The Forth Trimester – Tips To Aid The Transition

Yes you read it right, the fourth trimester! Everyone knows that pregnancy is made up of three trimesters. The first trimester where you may want to hurl when talking about, looking at or attempting to eat food either in the morning, noon or night or if you’re really unlucky, all three. Then there’s that bit in the middle where your bump starts to show, you feel those fluttery movements for the first time and you get to make the decision whether to find out what sex the baby is or to wait for a surprise when the birth happens. Then finally the third trimester where most people including strangers will suddenly want to know the ins and outs of your plans. You know the kind of thing I’m referring to – “Where you’re going to have the baby?”, “Do you plan to breastfeed?”, “Do you know what you’re having?”, “Have you got a name?”, “Is the baby’s room ready?”, ” Have you got everything?”.

The three trimesters we’re all familiar with are related to pregnancy, those 40 weeks that a woman carries her child with her everywhere. Nine months of uninterrupted togetherness; being one and the same, sharing every part of our lives, feeling each other’s movements. For three-quarters of a year we are never alone, we share, bond with and nurture our bodies and our babies to keep them safe, warm and protected, so they and we feel secure.

The fourth trimester refers to the first few months following birth. For first time mums especially, this is usually the period they feel the most insecure, but also the most judged. We are bombarded with conflicting information from professionals, health visitors, midwives, “self-proclaimed baby experts” and other mothers and are asked questions like “Is he a good eater?”, “Is he sleeping well?”, or my personal favourite, “Is he good?”. It’s no wonder we feel under scrutiny.

The first few months are called the fourth trimester for a reason. After being dependant on their mother for 9 months, there has to be a period of adjustment. Before birth all a baby is aware of is weightlessness, in warm, soft and dark surroundings, the muffled sound of voices (mostly mums, possibly dads or grandparents), always with the mothers constant heart beat for company. Being born into a bright, loud, cold world with scratchy, itchy materials is a massive change and one that is regularly underestimated.

The mother also has to adjust to her baby being separate from her own body. Looking after your baby when pregnant can be quite simple, avoid certain foods/alcohol and keep a relatively healthy diet; you can’t really go wrong. After birth there’s all sorts of things for mothers to fret about. It’s no wonder we might have a feeling of wanting to carry baby everywhere, it’s what you’re both used to and it’s a very natural way to feel! 

The fourth trimester is about meeting your baby’s needs, aiding their and your adjustment to life on the outside. Think of it as a transition from womb to world. There are a few ways in which to help this:

DO AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE
This is possibly the only time you can say ‘NO!’ to the hoovering, washing up, food shopping, cooking, clothes washing and get away with it. If you want visitors, why not ask them to bring dinner, make their own tea when they arrive and make you one while they’re at it! After all, you are taking care of a new baby, so you need taking care of in turn. This is the time to call in those friendly favours and your partner to pick up the slack.

BABY WEAR
Carrying baby in a sling, will provide a feeling of comfort and closeness for baby, (a soft wrap sling is great for the early weeks). Being able to hear the heartbeat of the wearer will feel like a home from home for a newborn. With the help of a sling you can carry little one and watch tv, read a book, use the bathroom, eat dinner, it’s a win win.

For mothers, holding your baby releases the love hormone oxytocin into both your systems. This, and skin to skin contact will aid the bonding process for you both.

LISTEN AND WATCH FOR YOUR BABY’S CUES
As we’ve written about HERE, Dunstan’s Baby Language is a must have tool for any parent. You’re baby is trying to communicate with you, albeit with a different vocabulary.

Listen and watch your baby to see if you can pick up on their early signs, this will help lessen fussy and crying periods. Remember, once baby is crying it’s already too late, you’ve missed the cues and their attempt to communicate. The more you study them, the more you’ll learn and hopefully the easier your adjustment will be.

