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What is the “fourth trimester” and how can I get through it?

sleeping woman and newborn

Just like you, your little baby will need time to adjust to life outside the womb. Some pioneering pediatricians have some advice that will open your eyes and make this transition easier for your baby.

Have you ever wondered why most mammal offspring are born standing and can walk alongside their mothers a few hours after birth, while a human baby is born unable to survive on its own outside the mother’s womb? The answer to this paradox lies in the highly developed brain that characterizes our species. A more independent baby would need more time to develop its nervous system, resulting in a larger head, making childbirth impossible. Although human babies reach full term at 37 weeks, they are still premature in terms of development and need a caregiver to survive. That’s why, for practical reasons, evolution has relied on our social nature to help the baby thrive.


Based on these implications, Dr. Harvey Karp, a professor of pediatrics at UCLA, proposed the term “fourth trimester” to describe the period of rapid growth and adaptation that both the mother and baby go through after birth. This is because, from the moment they are born, babies begin to absorb new information, interact through trial and error, practice new behaviors, and connect with their surroundings in a quick and complex way, and they will continue to do so for the rest of their lives.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly your child opens their eyes to the world, starts to discover their body, or babbles. And that’s where mom comes in! Your little one will depend on you and your support system to adapt to the real world. After all, the only thing they have known so far is life inside the womb. There, they lived in the following conditions: the temperature was always maintained at 37 °C, your baby was surrounded by soft tissues, in constant contact with you, and soothed by your heartbeats and daily movements. The uterus was also very gentle on their senses: no bright or flashing lights, no odors in that aquatic environment, and your baby has never experienced hunger, loneliness, or having to sleep on their back. So, it’s understandable that a newborn cannot fall asleep if they’re not in their mother’s arms.

A group of early childhood researchers from the University of South Florida recommends that parents consider this period of adaptation after birth. Empathizing with your newborn and their abrupt encounter with the world will help you better tune in to their needs. Dr. Karp suggests that parents should live the first three months after birth as if their baby were still inside the mother’s womb. Encourage skin-to-skin contact, hold them in fetal positions, feed them when they ask, let them suck on something to calm down, swaddle them with rhythmic movements or sounds, and spend as much time as possible carrying them everywhere. This is the key to a successful and happy fourth trimester!

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