Thriving and surviving the 4th trimester is no easy feat for a first-time mom. It is amazing, exhausting, and rewarding all at the same time.
But what is the 4th trimester? Because no one told me about it.
The 4th trimester is the first 12 weeks after a baby is born. It is when your baby adjusts to life outside the womb and you, as a mom, adjust to life with a newborn where you get to know your baby and gently ease them into the world. The 4th trimester is about learning how to soothe your baby and adjust to the needs of your rapidly growing baby. Surviving the 4th trimester is much easier when you know tricks that work to keep your baby happy and sleeping well!
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It wasn’t until my baby girl was born that I learned about the 4th trimester where a close girlfriend asked how I was and mentioned the 4th trimester and how it was all about cuddling and holding your baby as much as possible.
The words you can’t spoil a newborn with love resonated with me, and I thought to myself, Hmm, I like that. Especially a newborn, but everyone does better with lots of cuddles and love. Human touch is powerful. So if you are wondering can you spoil a newborn with love and cuddles, the answer is NO.
As a first-time mom, I have learned so much about what it is actually like to be a mom. I didn’t even give raising a baby much thought. When I fell pregnant, I was only concerned about getting through labor. At my first midwife appointment, I asked how doable is labor? In which the midwife replied. Labour is easy. It is raising them that’s hard. Now I understand what she meant by that statement, and I’m only three months into motherhood.
The image in my mind of what the initial stages of being a mom looked like was far from the real deal. I was told that babies sleep a lot, so I assumed that I would either have a sleeping baby in a crib or sitting in a swing beside me as I blogged away. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I have since learned that getting a baby to sleep and stay asleep is one of the biggest challenges. My baby girl wanted to be held at all times and initially didn’t even like the swing. During the first few weeks, I felt glued to the couch, either breastfeeding or holding my sleeping baby. When I had a spare moment, I was eating or showering.
These healthy breastfeeding snacks are what got me through those initial weeks of being a breastfeeding mom with a newborn. Having frozen meals prepared and easy breastfeeding snacks is so helpful for thriving instead of surviving the 4th trimester. One of my top tips for preparing for the 4th trimester is to pre-cook some meals that you can freeze while you are at home waiting for your baby to be born. A good friend told me this, and I wish I listened to her advice and cooked more!
Cluster feeding after milk comes in
I also wish I knew that babies like cluster feeding all night when your milk comes in. Be prepared! When I came home from the hospital with my baby, I was so excited to get some sleep and be back in our apartment after three days in the hospital. Our little girl had been sleeping well in the hospital, so I assumed she would be the same at home. Wrong again.
My first night at home was when the cluster feeding all night kicked in. I had a ravenous baby all night long who would not go down in any of her beds, including the crib, the bassinet, or co-sleeper. She only wanted to be breastfeeding or sleeping on me! Finally, at 4 am, I was exhausted and broke the #1 sleeping rule as I let my baby sleep on my chest as I got some light rest.
I didn’t know what cluster feeding was until it happened to me. Yes, it is normal for your baby to cluster feed ALL NIGHT LONG when your milk comes in. But don’t worry, this stage doesn’t last forever, but I couldn’t help but wonder, is this normal, when I was in the thick of it. How come no one told me about babies cluster feeding all night?
Best tip for the 4th trimester
The best advice I got from my midwife for the 4th trimester was to throw any feeding and sleeping schedule out the window and tune into what my girl needed. I breastfed on demand and let her sleep as long as she wanted. This advice permitted me to trust my intuition and tune into the needs of my baby girl.
In the early days, it felt like my girl was always asleep. I would question if she should be awake more. Sure enough, as time went on, my girl slept less and awoke from her slumber. Now at three months, there is more predictability in her naps and awake times. I watch the clock but more importantly, I tune in to the first signs of fussiness or crying to indicate her becoming tired and needing help to fall asleep. Getting your baby to sleep is a lifesaver for surviving the 4th trimester. Mom, be sure you get some rest as well 🙂
Two months after breastfeeding on demand, I got my baby weighed. She came in right on target for her age and starting weight. Your baby is a good self-regulator, the community nurse told me. Hearing this was reassuring as, at times, I felt like I didn’t have enough milk, and I also got comments on, wow, your breastfeeding a lot. These statements can make you question if what you are doing is right or normal.
Your baby will feed for comfort, to up your milk supply, or because they are hungry. I listened to when my girl wanted to feed, and as it turns out, she knew best. It was my job to pay attention and feed as often as she wanted.
I was lucky not to have any problems with breastfeeding or latching, but I did drink fenugreek tea to up my milk supply at times.
At around three weeks, I noticed my girl tearing on and off the boob, throwing up more, crying come evening, and had gas with a little bloated tummy. At first, I thought it was the 5:00 witching hour I was experiencing, but I intuitively knew something must be up with her stomach. The Bio Gaia protectis probiotic is the best baby probiotic that did wonders for my baby girl. It helped reduce her nighttime crying, improved her sleep and breastfeeding.
The one thing I have questioned the most as a mom is her sleep and how much she wanted to be held. My girl initially hardly ever wanted to be put down and would wake within 10-20 minutes of being put down for her daytime naps.
