We explore the 4th trimester – what is it, how to create it and make it beautiful & enjoyable for both bubs, and mums. Plus helping your new bundle of joy to form a healthy & secure attachment.
When your precious baby first comes into this world, it seems natural to hold them and rock them, carry them around all the time, especially if they are your first.
But then your support people go back to their own lives and you start to want yours back, a little at least.
But our babies need to be on us to form a secure attachment, don’t they? Isn’t that why they call it the 4th trimester?
What is true healthy attachment and how can I balance my needs with my babies needs?
So what does this 4th-trimester thing really mean?
This term was coined to describe the adjustment period starting when your baby is born, ending at around 3 months.
Your baby is used to being cocooned in the dark, warm, enclosed, quiet, soft, watery environment of your womb, so the idea is to give your baby a ‘4th trimester’ by supporting a slow gentle adjustment period into the world.
He’s not used to this bright, loud, cold world. There are no hunger pains, gas pain, loud noises, fluctuating temperature or strange smells back in the womb.
So you can imagine what a rude shock it can feel like! And how a gentle adjustment period can make a huge difference in having a relaxed happy baby.
So how do I recreate womb life and give my baby a 4th trimester?
Skin to skin contact
SO important in the early days, ESPECIALLY the first hours after birth. Measuring and weighing are nowhere near as important so make sure you have this in your birth plan! The benefits of dimming the lights and snuggling up to that beautiful naked baby are VAST!
They are more likely to latch on well and will maintain good body temperature, heart, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Plus it stimulates oxytocin – the hormone of love and bonding.
Safe swaddling in a breathable, organic wrap will create a sense of security like being in the womb.
Here’s a video of how to swaddle without wrapping the legs too tight, giving the hips room to move.
In the womb, there was a constant ‘swish swish’ noise, which babies find comforting. You can download a free App for white noise. This is the one we use and our favorites are the gentle ocean waves and the crickets.
Your baby was rocked constantly in the womb, whilst you were moving about, and will now find rocking comforting and soothing.
I enjoyed rocking our baby to sleep in the early days. Zyah actually loved being bounced on a yoga ball. But very soon my arms, shoulders and back began to complain.
We invested in a beautiful organic hammock, but I found I just wasn’t comfortable with the way it curled his body just a little too much, bringing his chin forward. They’re a nice idea but I’m not sure how practical they are in reality.
A comfy carrier is essential and means your bub can snuggle up to you, feeling your warmth and heartbeat, while you move about.
See The Top 10 New Mum Essentials for more on carriers.
The soothing warm water creates a womb-like feeling. This video is just gorgeous …
Dim the lights and get in together for added skin on skin benefits.
I co-slept in the early days as this seemed the only way for either of us to get any sleep. Zyah would wake if I put him down in a hammock or cot.
If I did it again I’d buy a bed-attached co-sleeper, I’ve heard they’re fantastic, and give baby their own safe space. These are the way to go if you are concerned about your baby being in bed with you but want the bonding benefits of co-sleeping.
This one is great since it’s portable, can be adjusted to any bed height and the inner side drops down to open to connect to your sleeping space.
(If baby is in bed with you, be mindful of safe co-sleeping guidelines).
What about Mumma, and where’s the balance?
Yes, this is all lovely, but in reality, having your baby with you and on you all the time can be exhausting. It can feel like you never get a break, especially if your baby becomes used to being on you or your partner ALL the time.
I know MANY women who become burnt out attempting to follow ‘attachment parenting’ guidelines.
Like everything, there is a BALANCE. The flip side is that many babies these days are constantly either in a pram, car seat, bouncer or other secure contraption so that busy mum can get back to her life asap.
There is a real disconnection, I feel, and not enough touch. But the other extreme involves self-sacrifice, and this is not so good either.
My feeling is that anytime we try to follow a particular parenting style/label we can become very out of balance. Parenting is an art, not a science that ‘works’ once a set of guidelines is followed. Anytime we are doing something from obligation rather than what feels right for you will eventually drain you.