FEED ON DEMAND
Babies, like adults, can get thirsty as well as hungry. Do not worry yourself with unrealistic expectations of your baby feeding a set amount at set intervals. New babies will eat as much or as little as they want at any time of the day or night. I’m sure you do not eat the same amount of food at the same times of day, everyday; so you should not expect your baby to.

Aiming to put baby onto a feeding schedule too early will teach little one to eat when not hungry; promoting bad eating habits, that have the potential to be carried into later in life.

AID BABY WITH SLEEP
Quite a few of us have heard the ‘making a rod for your own back’ speech. This is especially given to mums who let their baby’s fall asleep at the breast and/or hold them to sleep.

Putting a baby down on their own to sleep is an unrealistic expectation, especially in the early months. Babies learn new skills with our help, love and support, this includes sleep and self settling.

SLEEP is an acquired skill and just like walking takes time, help and guidance. You would not expect your child to walk, without first rolling over, sitting unaided, crawling (sometimes backwards first), standing, walking holding furniture, to finally walking alone; albeit with many trips, stumbles and falls. Sleep is a skill that is acquired and will take time and patience to help them master, accompanied by “trips and falls” (the well known 4 month sleep regression is one).

To SELF SETTLE, a baby must first learn this skill. A great way of doing this is to hold and soothe your baby to sleep. Humming, swaying, breast feeding, talking gently or simply sitting still, in a relaxed state will teach your baby that to sleep we must be relaxed and content. The feeling of being close to someone should make for a longer more peaceful sleep for baby.

The ‘rod for your own back’ brigade give mums a false impression that if they hold baby while he/she sleeps they run the risk of baby being clingy and needy. This kind of advice is not helpful nor realistic to the baby’s needs.

Advising mums to settle baby down on their own to sleep, putting baby into eating routines and generally putting space between mother and child is more likely to create a needy baby as they feel their most basic needs are not already met.

FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS
For a child to be independent, they must first be dependant on their mother to meet their needs. This allows the baby to later inspect and explore the world from the safety of knowing their mother will meet his needs emotionally and physically, as and when he needs it.

Do not be afraid of following your heart, no matter what others think, YOU know what is best for your child. If it means standing out from the crowd then so be it. A lot of mothers are now are encouraged to not be instinctual; but instead to follow the crowd, trying out sleeping routines, feeding schedules etc, all in the hope of achieving ‘good baby’ status.

You may not always feel like you’re getting it right, but if you follow your instincts and remain objective about your choices then you’re mostly there.

 

Keep in mind that this period of adjustment is far more upsetting for baby then it is for you. You have the ability to ask for human contact if you’re feeling scared, able to express your upset and to ask for comfort if needed, make yourself something to eat or drink or take something for trapped wind. You know this world, the sights, sounds and smells. You have control of your body and know the sensations you feel. Your baby does not, and has limited ways of communicating.

So while mums, dads and babies go through this period of adjustment, encourage them to embrace the fourth trimester, not go against it. Hold baby if they want to, whether the baby is sleeping or not. Instead of showing your disapproval of bed sharing, help them find the necessary information to ensure they do it safely.

Encouraging parents to go against their instincts makes more nervous, anxious, less confident parents. Instead, encourage her mothering instincts and provide her with the same love and support she is trying to nurture her baby with. We all deserve the opportunity to become the best parents we can be to our children; with the right support along the way, we all stand a fighting chance.

 

-B

Your Baby Can Talk!

Okay, not talk, communicate, just not in the conventional sense. The early noises that generally pre-curse a cry can be differentiated and do mean different things. Then there’s the body language, some obvious and some individual to the child.

Let’s start with the cries:

Priscilla Dunstan teaches that babies make sound reflexes. Much like sneezing and hiccuping that have recognisable patterns (when sound is added to the reflex), so too do babies cries.  She outlines 5 of these sounds in ‘Dunstan’s Baby Language‘. We found this to be extremely helpful, but not fool-proof, as all babies vary in their annunciating. The five sounds she outlines are: 

NEH – Hungry
EH – Upper Wind
HEH – Discomfort
OWH – Tired
EAIRH – Lower Wind

Not all babies will use all these sounds, according to Priscilla, some you may hear a lot, others occasionally and some never. We have heard all 5, lucky us, but some have been very rarely used or heard.

