You may be wondering what the fourth trimester is because in most cases, you are only made aware of the three trimesters during pregnancy. The fourth trimester starts when your little one enters this world up until 12 weeks of age and it is essentially an extension of the three pregnancy trimesters for your baby to adjust to life outside the womb. This is a huge period of adjustment for your baby learning to live in the outside world after being tucked up warm and tight in the womb for 9 months and also a period of adjustment for you as parents and your family, learning how to live with your new addition.
Feeding is one of the biggest priorities when it comes to your baby and to start with, it is likely to take up most of your baby’s awake time day and night. Young babies have very small tummies which is why they feed so frequently and it is recommended that you feed on demand, so avoid any strict feeding or sleeping routines. Whether you choose to feed with breast or bottle, it plays a big part in bonding, closeness and comfort so it’s also a good idea to restrict the number of people who want to feed the baby.
At birth, babies have a very erratic sleep/wake pattern both day and night. From newborn up to 3 months, sleep is varied in terms of number of naps, total day sleep and total night sleep. The average amount of sleep a newborn needs is around 14-17 hours in a 24 hour period.
They don’t know the difference between day and night and nor do they have the ability to know until their body is able to produce melatonin between 8 and 12 weeks old. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep wake cycle; it makes humans feel sleepy and improves the quality of sleep.
One of the toughest parts of a newborn to deal with is the sleep deprivation which can make the nights long and the days even longer but sometimes just understanding why babies wake so frequently overnight make it that little bit more bearable to deal with. Waking overnight isn’t always just about hunger, they may wake for comfort and this is completely normal. Frequent night feeds are necessary because they are protective against SIDS and also for optimal growth and development. Babies at this age are learning SO much, in fact a lot of the brain development occurs at night, and the brain's primary source of fuel is glucose, which babies get from milk.
There are some things you can try to help your baby transition from your womb to the world which include:
Skin to skin - Your baby will naturally feel comfort by your warmth and smell when close to you and your heartbeat can help regulate your baby's heartbeat too.
White Noise - The womb is a very loud place so complete silence will not come naturally to your newborn. White noise can help settle your little one overnight when it’s quiet as it mimics the womb environment.
Swaddling - Some babies love to be swaddled and some don’t. It can provide the snug, warm sensation the womb offered and help with the startle reflex which is common in newborn babies. Always take care with safe sleep guidelines when swaddling your baby.
Sling - Slings are a great way to comfort your baby as well as have a free pair of hands if you need to get on with things. The snug fit in a sling will provide your baby with gentle movement along with comfort by your warmth, smell and heartbeat.
Emotions will be running high post birth, hormones will be all over the place, sleep deprivation will take full effect and there may be many occasions where you question what you are doing and how you are surviving, the fact is, you do just survive, it isn’t easy taking care of a newborn and even though you may feel like you don’t have the energy, you will absolutely power on through without even realising it to look after your precious newborn baby but don’t forget to look after yourself too!
The last thing I want to point out is to never forget that this is YOUR life and YOUR baby! If in doubt or in need of support, the best thing you can do is reach out to your GP or Health Visitor. Otherwise, as hard as the lack of energy and tiredness may be, enjoy these precious moments and always remember that you cannot spoil a newborn! Shower them with all the love and cuddles you want to give them, they don’t last forever!
If you are looking for tips and advice on how to establish positive sleeping habits from the early days whilst still prioritising attachment and bonding, check out my 0 to 5 month newborn sleep guide here which includes detailed information on the following:
Overall sleep requirements
Establishing your baby's body clock
Self settling sleep strategies
Introducing independent sleep associations
Optimal sleep environment
Teething and it's impact on sleep
Handling night wakes and night feeds
The dreaded '4 month sleep regression'