Lets ditch the self-sacrifice!
It’s SO important to love ourselves as well as our babies. If we are self-sacrificing, we are actually teaching our babies (unconsciously of course, but they will absorb this emotionally) that THEY are more important than others, and that love sacrifices. But this is NOT a spiritual truth!!
I don’t know about you but I don’t want to teach my baby things (if I can help it) that will create false beliefs in him, that will cause him pain later on in his life, such as believing he’s more important than others, which creates feelings of entitlement.
I’ve learned that this is a super important spiritual lesson. Real love does NOT sacrifice. Real love does what is most loving for ALL, and doesn’t put someone else first.
There are ways to meet your own needs while equally meeting your babies needs.
So HOW do I do this?
- Share the load where possible – accept and ask for all the help you can. Tribal cultures don’t put their babies down, BUT they have the support of their tribe so everyone takes turns. We’ve sadly lost this sense of community and tribe in the west, which I feel does make it a LOT more challenging for new mums. We often have to work harder to create the support we need.
- Make sure your partner or support person spends time settling your baby so that you’re not the only one who can put him down for a nap.
- Employ a post-natal doula or nanny and/or cleaner if you can afford it
- Make sure you get a regular break/time out, whatever it takes! Even a trip to the supermarket, a cafe or a walk while dad spends some bonding time with baby. Regular time re-connecting to yourself is ESSENTIAL! You’ll return to your baby reconnected, renewed and with more love to give.
- Co-sleeping might not be for you, and that’s OK! By around 4-6 weeks, I wanted to get my baby used to being put down and sleeping on his own. It was a slow process getting him used to it, but I was okay with that. Personally, I slept SO much better when he finally became comfortable going down in his cot every time, and I wasn’t sleeping with one eye open! But every families needs are a little different.
Don’t be afraid of your baby crying.
Now, of course, our babies are very often telling us that they are hungry, need changing, have wind, are uncomfortable, or are too hot or too cold, so we need to be attuned to these needs and respond to them.
BUT if these needs are all met, then your baby may just be processing some emotions, releasing some anxiety, working through things as they were perfectly designed to do. And this is OKAY. Don’t freak out!
Babies actually NEED to cry at times to process their experiences. It can be quite emotionally damaging to shut them down by teaching them, over time, that it’s not okay to cry because Mum gets upset when I do.
Great, so now we are providing an opportunity for our bubs to transition gently into the world and form a secure attachment in a more balanced way and with less self-sacrifice. So now, let’s not forget the essence of secure attachment …
The Essence of Secure Attachment
Yes, close contact, proximity, and skin to skin are all important factors. But what about soul to soul!?
What about real connection and presence?
How do we do this? We can start by being present with ourselves since it’s not possible to be truly present with another when we are not present with ourselves. Then …
‘We quietly behold the person.’ Janet Lansbury
Janet Lansbury is a passionate parent educator and an advocate for respectful parenting. I love her comments on connecting with babies:
‘Once you know how to connect with babies and begin to see through the crystal clear lens of respect, you can never go back. You’ll find it impossible to punish, abhorrent to manipulate, demeaning to trick or distract, disturbing to stifle babies just because their feelings are so hard to hear. You’ll be shocked and saddened by the way babies are often objectified, dehumanized, their perspectives disregarded. You can no longer pretend there isn’t a person there who wants to get your jokes and deserves your respect and acknowledgment. And not just when it’s convenient — always.’
Dive in Deeper
Janet’s book Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting is well worth the read. It’s particularly helpful and inspiring for parents who want to LOVE being a parent.
This book is especially for mum’s and primary caregivers who are exhausted from doing/giving too much, and will guide you through a simple shift in perspective that is likely to be life-changing.
What about you?
I’m curious, as ever, about you! What worked or works for you and your family? Are you expecting your first? What is important to you?
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