Congratulations! Your journey through pregnancy is done and your gorgeous bundle is finally earthside. The wait to meet your little miracle is over, and you have survived. Now the next chapter of this exciting journey begins to unfold. The fourth trimester – as the weeks after birth are often referred to – is a very special and even magical time. Bonds are formed, discoveries are made, challenges are overcome, and a new life is cemented. It is special not only for mom and her baby, but dad, siblings, grannies, grandads, and extended family and friends. This is primarily the time for baby to adapt to life outside the womb, and for mom and dad to adjust to being parents. Natalie Nelson takes a look at what to expect from baby, mom and dad as they get used to being a family.
Birth to three months
What’s happening to baby?
- When baby is born, all she has to rely on to control her behaviour and movements are her instincts and reflexes. Her movements will be jerky and uncontrolled. This improves over the next three months.
- Baby will now be learning to adjust to all sorts of new stimuli. She needs to adapt to light, sounds, touch and learn how to deal with social interactions. This time can be very unsettling to her, but when handled with love and gentleness, this transition can be done smoothly.
- As time passes, baby’s senses will develop and become more refined. Her sight will develop most rapidly.
- Baby’s feeding and sleeping patterns will become more consistent and hopefully more predictable by the end of this period.
- Interactions will become more purposeful and less random. Her concentration and awareness levels will increase steadily.
- Crying will be more frequent now than any other time, with it peaking at about five weeks and settling by three months.
How can you help baby?
- Be there for your baby – cuddle her and comfort her. This new world is foreign and scary, so she needs to know that you’re there for her and won’t abandon her.
- Lots of skin to skin contact will be comforting. Your scent is familiar to her and the warmth of your body is reassuring.
- Swaddling and baby wearing can be very comforting as well. The confinement and movement mimic the feeling of being in utero.
- Feed your baby on demand, especially when just born. Babies’ tummies are tiny and can’t hold much food at a time. On the emotional side, by feeding on demand, you will teach her that her needs will always be This provides security, which in turn fosters confidence at a later stage.
What’s happening to mom?
- Essentially the fourth trimester is your recovery period. Use this time to adjust to your new life – life with a baby
- Do not expect everything to go back to normal straight away. Expect to have good days, and bad days.
- Your hormones will adjust during this period too, dipping and diving as they settle into no longer being pregnant and now producing milk. Sometimes the settling of your hormones can leave you with side effects similar to menopause, like night sweats, mood swings, anxiety, hot flashes, and the baby blues. This is an adjustment period, it too shall pass. However, if you don’t feel the blues lifting after a few weeks, chat to your healthcare provider.
- Sleep deprivation is going to hit you thick and fast – there is a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. It’s debilitating and simply horrible. The good news is that it won’t last forever, and you will survive. Try to rest when your baby sleeps.
What can mom do?
- The most important thing you can do is simply be gentle with yourself. Everything is new – even if this isn’t your first child!
- Take it easy. If the dishes aren’t done and you’re still in your pyjamas in the afternoon, what does it really matter? This is the time to be spending getting to know your new baby.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s a reason why it is said that “it takes a village to raise a child”. Sadly, in our fragmented society this doesn’t happen anymore, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
- If you consider yourself an A-type personality, you’ll need to learn to go with the flow – now more than ever.
- Consider using a postpartum doula for extra support and encouragement
What’s going on with dad?
- The fourth trimester can be a particularly interesting time for dads. It’s where the rubber hits the road, and the hoped for becomes reality. Up until now dad has essentially been a bystander in this unfolding journey. Butnow dad is an active participant.
- Though many dads slip into this role as though it is the most natural thing to do, some dads may experience anxiety and stress. Anxiety may be brought about by the responsibility of taking care of a newborn, as well as a postpartum mother, additional financial responsibilities, and just simply the reality of being a dad.
- As much as dad may hope for things to be back to normal, the reality is that everything is going to be far from normal for a fairly long time. Sleep won’t be normal, your partner won’t be normal, and having a baby won’t seem normal either. And that’s all okay.
- Sleep deprivation will be a reality for a quite a while. This can bring about much strain and a sense of humour will go a long way in getting through this time.
What can dad do?
- Dads, be gentle on yourselves as well. This is new to you and you must allow yourself time to adjust.
- Be involved, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Remember, babies don’t break and your partner will appreciate your help and invlvement more than you’d ever realise.
- If the changes are overwhelming, speak about them. Talk to your partner – she’s probably feeling the same way as well.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help either. Get together with other new dads and support each other through this time.
The fourth trimester is really more a time of adjustment, developing a rhythm and coming to terms with your new life.And of course, lots of hugs and cuddles with your incredible little miracle. Take it slowly and simply enjoy!