The first three months of your baby’s life are just as amazing as the nine months he spent inside the womb (uterus). Find out how your baby develops in the fourth trimester and learn how you can give him all the support and attention he needs to flourish.
In the womb, just before birth, your baby has every possible need met.
Surrounded by amniotic fluid, his home is warm, dark and watery, with muffled sounds and restricted movements.
His senses are all in place already; he can hear, see, smell, taste and touch although stimulation of his senses is limited in this pleasant and constant environment.
In the moments after birth, your baby’s world changes forever. After months of warm, comfortable darkness he is suddenly surrounded by bright lights, shapes and movements. Although his ears are full of fluid, he’s aware of many noises, louder and clearer than he’s used to.
His constant physical connection to you is suddenly broken and he must learn to signal for comfort, food and even sleep. Robbed of his cosy confines he startles himself with how far he can stretch his limbs.
He’s bombarded by stimulation and misses the stability of his former home.
Welcome to the fourth trimester
The fourth trimester is thought of by many experts as the last stage of your baby‘s fetal development. Over the first three months of his life, your baby will develop from a helpless bundle into a smiling baby who can respond and interact with you.
Holding your naked baby close to your bare skin soon after birth warms him and stimulates his sense of touch. Your familiar smell will calm and soothe him. Skin-to-skin also helps your baby regulate his breathing and heartbeat, and encourages him to latch on for breastfeeding.
Skin-to-skin is good for you, too. Close contact with your baby increases levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin and decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Your partner’s levels of oxytocin will also rise during skin-to-skin and it’s a great way for a parent to bond without feeding.
Feeding on demand
In your womb, your baby was used to being fed around the clock, experiencing no hunger or thirst. Now he has to signal when he’s hungry, using cues such as rooting, sucking and putting his tiny hands to his mouth.
Watching for these cues and feeding your baby on demand whenever he “asks” will help him meet his energy needs and reassure him that he’s cared for and looked after.
Swaddling and movement
For nine months your baby was held in a warm and supportive environment, often swayed or rocked to sleep. Although many newborn babies adapt quickly to lying on their backs to sleep, some find it harder to cope and may startle themselves awake.
You can help recreate that sense of security your baby experienced in the womb by swaddling him.
Baby-wearing using a sling or baby carrier helps to mimic the gentle rocking and swaying that soothed your baby in pregnancy. Carrying him strapped across your chest may also help to calm your baby if he’s fussy or crying, as he may hear and be soothed by the sound of your heart beating.
Staying routine-free … at first
Your baby has no concept of day and night, and it will take two to three months before he settles into a routine that involves more sleeping at night.
Don’t worry about putting your baby down to sleep in a bright, noisy room. Many newborns are able to shut out this stimulation and drift off, although some may find it harder.
Stimulating without overwhelming
Although many of your baby’s senses are well developed at birth, too many people, noise and distractions can quickly leave him feeling overwhelmed.
Your baby can see at birth but he can only focus about 20cm to 30cm away, and his vision is still quite blurry. Make sure your baby is alert and ready to look at things, and watch out for signs that he’s had enough. If he’s tired you may find that he turns his face away or breaks eye contact.
Your baby will hear, recognise and be soothed by your voice at birth. Shushing and singing to your baby will help calm and soothe him, as it’s familiar and comforting. White noise can also help to recreate the sounds your baby heard in the womb, lulling him into sleep.