The fourth trimester

Newborn | | HiPP Organic

Throughout your pregnancy, you’ve measured the passing of time in trimesters. Now that your baby is here, it can be helpful to think of the first three months of their life as the fourth trimester. It’s a period of transition between pregnancy and parenthood for you, and from life inside the womb to the outside world for your baby.

What’s happening with your baby in the fourth trimester?

Until very recently, your baby was permanently cocooned in your womb, with limited room to move, food on tap, the constant sound of your heartbeat in their ears and all other sounds muffled. The outside world, by contrast, is a sensory explosion. Everything sounds different, everything looks different, everything feels different. Their only constant is you. It’s no wonder they might seem a bit ‘clingy’.

Meanwhile, their little bodies are still developing. Not only are they growing fast, but their brain is developing at an amazing rate. They’re learning to use their bodies – grabbing at toys and people (and earrings if you let them!) – and they are finding meaning in sounds, so they’ll start to turn their heads towards familiar noises.

Their vision also improves dramatically in this fourth trimester. By three months old, they’ll be making eye contact, returning smiles and communicating with you – not with actual words, but through their body language, crying, cooing and gurgling. It’s all pretty amazing really! And exhausting – which is why newborn babies sleep so much, although, sadly, not often for the long stretches we would like them to sleep for.

You can help your baby adjust to the outside world by spending plenty of time cuddling them – skin to skin is ideal, where possible – and feeding on demand. You can’t spoil a newborn, so don’t worry about creating a ‘rod for your own back’ by being ‘too responsive’. It’s good to learn your baby’s cues, and react accordingly.

Looking after yourself in the fourth trimester

Whether you’re recovering from a C-Section , or a vaginal delivery , a long labour or a short one, it’s really important to look after yourself in these early weeks. Drink plenty of water, rest as much as you can, and try to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Giving birth is physically and emotionally exhausting. It can be euphoric and it can be traumatic. Please don’t assume that just because ‘everyone does it’, it’s easy to move on.

In fact, if you go along to baby groups with your new baby, you’ll probably hear people telling and retelling their story of childbirth. This is a really healthy way to process the experience and can help you feel less alone with your feelings, especially as you see the vast differences from one person’s labour story to another’s. Telling your story is also a great way of reminding yourself that you have accomplished something monumental – and on days where your biggest accomplishment is having a shower, this reminder can be much-needed.

Sharing your birth story is only one reason to get out and about to baby groups in the fourth trimester. Though it’s true that your baby doesn’t need a lot of outside stimulation in these early months – they will get plenty of that from being with you and doing everyday things – it’s really good for you to be among other people going through the same things you’re going through: the sleepless nights, feeding worries, leaky nappies. You’ve been completely thrown out of your normal routine, so try and find a new one that works for you.

I was so keen to get out the house and go to classes,” says HiPP mum Kirsten. “She slept all the way through our first baby sensory class and took zero interest in me waving shakers in her face. But I enjoyed the outing and being with some like-minded parents, who I could compare feed timings and nappy changes with!

HiPP mum Shelly agrees: “I started attending a local baby class when Archie was around 2 months old. When you’re on maternity leave, it can sometimes feel quite isolating – especially when your partner goes back to work. Not many of my friends had children of a similar age at the time, so I knew I had to get out there and meet other mums who were experiencing the same things as me. Plus, I thought it would be a great way to start getting Archie to socialise with other children before he started nursery. I was initially very nervous – I was worried I would be judged by the other mums, that I’d discover I wasn’t doing the right thing, or that Archie wasn’t developing as fast as their babies. But how wrong I was! It gave me great comfort to discover that we were all feeling the same way and just trying to do our best. We’d sing songs, dance, do tummy time and baby yoga, all while having a natter and laughing at what new things our little ones were doing. It really helped build up my self-confidence and reassured me that I definitely wasn’t alone.

HiPP mum Laura agrees, but urges new mums not to overschedule themselves. “Don’t feel pressured into spending all your time out visiting. It is lovely, but so is sitting at home as a family soaking in every tiny little thing your baby does!

