjustments, which is not always ideal, but practice makes perfect. I do feel like I have acquired some badass parent-ninja skills in learning to baby wrap with confidence!
So, these are a few of my favourite things!
In the small hours, after midnight,
When we’re not asleep.
I try to remember my favourite things,
And I’m not induced to weep!
I’d like to send a big, encouraging hug to all those in the fourth trimester xxx