AND DEBUNKING THE TOP 5 FOURTH TRIMESTER MYTHS
Bringing a newborn into the world is an awe-inspiring experience, filled with joy, wonder, and most often, a life changing transition into parenthood (cue a learning curve like no other, and a few other twists and turns). As parents, we eagerly await the arrival of our little ones, preparing for the adventure that lies ahead. But amidst the excitement, there is also a period of adjustment, both for the baby and for us. Welcome to the fourth trimester, a vital and transformative phase that deserves our attention and understanding. With so much of the focus prenatally on birth, many new parents forget to plan for one of the most crucial phases of their parenting journey.
The fourth trimester refers to the first few months of a baby’s life outside the womb, a time of immense growth, development, and adaptation. Just as the three trimesters of pregnancy provided a nurturing environment for your baby’s growth, the fourth trimester is an extension of that nurturing care in the outside world. And it’s not a set period of time like those first 3 trimesters, differing in length for each family, parent and baby.
During this period, your little one is getting accustomed to the sights, sounds, and sensations of their new surroundings. They are learning to regulate their bodily functions, establishing sleep patterns, and beginning to engage with the world around them. Meanwhile, as parents, we are navigating the uncharted waters of parenthood, learning to interpret our baby’s cues, and discovering the depth of our love and dedication all while healing physically! It’s a lot to navigate!
The fourth trimester is a time of immense change and discovery, but it can also be accompanied by challenges and uncertainties. It’s important to acknowledge that this period may not be smooth sailing all the time. From sleepless nights and feeding struggles to the overwhelming responsibility of caring for a fragile being, it’s natural to experience a range of emotions during this phase.
In this blog we explore some of the nuances of that early postpartum period – the unique aspects, debunking myths, and providing practical tips and insights to help you navigate this transformative time. We will delve into topics such as establishing routines, understanding your baby’s needs, self-care for parents, and building a support network. If you want to dive deeper into this topic, make sure to check out our Postpartum & the 4th Trimester course, available here.
The rhythm of life with your new baby in the 4th Trimester
When your baby arrives, they will have necessary and timely needs beyond your own – with these come shifts to your daily life. Newborns can be tough for a variety of reasons, including communicating by crying and having urgent needs that you must attend to. Birthing parents are also recovering from labor and delivery, while potentially feeding their baby from their body (through nursing and/or pumping). We’ve divided up newborns’ effects on your daily rhythm into three categories: sleeping, eating and soothing.
Babies don’t have circadian rhythms for the first 9 weeks (or so) of life, meaning they will sleep and rise (and eat!) frequently, day and night. As you may be realizing, this means that you will also be waking up at any and all hours of the day and night.
We know that this advice and be one of the most frustrating and laughable – but in the first few weeks of healing post birth – it’s ideal to shift your sleep to when you need it, meaning napping during the day, going to bed early in the evening and staying in bed until late morning.
Pro tip! Honing your napping skills in pregnancy is wise, as it will serve you during your moments of sleep adjustments.
- Do your best to learn how to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Techniques like breathing exercises and meditations can help you learn to fall asleep faster.
- Create a nap spot where you are unlikely to have disturbances.
- Invest in earplugs and any other sleep accessories you may need.
- Non-nursing partners should consider in advance how they can support your sleep schedule. For example, you may plan “sleep shifts” in the evening or early morning after the newborn has been fed, when the non-nursing partner can be available to soothe and hold the baby while you rest for a few hours.
Babies eat every few hours, around the clock, regardless of which way you choose to feed them. This means you will be awake feeding your baby every 1.5 to 3 hours, throughout the day and night.
Because of this, finding a way to feed your baby that feels sustainable to you is crucial, whether that is from your body, bottles, pumping and/or formula. It can take time to figure out the balance of these elements, and how they settle into your feeding routine.
A lactation and nursing consultant can support you in understanding your feeding abilities, goals and desires – and how that translates into a plan and routine.
Newborns from birth up to a few months postpartum tend to take time to adjust to coming out of the womb. Keep in mind that the womb is their first source of comfort, and soothing techniques that imitate it tend to be the most effective. Here are some basics to keep in mind:
- Tight holds – whether in your arms or a wrap.
- White noise – you shushing, using a machine or playing it from your phone,
- Movement – rocking, pacing, or walking, much like you did your entire pregnancy.
- Sucking – on your chest, finger, or a soother. Some babies sucked their thumbs in the womb, and sucking is an instinctive soothing mechanism.
As you understand, navigate and cope with these effects, do your best to remind yourself that parenting is not a job, it’s a relationship between your baby and yourself. You don’t need special skills to be a parent and there is no way to 100% prepare for what lies ahead—changes and new lessons come with the arrival of each child you bring into your family. As you get to know your baby, and parenting style, you’ll find that what your baby needs most from you is patience, dedication, love and willingness to keep learning.
To be able to parent from a resourced place, making sure your needs are met is crucial and can require you to adjust your current ways. We find that prioritizing your needs in conjunction with your babies’ needs is most efficient, in the times between babies’ feeds and soothing. For example, focusing on completing one task while your baby is sleeping or resting, such as showering, using the bathroom, eating a meal, or having a connecting conversation/visit. As our co-founder Lizzy says “My needs, work and growth happens in 20 minutes increments amidst parenting.” If you have a partner, remember to give them the opportunity to meet your baby’s needs so you can meet your own. It’s important that you both have the opportunity to learn how to soothe and communicate with your baby and build your confidence as new parents.
Now, let’s bust some of those pesky postpartum and 4th-trimester myths!
Myth 1: Postpartum Only Lasts for Three Months
One common myth is that the postpartum period only lasts for three months. In reality, your postpartum period is significant adjustment for both the baby and the parents, and its duration can vary for each family. Some babies may take longer to adapt to life outside the womb, and the challenges and adjustments of the fourth trimester can extend beyond the three-month mark.
Myth 2: Babies Should Be On a Strict Schedule Right After Birth
There is a misconception that babies should (or could) be on a strict schedule immediately after birth, even during the fourth trimester. However, newborns have their own unique rhythm and needs, and they require frequent feeding, diaper changes, and comfort. It is more important to respond to the baby’s cues and establish a flexible routine that allows for adequate rest and nourishment rather than strictly adhering to a rigid schedule.
Myth 3: Babies Sleep Through the Night in the Fourth Trimester
Many people believe that babies should be sleeping through the night by the time they reach the fourth trimester. However, newborns have small stomachs and need to feed frequently, including during the nighttime. It is normal for babies to wake up multiple times during the night for feeding, comfort, or diaper changes. It takes time for their sleep patterns to develop, and it is unrealistic (and unsafe) to expect them to sleep through the night consistently during the early months.
Myth 4: Babies Only Cry When They’re Hungry
Another myth about the fourth trimester is that babies only cry when they’re hungry. While hunger is one of the common reasons for crying, babies also cry to communicate other needs such as discomfort, exhaustion, overstimulation, or a desire for closeness and soothing. Understanding and responding to these different cues can help parents meet their baby’s needs and provide comfort during the fourth trimester.
Myth 5: Parents Should Be Able to Do It All on Their Own
There is a misconception that parents should be able to handle everything on their own during the fourth trimester. The reality is that caring for a newborn can be physically and emotionally demanding, and it’s important for parents to seek and accept support. Whether it’s helping with household chores, cooking meals, or simply providing emotional support, reaching out to friends, family, or professional resources can alleviate some of the challenges and help parents navigate the fourth trimester (and parenthood) more effectively.
For a deeper dive into Postpartum & the 4th Trimester – check out our online course here.