A Fetus Outside the Womb: Tales from the Fourth Trimester
You may have heard the term "Fourth Trimester" before and thought "Hey, that's weird because that's impossible." BUT, what if I told you that when it comes to babies, having four trimesters is exactly what happens? And what's more, that honoring that fourth trimester can help your baby ease their way into this crazy thing called life?
Let's start with the science - we know that humans are the only mammals that don't walk immediately upon being born. We can blame evolution for this; if nature allowed babies to stay inside the womb long enough for their brains to be fully developed, they wouldn't be able to fit through the birth canal. We also know that at about the 3 month mark, babies really come out of their newborn shell - there's more control with motor skills, neck strength is enough for baby's head to be held up on its own, attention to voices and sounds are more developed as well as the skill of rolling over! So what about that space and time in between being born and hitting that 3 month mark? This is known as the Fourth Trimester - a time when your baby is basically a fetus outside the womb.
Honoring the Fourth Trimester is basically allowing your baby to dictate what they need in order to help them ease into this completely opposite world from the one they'd just been residing in for 10 months. Baby wants to be held? Hold baby. Baby wants to eat? Feed baby. Baby wants to sleep? Let baby sleep! All of this is done while providing the ultimate "womb outside the womb" experience. Baby just came from a snug, warm, quiet, and dark womb out into a huge, cold, noisy, and bright world - it's jarring!! Imagine someone waking you up in the middle of the best sleep you've ever had by flipping on all the lights, throwing off all the covers, and having a marching band march through your bedroom...you'd be pissed. Same goes for baby except on top of the rude awakening, they have to get used to a gazillion other changes that come with being a human on planet Earth. Swaddling and baby wearing helps them feel snug. Keeping the lights dim and playing white noise can help mimic a womb like atmosphere. Constantly holding them makes them feel safe and not alone and vulnerable. Providing a womb like atmosphere helps your baby acclimate without actually having them crawl back into the womb.
Two wraps and a carrier help Silas stay close to me and also allows me to a it more mobil. I can even breastfeed in them so he can stay snug and happy for hours!
Now here comes the emotional part of this tale - personally for me, it's fucking hard. There are some days where Silas has been in my arms for HOURS - like 5 or 6 hours. Since I'm breastfeeding, he is literally attached to me and I feel tethered to this other human being. I struggle with things not getting done because Silas doesn't like to be put down and then I feel guilty for feeling frustrated because HE'S A BABY and he's just doing the best that he can. I forced him into this world, the least I can do is help the guy have an easy transition. Still, it's hard. It sucks knowing that you have maybe a 10 minute window where baby will actually stay asleep after being put down and you're rushing to try to pee AND grab something to eat. And there are times where you only get to chose one. I get jealous that my husband gets to go to work because I haven't left the house in days. And I feel like a complete waste of space because I've just Netflixed the day away again.
Some of you might be rolling your eyes and thinking "Just let him cry!" or "You should just sleep train him." But I don't WANT to let him cry. I don't want Silas to feel cold or abandoned or confused. I don't advocate for sleep training a newborn because they're not being trained - they're just crying to the point of exhaustion. I want him to learn how to sleep, not be forced into it. I am ALL for sleep training just not until Silas can comprehend what sleep training actually entails. And here's the crazy thing - he's already training himself! We practice safe co-sleeping so Silas is in the bed with us and the last couple nights, for his second feeding, all I've had to do is roll over, feed him for about 3 minutes, and he goes right back to sleep. No crying, no screaming, no being up for hours on end. Hopefully this shifts into him cutting out that feeding completely and sleeping for a full 7 or 8 hours. He's teaching himself - no tears or confusion involved.
The Fourth Trimester is a hard trimester. It might just be the hardest in my opinion. But it's work that is validated in allowing your baby to transition and to grow within the appropriate space. In the hard moments where I'm angry at him for being fussy for 45 minutes because he's fighting sleep and I've already been holding him for several hours and I just want him to go to sleep so I can put him down for those precious 10 minutes, I try to remember that he IS a good sleeper in my arms and he's learning to be a good sleeper in the bed. In those moments where he's been crying and I can't get him settled, I remind myself that it'll only last a couple minutes because he really doesn't cry since we've created an atmosphere where he doesn't have to. In the moments where I'm tired of being a milk machine, I breathe and look at him eating and feel grateful that I'm able to feed my baby. I know that the Fourth Trimester won't last forever and the crazy thing is, I'll probably miss it when it's gone.
Did you honor the Fourth Trimester? How did it go for you and your baby?