What the Fourth Trimester Really Looks Like

Have you heard of the 4th trimester? This is a term that pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp is believed to have coined, meaning that the first three months of a baby’s life after birth. It goes with a theory that babies are born after nine months because their brains are so big that if they stayed in the womb much longer, they wouldn’t fit through the birth canal. They are still not quite ready, though, for life on the outside. In fact, according to this theory, it takes them about three more months to adjust.

Those first 12 weeks are a time of major changes, as you become a parent and your sleepy, often fussy newborn becomes a calmer, happier, more alert baby. During the 4th trimester, babies experience significant physical, mental, and emotional development. It can help to think of your baby as still being a fetus for these first few months because your baby may be overwhelmed by the outside world and just want cuddles from you.

It’s important to understand what life was like for your baby inside the womb. Inside your body, it was warm, but not especially dark, because a fetus can see the rays of the sun pass through your skin and muscle. Your baby is used to the sound of your voice, the whooshing of the blood in the uterine arteries, and plenty of soft, jiggly motion.

During this 4th trimester, you can expect your baby to cry and be fussy. Babies will scream a lot, sleep a little, and essentially wear you out. To comfort a baby in this stage of life, keep your little one snugly wrapped or swaddled, and try swaying and shushing with the baby in the side/stomach position. Give your baby plenty of opportunities to suck, too. In fact, you can look at snug, shushing, swaging, side/stomach, and suck as the five S’s of the 4th trimester. They’re calming because they make the baby feel back at home.

Those first three months may seem like a blur, but by the time your newborn hits the 3-month mark, everything will have changed. Suddenly your baby will be a little person with a curious mind, the beginnings of a personality, and some motor skills. Interacting with your newborn during the first few months can help foster all of this development. By holding, rocking, and talking to your baby, you’ll actually be nurturing a growing brain. Be prepared to feel worn out, but know that it’s all worth it, as you grow into a parent and form a deep connection with your new little one.

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