Handling visitors in the early days

For most new parents, this fourth trimester begins with chaos, as you all adjust to your new life, and ‘come down’ from the birth.

I know it sounds dramatic, but I think you have to accept that the early weeks are just about survival,” says HiPP mum Emily. “Make sure you look after yourself – eat/drink and sleep whenever you can. Everything else can wait.

In the first few weeks, you’re likely to be inundated with requests from family and friends who want to visit, and between that and the lack of sleep, you can end up feeling very overwhelmed. It’s ok to put people off until you’re feeling up to it. And, if you keep the visitors to a minimum, you can also whittle the list down to people who you know will look after you when they do come over – like, make you lunch, or hold the baby while you have a shower.

Once you’re ready to start socialising a bit more, why not arrange to meet people out where you don’t have to worry about the state of your house? And if your time-keeping has taken a hit, like many new mums, try planning to arrive during a window of time, rather than attempting to meet a specific deadline. For example, ‘I’ll see you between half 10 and 11’ is easier to stick to than ’I’ll be there at 10.30’.

Do, ditch, delegate

Though you’re not at work for the foreseeable future, you can still take some of the lessons from the office and apply them at home. Your life is not going to look like it used to, so you’re probably going to have to adjust your approach to household chores and life admin. Think about what’s really important to you (the ‘do’ list), whether it’s feasible to stay on top of it yourself, or whether you can delegate (or outsource) to someone else. Some things – like ironing! – might just have to drop off the list altogether.

Perhaps you were super organised in your third trimester and managed to put meals in the freezer to sustain you during this period. If not, look for some quick and healthy recipe ideas that will help you keep your strength up, or try one of the food subscription services that enable you to eat well with minimal effort.

I tried to prep lunch the night before, so I would always have something decent to eat,” says Karen. “Same for bottles, breast pumps, etc. – making sure they were clean and sterile at the end of every day saved me the stress of last-minute, one-handed washing up.

A whole lot of ‘firsts’

First steps and first words are still a long way off, but when you’re a first-time parent there are so many milestones – many of which don’t have pretty milestone cards for you to share on social media. First time leaving the house. First time solo parenting. First time changing your baby’s nappy away from home. All of these are natural steps as you adapt to life with a newborn, and every one is a moment to be proud of.

Is there a milestone card for ‘breastfed in public for the first time’? There should be! Laura says: “Breastfeeding in public on my own for the first time was a big milestone for me, it felt so empowering!”, while HiPP mum Kirsten remembers, “I was so anxious about breastfeeding and even more so in public. I first did it sat on a bench with my NCT friends in a park. They were there to help, arrange muslins and pass me my drink. From this moment on, I got a lot more confident with every feed!

Breastfeeding in public can be daunting – especially if you’re still getting the hang of latching baby on. Don’t be put off by what anyone around you might be thinking. With the right clothes (multiple layers will do the trick) and/or accessories (like a well-placed muslin), you can breastfeed very discretely, if you want to. Or don’t – it’s nobody’s business but your own, and a few inches of bared flesh is not going to do anyone any harm. Either way, every time you practice, it will get a bit easier.

‘Cherish every moment’

Everyone says ‘enjoy this phase’,” says Kirsten, “But some days are not enjoyable! Some days it is just about getting through the day, getting dressed, having some lunch…That’s ok. Celebrate the little wins.

Emily agrees: “I always send a message to anyone I know who has just had a baby to check they’re ok. I found it really tough initially. I think it’s nice to reassure other parents that it is tough, but that it passes.

Most new parents find themselves overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious at some point in these early weeks after the birth. With hormones still all over the place, your emotions are bound to sit much closer to the surface than usual. But if you find yourself struggling to connect with your baby or your partner, or you’re feeling really low, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP. Postpartum depression is surprisingly common and nothing to be ashamed of, but the first step to getting help is to tell someone how you’re feeling.