I would call my mom, who had eight kids, and explain how I could not put her down hardly ever. My mom assured me that nothing was wrong and that the time I put in now holding my girl would allow for an independent toddler as long as I would let her fly when the time came that she no longer only wanted to be in my arms. Carriers and slings were invented so moms could work and keep their babies close at the same time.
My mom also told me that the time I was putting in now holding my baby girl would pay off in the future. Babies that are held feel safe and secure, which instills confidence and independence later on. The more time you put in now will set the stage for your baby to be ready to fly when the time comes and they are ready to venture.
As the weeks rolled on, I noticed that my girl was happier to spend more alert time on her own. Seeing her play alone was a gentle reminder that my baby would not want to be held forever.
Recently another mom reached out and said enjoy the ups and downs because it doesn’t last long. Babies grow up and change so quickly. When I am tired or feeling frustrated after a failed nap, I switch my mindset and remind myself that I GET TO DO THIS.
I get to wake up in the middle of the night and cuddle my girl as she feeds because I am one of the lucky moms who could fall pregnant. Not everyone who wants a baby gets one. So this is my reminder.
The payoff and reward are all worth it. After I get my baby down to sleep for the night, I am excited for my time, but I also can’t help myself as I spend a couple of extra minutes cuddling my sleeping baby. Ahh, the ultimate reward! A cuddling sleeping baby for any tired mom feels like the ultimate reward.
Since my baby likes to be held and only sleeps on me during the day, I listened to the attachment parenting episode on the Energy Blueprint podcast. For the first time, I heard about the continuum concept where I learned that babies expect to be held, and it is healthy for their development.
Practicing the continuum concept helps to raise confident, loving, and independent children. The continuum concepts resonated with me since it’s what my girl wanted from me.
The author of Safe Infant Sleep references a study that demonstrates that babies who co-slept in some form were happier to play on their own when they were awake.
This youtube video perfectly describes the 4th trimester and how I felt coming home with my baby. I had her beds set up, her nursery decorated to find out that she didn’t want to sleep on her own and didn’t care about the décor… at least not yet. It was reassuring for me to know that other moms experienced the same thing I did and that safely co-sleeping and babywearing did not cause needy toddlers. In fact, the opposite is true for many people.
I was also curious about sleep training and read Precious Little Sleep, which does have good tips for moms who need or want to sleep train, although for me, I do not resonate with sleep training and letting my baby cry to sleep. It may work for some babies and moms but not for me at this time with my unique baby.
The 4th trimester is all about easing your baby into the world and making them feel safe and secure by giving them lots of love, cuddles, and soothing when they are scared or upset for whatever reason. Isn’t that the mystery of being a mom to a newborn, dissecting what a crying baby wants or needs! It’s a lot of intuition, trial and error, and guesswork.
Tips that helped me survive the 4th trimester
One thing that I struggled with was transferring my sleepy baby out of my arms and into her co-sleeping cot beside me at night. (Yes, this is a skill) So often, my baby would wake up as soon as I transferred her. My mom taught me that a micro jiggle helps a baby to sleep and that a still hard cot feels foreign to a baby.
A baby is used to being on a moving body, goes flying through the air to land on a firm mattress that is still. Don’t be afraid to jiggle and rock as you place your baby down. If my baby stirred in my arms as I was readjusting to move her, I gently rock her back to sleep, then when she hits the mattress, I keep my hands on her and give a tiny micro jiggle to keep her asleep. If she has slightly woken up, this helps her to fall back asleep quickly.
Initially, my baby girl hated her car seat. Her worst screaming fits were in the car seat, which is so challenging as you cant pick your baby up for a cuddle. I didn’t want my girl to develop a negative association with her car seat, and I found myself questioning if we should be going for car rides as she hated it that much. It didn’t seem worth it, and it wasn’t that enjoyable for my girl or me.
One day as we headed out for a drive, she started screaming in her car seat. On the fly, I thought, what can I do? Maybe baby white noise will work. I found this baby heartbeat white noise on Spotify, pressed play, and instantly she stopped screaming. Magic, I thought. While the baby white noise helped, it didn’t always work, but it is one trick up my sleeve that I pull out when needed.
My baby girl wouldn’t take a pacifier, but she would drink breast milk out of a bottle. Perfect, I thought, I will take something she enjoys and give it to her in her car seat, which she hates, then maybe she will learn to like her car seat.
Bingo! This was the magic answer for me. For the next few outings, I would sit in the back as my partner drove and give her the bottle as soon as she got fussy. This worked 90 % of the time, and when it came time to drive alone with her, she would settle into her car seat without crying. Huge win in my books.
The 4th trimester is all about easing your baby into this foreign world and helping them to feel safe, secure, and loved. Becoming a mom has made me want to become a better person to set a positive example for my girl. I have learned the art of patience, but most of all, I have learned that my baby girls wants love, connection, and presence…. Along with diaper changes, milk, sleep, and cuddles.
As I have now survived the 4th trimester, I can say that it is all worth it! Soak it up and enjoy it because you will likely be thriving and surviving the 4th trimester all at the same time. The time will pass by rapidly, and soon you will miss those early weeks of being glued to the couch cuddling and breastfeeding your sleeping baby.