Navigating the Fourth Trimester with your Newborn
The fourth trimester is a transitional period from birth to 12 weeks postpartum, otherwise known as the newborn stage. It can be a complex time involving huge emotional, social and physical change. There are adjustments to day-to-day life, relationships, household dynamics, and self-perception - not to mention riding the wave of your fluctuating hormones! It can be a time of complete bliss in your newborn bubble, but also a time of vulnerability and overwhelm. If you find it's not all sunshine and rainbows and you are in more despair than awe, please know that your feelings are valid (even expected) and reach out for support.
Don't compare yourself to what's-her-name on instagram - towing her newborn off to her salon appointment (where of course he will sleep angelically for the entire 2.5 hour duration of a full head of foils, cut and blow-wave), drinking her green smoothies and slinking back into her pre-pregnancy jeans 48 hours after giving birth. Meanwhile you're dealing with poo explosions, eating last night's cold pizza for breakfast and haven't had a chance to run a brush through that matted mane caused by another sleepless night. No-one, absolutely no-one, has their shit together 100% of the time, even if that is what they are portraying in those little squares.
Some days you may get to 8:00PM and it dawns on you that you haven't actually had a solid meal today, you have baby chuck in your hair and that thing you smell is.....you. As all your focus turns to your newborn, it's easy to neglect your own care. Just as you are learning how to navigate your new reality and adjust to your new baby, your baby is also learning how to adjust to the outside world. You can help your baby by recreating the environment inside the womb.
How can you help your baby to adapt to life on the outside?
Newborns experience something called the Moro reflex, which is an involuntary startle reflex involving the infant suddenly extending their arms and legs then curling them towards their body. The Moro reflex usually becomes less intense at around 4 months of age and disappears at around 6 months of age. A firm swaddle during sleep can help babies to feel safe, secure and supported, and prevent their arms and legs from flailing which can wake them up. As soon as your baby shows signs of attempting to roll, wrapping/swaddling should be discontinued. An alternative to swaddling once your baby is showing signs of rolling is to use a safe infant sleeping bag. Refer to rednose.org.au for information on safe wrapping to ensure you are swaddling your baby correctly.
EAT PLAY SLEEP
During these early weeks it is normal for newborns to have an irregular sleep schedule, with sleeps lasting from a few minutes to a few hours. The circadian rhythm starts to mature around 3-6 months of age which means your baby will begin to have a more regular and predictable sleep/wake pattern.I don’t recommend trying to implement a specific nap schedule until your baby is around 3-4 months old. Until this time you can follow a flexible ‘Eat Play Sleep’ routine. Babies crave routine, and following this can reduce uncertainty. This routine simply involves feeding your baby (offer feedings every 2-3 hours according to hunger cues and be guided by your paediatrician or maternal health nurse), playing with your baby and then putting your baby back to bed. As newborns have a short awake window of only 60-90 minutes before they need to sleep again, ‘play’ can just be an activity that separates eating and sleeping. This can include some tummy time or nappy-free time, singing or reading to your baby, a cuddle, or sometimes simply just a nappy change and swaddle is all there will be time for. Watch for tired signs and follow awake time guidelines then put your baby down for a sleep. Repeat this ‘Eat Play Sleep’ process throughout the day right through to bedtime.
It is very noisy inside the womb; from your heartbeat, blood flow and digestive system, as well as noises from outside the womb which can be heard from around the 23rd week of pregnancy Your baby is accustomed to noise, so sleeping your baby in a very quiet environment can be almost unsettling for them. White noise is one of the most effective and easiest to implement positive sleep associations for babies. It ideally should be played for the entire duration of the sleep (nap and overnight sleep). Make sure the speaker is placed away from your baby’s head and if you are using a phone or other device, ensure it is on airplane mode. There are an abundance of free white noise/sleep sound apps and the best white noise to use is usually a constant deep or whooshing sound such as 'white' or 'pink' noise (which sounds like static), rain sounds, ocean sounds, or even the sound of a fan or vacuum cleaner. This can mimic the sounds heard in the womb and therefore has a soothing effect on newborns and younger babies.
Your baby is used to a snug environment with a whole lot of motion. Gentle swaying or rocking, and even car trips, can help to settle your baby as it is a familiar and comfortable sensation. Baby wearing with a sling or infant carrier is a great option as it gives them the closeness they are seeking whilst also allowing your hands to be free and giving your arms a break. You may find your baby falls asleep more easily with movement or just being held, which makes sense as your constant movement would rock them to sleep when they were in the womb.
SKIN TO SKIN CONTACT
This is encouraged immediately after giving birth and has numerous benefits including relaxing mother and baby, regulating baby's heart rate, breathing and temperature, stimulating the release of hormones to support breastfeeding and so much more. Skin to skin contact has benefits that extend beyond the post-birth period. Cuddling your newborn on bare skin is comforting to them, and your smell and the sound of your heartbeat is warm and familiar.
TAKE A BATH
Having a warm bath is usually a relaxing and comforting experience for newborns as the sensation of the water is similar to the womb. Having a bath with your baby can also be a beautiful way to bond. Baths can be a great tool for settling your baby and have lots of benefits as a pre-bedtime ritual. After coming out of a warm bath, core body temperature drops a little which can help your baby fall asleep more easily.
This is what you have been waiting for, although it might not look the same as it did in your mind. It will be challenging, there will be tears (yours and theirs), exhaustion and sleepless nights. But there will be a life-changing love that makes it all worth it. So soak up these fleeting moments in time because like they say "the days are long but the years are short".
Better sleep is coming …
REACH OUT FOR SUPPORT
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia)
1300 726 306
COPE (Centre of Perinatal Excellence)
1300 740 398
1300 22 4636
Australian Breastfeeding Association
1800 686 268