The three months after delivery are sometimes referred to as the 4th trimester. If you thought everything would be easy after delivery, think again. These first months with your baby are important, precious, and beautiful, but they can be challenging for both of you.
Take time to research what your baby is going to need, and what the issues may be. The 4th trimester is a time of transition for both of you. Your baby is getting used to life outside the womb, and you are getting used to having this wonderful little person rule your life. Here are a few things to think about.
The key to everything is spending time in closeness with your baby. Newborn bonding is instinctive. Since ancient times, mothers have been carrying babies against their bodies. If your baby is with you, you will know when they are hungry, cranky, in pain, or if something isn’t right.
Being close to you is also important to your baby’s emotional development. Your voice triggers speech development, your smile teaches your baby that they are ok, and your routine builds the beginnings of socialization. Never underestimate the importance of bonding. Children need to bond with someone to grow into healthy members of society.
Hanging Out: Skin to Skin
In those first weeks when you’re exhausted, spend lots of time resting with your newborn. Try laying him or her against your naked stomach with just a diaper on. Mothers and babies have been bonding through skin-to-skin contact since before there were clothes. There are nursing tops that make this easy, even if you’re not breastfeeding.
Look into your baby’s eyes and talk or just gaze. Get in close; newborns can’t see very far. Keep a basket of things you might need within reach; snacks, water, your phone, the remote, so you don’t have to move.
As you start feeling more like moving around, get a baby sling. Baby can sleep against your body, soothed by your presence, while you take a walk or do light chores. Your hands are free and baby is right with you.
Bathtime and Play
The famous educator Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.” Bathtime is routine, cleanliness, socialization, and playtime all in one. For newborns, the bathtime routine is a job that will tire them out and get them ready for a nap!
Washing Your Newborn
If it’s your first baby, your nurse, midwife, or doula will show you how to wash a newborn. The room should be warm, and the water not too hot. Test it with your hand.
Make sure the products you have are mild and made for babies. You may want to avoid fragranced products. Your pediatrician can make recommendations.
Until the cord drops off, babies get a sponge bath. Lay everything that you will need within reach. Starting with the head and working down to the bottom, expose, wash, and dry each part one by one, so your newborn doesn’t get cold all over. Later you’ll use a baby bath. Never, ever, leave the baby alone in the bath or on a surface they could fall off of, even for a minute.
Afterward, allowing your baby to be naked on a clean towel and thoroughly dry before diapering is good for rash prevention.
After-Bath Newborn Massage
After bathtime is the perfect time to gently massage your clean, warm, dry baby. Use a small amount of baby lotion, or coconut or olive oil. Try a dab a day before to make sure there are no skin reactions.
There are tons of baby massage videos, but the key is to accustom your baby to loving, gentle touch, and to move the body gently to expel gas, etc. It’s a wonderful bonding experience, and helps to get your newborn ready for a nap!
Sleep is a huge part of a baby’s life. How, when, and how long is very important to exhausted parents.
How: “Back to Bed” and SIDS Safety
Opinions on how babies should be positioned for sleep have changed over the years. The American Academy of Pediatrics now says that babies should sleep on their backs until they are one year old and able to turn over on their own.
Stomach sleeping is a risk factor for Sudden Infant Crib Death. Babies used to be propped on their sides because doctors thought that aspirating spit-up was a risk, but that has been debunked. Talk to your pediatrician about a safe crib or bassinet (Recommendation: SNOO Smart Sleeper Bassinet), a firm mattress, and how to safely sleep your baby.
There is nothing more blissfully relaxing than snuggling in bed with your newborn. However, remember that falling asleep with your baby can increase the risk of falls, suffocation, and SIDS. The AAP recommends that you keep your baby’s crib or bassinet in the room where you sleep for 6 to 12 months. You can buy bassinets that attach to your bed, or sit bed-side for safe co-sleeping.
Swaddling feels like the womb and helps to calm newborns so they don’t wake themselves up with a startle reflex. You can learn to swaddle with a baby blanket or use some of the new easy swaddles and swaddle sets made out of stretchy fabric.
As your baby gets older and starts rolling over, you’ll switch to a baby bag that allows arm movement but doesn’t ride up. Ask your pediatrician if your baby is ready.
Sleep Cycles: When and How Often
What if My Baby Doesn’t Sleep? Ever.
This is something so many parents wonder as they stagger over to the crib at 3 am. Everybody has an opinion. Two things that pediatricians agree on is that a sleep routine is key, and that you may or may not choose to let your baby cry it out.
To guide your newborn’s sleep cycle, try to stick to a routine, doing things the same way at the same time, and your baby should adapt. Maybe. Most babies sleep through the night by six months, but it can happen earlier. There’s hope!
Babies in the 4th trimester should be napping four to six times a day, only waking up for about an hour between naps. Don’t let them nap more than 3-4 hours, and don’t make it too dark and silent during their daytime sleep. They need to associate dark and quiet with sleeping all night.
Keep a Sleep Routine
You are in charge of your newborn’s sleep routine, thank goodness! As you see your baby getting sleepy, get him or her to bed. Don’t wait until the full crankiness meltdown when they are too upset to sleep. If you basically know when this is going to happen, you can time bathtime, feeding, burping, and diaper changing so that you have that all done by the time your baby is ready to sleep.
CIO or Not?
Crying it out, or CIO means letting your baby cry for a few minutes without picking him or her up, starting as early as one month or as late as six months. The idea is that babies learn to self-soothe, and that often babies need sleep more than they need to be picked up. This is something you will probably only think about during the 4th trimester, but read up and discuss with your pediatrician.
The Takeaway: Closeness, Cleanliness, Routine, and Rest
That’s not a bad mantra for all of us, actually. During the 4th trimester, take it easy. Spend time in closeness. Keep a routine, as much as you can, for sleep, bathtime, feeding, and more sleep.
Relax and enjoy this brief, wonderful time. Imagine, your baby stays where he or she is put, looks at you like you’re the whole world, and doesn’t talk back. It won’t last!
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