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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Fourth Trimester

A friend posted a link to this article on FB and I found it interesting so I am passing it along. The original can be found here as I have edited some parts out for length (yet it is still long - sorry).

The Fourth Trimester – AKA: Why Your Newborn is Only Happy in Your Arms.

“My baby is only happy in my arms, the minute I put her down she cries”…

If I had a pound every time I heard these from a new parent I’d be a very rich lady by now! What amazes me though is that society in general doesn’t get it, they don’t get why so many babies need to be held by us to settle and what perplexes me even more is that we do spend so long trying to put them down! ... I am embarrassed to admit now it honestly didn’t enter into my head that perhaps the answer was to *not* put my baby down... It took me a long time to understand and empathise with my baby, to see the world through his eyes so to speak.

“Empathy: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing
of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

To empathise with our newborns feelings we need to put ourselves in their place, to imagine experiencing their world – but which world? The world they have spent most of their life in, their ‘womb world’ or the world they are in now – our world. To fully understand we must appreciate the enormous transition they have made – a concept known to many as ‘The Fourth Trimester’ -some make the womb to world transition easily, others less so and it is this latter group in particular “the clingy babies” we can learn so much from through this concept.

“Birth suddenly disrupts this organization. During the month following birth, baby tries to regain his sense of organization and fit into life outside the womb. Birth and adaptation to postnatal life bring out the temperament of the baby, so for the first time he must do something to have his needs met. He is forced to act, to “behave.” If hungry, cold, or startled, he cries. He must make an effort to get the things he needs from his caregiving environment. If his needs are simple and he can get what he wants easily, he’s labeled an “easy baby”; if he does not adapt readily, he is labeled “difficult."  – Dr. William Sears

So let’s quickly compare the two different ‘worlds’ your baby has lived in:

Womb: Dark, Muffled sounds, Constant warm temperatures, Constant nutrition, Confined space, Aquatic, Inability to smell, Constant contact with mother, Constantly “held”, Naked, All surroundings soft and warm.

World: Light, Loud noises, Fluctuating temperatures, Hunger and thirst, Lots of space, Air, Many different smells, Dramatically reduced contact, Held far less, Clothes, Many surroundings hard or cold.

... On top of this the big thing to understand is that in utero the baby’s world was constant, each day was the same, the stimulation didn’t change, but now they are born each day is different – ever changing, ever stimulating!

The concept of the fourth trimester helps us to understand the transition a newborn must make over their first few weeks earth side and once we understand we find so many ways we can help – but to me the most important facet of the fourth trimester is parental understanding and empathy, once that exists everything else will flow naturally…

Movement: The womb is a constantly moving space, Braxton Hicks would squeeze your baby at the end of pregnancy and each time you moved your baby was wobbled around inside... Babies tend to love movement but so often we put them down somewhere completely still. You could try dancing, swaying from side to side, going for an exaggerated quick walk or bumpy car ride.

Skin to Skin Contact: Such a brilliant baby calmer! Being in contact with your warm, naturally (un)scented, skin is heaven for a baby, it helps to stabilise their body temperature, heart rate and stress hormones and stimulates the release of oxytocin – the love and bonding hormone – in you both…

Bed-Sharing: Sharing a bed with your baby is an amazing way of getting more sleep for everyone, babies are generally much calmer and sleep more easily if they sleep with you in your bed, yet it is such a taboo topic and although 60% of parents will share a bed with their baby at some point it’s a subject that makes society very uncomfortable...

Swaddling: Imagine how snug your baby was at the very end of your pregnancy inside of you – now imagine how strange it must feel to them after they have been born and have so much space around them! The absolutely best thing you can do is to envelop your baby in your arms, but for times when you don’t want to or indeed can’t then swaddling is an option…

Babywearing: Wearing your baby in a sling is one of the ultimate ways to keep them calm and happy. It increases the time a baby spends in a state of “quiet alertness” – a time of contentment when they learn the most… Babywearing also means 2 free hands! ... Babywearing is a great way for dads to bond with babies! ...

Position: The “tiger in the tree” position (baby lying on forearm), taken from baby yoga, is often magical, stopping a crying baby in an instant!

Noise: Babies love sound, but for many not the sound you might think. For many babies a hoover is much more calming to a baby than a lullaby. A white noise CD such as the one by BabyCalm below can be played on loop whilst your baby sleeps to help keep them calm.

Feed: If your baby is hungry nothing will calm him, so watch for his hunger cues. Feeding is always better if it is baby led, not led by a routine – whether you are breast or bottle feeding... Babies also find sucking the ultimate relaxation and comfort tool... If you are not breastfeeding you might find your baby will relax when given a dummy/pacifier.

Deep Bathing: The womb is a wet, warm place. The world as we know it is dry and cold! Sometimes a nice deep, warm bath can stop a baby’s tears in seconds – even better if mummy or daddy goes in the big bath with baby too as skin to skin contact is a wonderful baby calmer.

Outside: If all else fails many babies stop crying the minute they hit the open air – I’m not sure if this is because we are usually moving (e.g.: walking over cobbles with the buggy/ bouncing in a sling and the drone and movement of a car) or because of the change in air – but it works!

Sarah Ockwell-Smith – Mum to Four, Parenting Author and Founder of BabyCalm Ltd