The 4th Trimester.
These are the first three months of your baby’s life, in which moms call the hardest. Mommy Expert Lisa actually called it the “Witching Hour.”
I’ve mentioned the term quite a few times on Tyckled Tales (see related posts on the 4th trimester), but I haven’t talked about it in great detail before.
Julia is actually now 10 days away from her due date (!!), so I thought it’d be great to talk about the next few months to come for her and what other new moms can expect shortly after giving birth.
The 4th Trimester is a term coined by Dr. Harvey Karp, renowned pediatrician, child development specialist, and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine.
Many of the moms I have worked with have told me that the 4th trimester is never talked about enough, and it’d be great if they had known more earlier about what to expect. You know you’ll be sleep deprived and it’ll be hard, but it’s on an emotional, mental, and physical level. And with all the baby products out there, it’d be great to know directly what would be the essentials to get them through it.
1) Baby Swing: Fisher Price) 2) Baby Bouncer: Stokke 3) Reading: The Happiest Baby on The Block 4) Baby Carriers: Moby Wrap 5) Swaddles: Woombie 6) Receiving Blankets: Aden + Anais 7) Baby Gowns: Under The Nile
Dr. Karp believes that when babies are born, they are born less-developed than other mammals. Because of this, the transition from the womb to the outside world is tough for them, and he believes that there is a “calming reflex” that causes babies to instantly relax as if they were safe inside the womb by giving clues. These clues are indicated by the “five S’s“.
- Swaddling: Tight swaddling recreates the confinement of the womb.
- Side/Stomach Position: Holding the baby on the right side slightly face down.
- Shushing: Karp uses a loud “ssh” sound similar to the loud white noise that is present in the womb.
- Swinging (and jiggling): Gentle but constant jiggling (especially of the head) is intended to remind babies of the constant motion they experienced in the womb.
- Sucking: Karp also recommends the use of pacifiers.
In today’s post, I wanted to share the various conversations I’ve had with moms on the 4th trimester, what worked for them, and how you can learn from their experiences.
So how did they find out about it?
Dr. Karp has a book and DVD that talks about the 4th trimester called “The Happiest Baby on the Block.” You can buy it online or expect to watch the DVD in birthing classes.
Mommy Expert Josephine:
The Happiest Baby on the Block is one of those books that is highly recommended in the mom community. I’d go straight for the video as the visual instructions were a lot more useful. I recommend watching the video the last month of pregnancy so the advice and techniques in the video are still fresh in your mind.
Mommy Expert Vivian:
When we took our birthing classes while I was pregnant, we were shown a DVD, Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. In this DVD, Dr. Karp talks about how to soothe a fussy baby. We found his methods interesting and in reading more about him after the class, I came across the term the 4th trimester. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Karp’s site.
The Missing “4th Trimester”
Baby horses can walk and even run on their very first day of life. They are truly ready to be born when they leave their mother’s womb. By comparison, our newborns are more like fetuses than infants. They have irregular breathing, tremors… and even need help to burp. It is only after 2-3 months that they smile, coo and finally seem ready to be here.
Our babies don’t have big strong bodies, like horses, but we have big brains. In fact, they are so big, at 9 months giving birth is an almost impossible squeeze. A dilated cervix is 10 centimeters in diameter (31.4 cm circumference) while a newborn’s head has a circumference of 34-35 cm. Our big-brained babies have to come out after 9 months gestation, however, in many ways, they could really use a few more months of the stimulation of the uterus.
Yes, I did say stimulation. In the womb, fetuses are constantly massaged by the muscular walls of the uterus, frequently jiggled and 24/7 they are surrounded by the crash of blood whooshing through the placental arteries (a noise that is louder than a vacuum cleaner!).
Most parents around the world intuitively mimic the rocking, holding and shushing of the uterus, but in our culture, we are mistakenly taught to whisper and tiptoe around our babies, believing that they need a quiet and still environment…nothing could be further from the truth! Rather than being over-stimulated, most of our babies are seriously under-stimulated.
Recreating the sensory milieu of the womb is so important for newborns, not because they are nostalgic for the “good life” they had inside, but because it actually triggers an important, but previously unappreciated neonatal reflex, I call the calming reflex.
After reading about the 4th trimester, I decided to research some more. Everything made complete sense.
After being in the womb for 9 months, baby goes through a huge adjustment after being born. They are unable to communicate with us besides crying… Dr. Karp’s methods mimic the womb and help transition the baby to the big outside world. Some babies transition easier than others. For me, the knowledge of the existence of the 4th Trimester was enough to help me feel like we could get through the tough newborn months. There was an explanation for the fussing and crying!
Dr. Karp mentions his methods specifically for parents of colicky babies, but every baby fusses and cries to a degree…
KEY TIP: knowledge of the 4th Trimester and being armed with the tools you need to get through it is key!
Natalie Gordon of Baby List:
I watched the “Happiest Baby on the Block” DVD prior to giving birth. I read a blog post that compared having a baby to army boot camp, and looking back, that makes a lot of sense to me. It’s not just the baby being really hard, but you also have a total loss of identity. Getting my head around “I am a mom” was hard. Things got much much better at 3.5 months.
What did they not know then but know better now to share with you?
Mommy Expert Sena:
- Sleep as much as you can and whenever you can. The advice of “sleep when the baby sleeps” is SO true.
- Don’t be afraid of asking for help. A lot of friends and family are willing to help so take advantage of it.
- Take the pressure off of yourself and your spouse. Take it one day at a time and I promise you’ll get through it. Each day will get easier and you’ll figure it out. Someday you’ll look back and even laugh about the hard times.
- Talk to you friends and other moms and just compare notes. I was a big worrier and was paranoid about everything so hearing that what I was going through was normal helped me a lot.
- The moment I stopped trying to follow the “manual” and live up to someone else’s standards was the day I took a huge load off my shoulders. That’s the day I started to look forward to things and experience being a mommy with a smile.
Mommy Expert Annika:
- Get outside with the baby – go get coffee – you will feel really good like you accomplished something.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your husbands for time off – tell them directly what you want otherwise they don’t get it.
- Have a friend you can text for dumb questions – someone who is either having a baby too or just had one.
- Don’t get mad at your mom’s suggestions – even if you are really hormonal!
So what are the baby essentials for the 4th trimester?
The bouncer and swing are pretty self-explanatory. They can help mimic the motions of being inside the womb. You can read our last post on such baby playtime essentials to determine how to pick what’s best for you, and check out a Q&A we did recently with 4moms, who makes the mamaRoo.
“The Happiest Baby on The Block” book is for knowing all the ins and outs of the 4th trimester. No further explanation needed on why!
To help with swaddling and sleep positioning, we have swaddles and baby gowns.
And receiving blankets are there because they’ll help so much with all the clean up in the early days!
Mommy Expert Vivian:
We utilized the baby swing, white noise (simplynoise.com is the best!), frequent nursing, baby carriers, long walks with the baby (helps to get fresh air too, and baby will be rocked to sleep as you get some walking in), and swaddling blankets.
In an upcoming post, we’ll talk more about what people don’t tell moms going into the 4th trimester.
What are your baby essentials for the 4th trimester?