The 4th trimester: life with a newborn
Most mums-to-be spend every free moment gorging on information about their pregnancy trimesters and ‘what to expect’ during labour and child birth, whilst leaving the subsequent part (i.e. caring for your newborn) for later reading, once they’ve delivered their baby.
The truth is there is no better time to read about caring for your newborn in the 4th trimester than during your pregnancy. After your baby is born, you’re better-off using whatever free time you get to catch up on some shut-eye rather than poring over the fine-print on how to look after your baby!
The fourth trimester (in case you are wondering) is not a medical term. It’s just a phrase we’ve used to describe the first three months after childbirth where everything is new, including your baby. And while there’s plenty of hard work and settling down to do it can be an amazing time too.
So, whether you’re a first time mummy or a been there-done that mummy, the more you know the better prepared you can be. Here’s a sneak preview of concern areas for most mums in the first few weeks after childbirth in the 4th trimester and handy hints to stay on top of things.
Immediately following the birth in the 4th trimester your newborn will sleep around 16 hours in every 24, offering you a chance to rest after the labour. However, before long, your baby will begin waking more often and, at first, at seemingly random times. Newborns have very small stomachs that get hungry very quickly. They sleep in two, three or four hour bursts until they are old enough to go for longer between feeds, and can handle a sleep routine. While you may be lucky if your baby sleeps for longer at night, in reality most babies do not differentiate between night and day, for at least the first few months. This means disturbed nights for a while. So do not be afraid to say yes to people’s offers of help – your partner, relatives or friends. Grab sleep in snatches and don’t overdo it.
Establishing a bedtime routine from very early on can improve the chances of your baby sleeping well through the night. Having a (reasonably) fixed schedule of events at bedtime will teach him to relax and wind down in anticipation of sleep.
Crying is your baby’s only one way of communicating what he wants. Newborns cry between one and three hours a day, but by the time your baby is a few weeks old, you will probably be able to distinguish which cry is a hungry cry, a colicky cry and which one means he needs a comforting cuddle. New research has suggested that cuddles could actually halve tantrums! It’s relieving to know that there are only a handful of things, which actually make newborns cry, so it may be a process of elimination till you work out which it is. If you still feel there is something else bothering your baby, you should consult your health visitor or GP for further advice.
Depending on his size and appetite, and whether you are bottle-feeding or breastfeeding, your baby will probably get hungry around every three hours. Because their stomachs are still very small, newborn babies cannot hold much food in their stomachs, which is why they poo constantly. In time, his eating patterns will settle down and you won’t always feel like you are doing back-to-back feeding.
Once you get home from hospital you can bath your baby straight away if you wish. It’s most important to making him feel secure and safe while in the bath. A small baby won’t need a full bath every day. You can top-and-tail him, using a bowl of warm water, baby lotion and a soft cloth or flannel to wash his top half and nappy area – avoid using soap (even baby soap) or wipes until he is at least six weeks old. Try and give him a full bath every couple of days.
However, if you find that your baby enjoys bathing, you can bath your baby everyday or incorporate it into the bedtime routine. Try not to use baby products in the bath at first as they can dry out your baby’s skin.
Playing with your newborn
Your baby is constantly growing, learning and taking in the world around him all the time. Encouraging and playing with your baby can help his development. Babies are great imitators and even at a few hours old, will respond to you sticking your tongue out by doing it back. They also love faces, so pulling and twisting your face and letting her fingers explore yours will become a favourite game.
Your baby loves to hear your voice, so sing to her as much as possible. Babies love and are soothed by all sorts of music too. Try putting on a classical CD when they tend to get grumpy, while soothing lullabies at bedtime can help your baby recognise that bedtime is near.
Going out with your baby
If you have been discharged from hospital, then it is safe to take your baby outside. You may want to have a few days at home before you venture outdoors. For your first trip outside, choose somewhere close where you can walk to. Dress your baby for the weather. It may be a good idea to go for a walk when your baby needs a nap, so she can sleep in her carrycot. Take a bottle of formula or breastmilk with you, or a shawl if you plan to breastfeed while you are out. Pack muslins in case she spits up and take umbrellas, rain covers for the pram or sun canopies depending on the weather.
You may get the newborn blues and find yourself weeping in the first few weeks, mainly caused by huge changes in your hormone levels. The usual symptoms last for a few days post-partum and include feeling weepy, grumpy and miserable. If your symptoms continue, consult your midwife or GP as you may be experiencing Postnatal Depression.
Even you need some time-off. Request your partner or the grandparents to mind your baby for a few hours while you step-out with some non-baby friends. Read magazines, have a bath, shop… anything which shifts the focus on you again. Try and persuade your partner to take on a few of the morning shifts each week so you get a well-deserved lie-in. Indulge yourself with a little new-mum pampering. Just because you spend most of your time with your baby (who no matter what, thinks you are the prettiest person ever) it does not mean you have to neglect your hair or beauty routine.
It is advisable to become physically active as soon as possible after giving birth – AFTER YOUR DOCTOR HAS APPROVED IT. Exercise helps to get your body back into shape, reduces the possibility of postnatal depression and increases your energy levels, which as a new mother, will be in great demand. The important thing however is to take it slowly and do gentle exercises at first especially if you have had a C-section or have had stitches.
Having a baby can put quite a strain on your relationship. In the 4th trimester, communication is key. When your baby is asleep, set some time aside share your emotions with your partner about this new phase in your lives. Build on your existing relationship and work together, not against each other. If you and your partner do snap at each other, kiss and make up as soon as possible. Parenting can be very tiring. Sharing tasks will help prevent either of you feeling that you are being taken advantage of.
On the sex front
Your low libido is nature’s way of giving your body time to recover from labour and other health issues like a tear or episiotomy, or if you’ve received stitches. While it's normal to take it easy on sex when you've recently given birth, it's important to remember that romance and intimacy is a vital part of any relationship as it helps to make you feel closer to your partner. This isn't to say that you should rush things. It's probably best to wait a few weeks after you've given birth - until your GP has given you the all clear - before you resume having sex. Talking of romance - this is an area you'll have to work on together in the 4th trimester as although newborn babies can really destroy any shred of romance.
Older siblings and new babies
Older siblings, especially if they are still toddlers, react to the arrival of a new baby sibling in different ways ranging from jealousy, through complete indifference, to a sudden transformation into mum’s grown-up helper. Getting off to a good start with their new sibling is crucial to developing a good relationship later. There are a number of things you can do to foster close sibling bonds and prepare your child for his new brother or sister. Read our article Help your toddler adjust to a new sibling for handy hints to foster sibling harmony.