By the time our babies arrive, we’ve learned (through experience) just about everything there is to know about each of the three trimesters. The first one can feel draining and is often plagued with nausea and vomiting. During the second, women often feel like they’ve gotten a second wind. And by the third, as baby begins to take up more and more room, women can begin to feel the discomforts of housing, well, a whole person, inside their uterus.
But there’s actually an entire other trimester that is usually left out of the conversations about growing a baby. That’s because this one happens after the baby is born. It’s known as the fourth trimester and is marked by the period of time between birth and the first three months of life.
During the fourth trimester, new parents soon learn that their newborns needs can feel constant. That’s because adjusting to life outside of the womb can feel like a rather harsh transition for an infant. While in utero, a fetus is met with constant comfort, like nourishment, gentle rocking and swaying, total darkness, and the calming sound of their mother’s heart, life outside is a stark contrast.
It’s no wonder newborns are so demanding. Developmentally, they need constant touch and comforting to bond, to be properly nourished, and to gently become accustomed to life on the outside. But that doesn’t change the fact that for new parents, keeping up with a newborn’s demands can feel exhausting. You’re trying to get used to constantly holding an infant, while keeping up with your own needs, too. For both mother and baby, this time can be as beautiful as it is challenging.
Here are a few common struggles new parents have during months zero to three and how to cope with them:
1). My baby wants to eat constantly- A very common struggle new moms in particular talk about during the fourth trimester is that it seems baby wants to be (almost) constantly at the breast. If it feels like you’re nursing constantly, it’s because you probably are. By the time baby is finished nursing, you can barely chug a glass of water or make yourself a sandwich before it’s nursing time again. While it might feel trying, it makes a lot of sense why your baby needs to eat so often. The infant belly is tiny! At birth, your baby’s belly is only about the size of a marble, and by 10 days to 2 weeks, it is about the size of an egg. While there is no solution for frequent nursing, it’s good to know that it won’t last forever. Soon baby will be able to sustain longer nursing (or bottle feeding sessions) and remain full for longer. Like everything in the fourth trimester, the demanding feeding schedule will be relatively short-lived.
2) I can’t seem to put my baby down- One of the biggest challenges during the first months of life is learning to do things with one hand. You baby only wants to be on your chest or in your arms and getting anything accomplished feels impossible. Yes, you adore your baby and feel you shouldn’t complain about holding your newborn. But it is undoubtedly draining to in such high demand. Your baby likely even wants to sleep on you (and only on you!). In terms of getting things done around the house, or at the very least, being able to feed and clothe yourself, invest in a baby wrap (like a moby) or some kind of carrier that you feel confident wearing. Not only does babywearing allow new parents the use of both of their hands, it also has benefits for moms and babies. Not only can it be calming for infants to experience closeness, new research shows that the skin-to-skin helps new moms release oxytocin (the love hormone) which can help decrease postpartum depression and increase mother to infant bonding
3) I have trouble calming my baby- Again, babywearing can be a great solution for a fussy baby. But not every newborn is easy to settle, as any parent who has had a hard-to-soothe infant will tell you. Even with constant nursing, rocking, diligent diaper changes and so on, some infants just have more trouble than others settling in. The most important thing to realize is that this time period absolutely won’t last forever and hopefully soon, your baby’s most fussy period will be a thing of the past. But there are plenty of tried and true methods that can help comfort even the most challenging infant. For starters, giving in to your baby’s need to being held and comforted, rather than fighting it will save you plenty of battles. Taking your baby outside or some fresh air and to observe the outside world can also have relaxing effects. And when it comes time for sleep, white noise from a sound machine, or even a vacuum cleaner, can be a huge help.
Before you know it you’ll be out of the fourth trimester. Your baby will be exploring and interested in the world around you, and not just you. Soon, you’ll be able to make yourself that sandwich and even have time to eat it. So when the going gets tough, don’t forget, new babies don’t stay new babies for long. Like each trimester that came before, this one will be over just about as soon as you get the hang of it and you’ll be on to the next amazing stage of life with your baby.