Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Fourth Trimester

Have you heard of the Fourth Trimester?  Perhaps you can realize what it is from the name, even if you've never heard of it!

The fourth trimester is the time period after birth, generally within the first 3 months, where the newborn is essentially just as helpless as he or she was while inside the womb. Compared to other mammals, humans are very fragile and immature at birth. Development continues outside of the womb, and the baby still depends on his or her mother for every need. They still require nourishment, warmth, and comfort from their mother's body, and are happiest when they are kept in a position in which they can listen to mom's heart.

In effect, the fourth trimester is all about recreating the womb experience while the newborn continues to develop his or her brain, breathing, muscles, and other reflexes. Inside the womb, the baby listens to the loud and comforting sound of a heart beat 24/7 and is constantly kept warm and nourished. When an infant is then removed from the warmth, smells and sounds of mother, he/she tends to be very unhappy. Baby will be most calm, quiet and happy when kept on mom's chest (for instance, worn in a sling or baby carrier!) all day long.




The fourth trimester is not just about the baby, though! The mother also goes through a fourth trimester of pregnancy symptoms including changing hormones, changing body, stress and sleep deprivation. The fourth trimester is a time when both mother and child need to be taken care of. For both, the fourth trimester is a time of adjusting to a new life.

Understandably, its not possible for all mothers and babies to always be together for the entire fourth trimester. However, as much physical contact as possible is great for recreating what both mom and baby need after childbirth.

Dad's can help recreate the womb experience, too! Dr. Harvey Karp's Happiest Baby on the Block teaches the 5  S's to soothe infants, and the techniques are easy for any caretaker to use. After all basic needs have been addressed (feeding, clean diaper, etc), these techniques can help trigger a calming reflex: swaddling, positioning him on his stomach or side, shushing loudly in his ear or playing white noise, swinging him to mimic the jiggling motion of the womb, and letting him suck on a pacifier or breast. The swaddling mimics the tight quarters that babies are used to (notice how newborns always tuck their legs up?). Shushing noises mimic the loud sounds that babies hear in the womb, and shaking is like mom's body rocking the baby to sleep. Its all part of the Fourth Trimester technique!

So now, next time you see a new mom you can tell her "Happy Fourth Trimester!"

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