The sound for hungry is NEH, the neh coming from the suckling reflex. We did not hear this properly until our little one had his tongue tie snipped at 4 weeks, until then it was more an EH (which DBL teaches is upper wind). Once the tongue had been freed we heard it multiple times a day and used it to our full advantage. 

We have had some difficulty differentiating between our little ones EH and EAIRH sounds, most likely our bad ears (We certainly don’t have Priscilla’s photographic memory for sound). We would try to help ease lower wind pain and promptly get a large release of upper gas! We have heard these fairly regularly and only time will tell if our ears become trained to know the difference between these two. 

The discomfort sound HEH didn’t really appear to us until around 4 or 5 weeks. Maybe we missed it, maybe we kept him so comfy he had no use of it (I doubt it, but enjoy a bit of wishful thinking). We found if we weren’t paying attention it could be missed entirely or mistaken for playful sounds. They were not loud or abrupt, but more akin to rapid or heavy breathing. This developed into the typical sounding HEH as he grew and became more aware. We would hear this sound several times a week.

The tired sound of OWH (yawning reflex) first appeared at approximately 6-7 weeks. By approximately 9 weeks old we had heard this no more than a couple of times. It was very distinct and we understood it immediately and heard it more as his night-time sleeping increased and his daytime sleeping reduced.

 

Body language:

Body Language can be ambiguous and not always as straight forward as DBL’s pre-cries. Some are common and easily understood whilst others completely individual to your child. Here is a list of some examples we have found or had mentioned to us. Your baby may do some if these or none of these. Even if they do, it does not necessarily mean the same thing.

Ear Pulling or Hiccupping; May mean your baby is getting tired.

Gaze aversion; May mean your baby is tired or over-stimulated.

Pulling up legs; Can simply be a reflex action to indicate upset, not always an indication of abdominal pain.

Going red; Can mean the little one has been crying for too long or is overheated, not necessarily in pain or constipated.

Blue outline to lips; Could mean your baby has trapped wind.

Sticking tongue out, putting fist in mouth or fidgeting; Could mean your baby is hungry.

Rooting (A head-turning and sucking reflex towards a stimulus, apparent in young babies); Generally indicates hunger.

Clenched fists tightly; Can indicate hunger. Their fists become loose when sated (it’s more noticeable once grasp reflex gone somewhere around 2-6 months).

Head butting, head shaking (like saying no) and drooling; Can indicate hunger.

Wiggling down when on shoulder or throwing in direction of breast; Can also indicate hunger.

I hope these make communication with your little one easier and less frustrating.  Bare in mind your little one is as individual as you are, as are their queues and body language.

 

Good Luck!

-J

Bonding With Your Bump – 5 Things That Helped Me Make the Most Of My Pregnancy

Finding out I was pregnant was a bag of mixed emotions for me. I was delighted, relieved, joyful, scared, nervous, but most of all thankful. Not all women get to experience the wonder of pregnancy and I was going to grab the opportunity with both hands and embrace this journey which in the grand scheme of it, would be a blip in my lifetime.

Finding out the good news so early on (2 weeks) we had a hard time keeping a lid on it! We told our mums and dads, brothers and sisters and very few close friends. The weeks leading up to our 12 week scan dragged on and it felt like we had kept this secret for a lot longer. So used to the idea of protecting this little life from exposure, I found it hard to let go of the secrecy. In a few months I had gone from wanting to shout from the roof tops to not being able to find the words to tell people we were going to have a baby. It was as if the more people we told the more like a dream it felt, a very very happy dream, but a dream no less.

I’m pleased to say that I made the very most of my pregnancy and just 3 days before the birth a stranger asked if I was tired of being pregnant? I could honestly answer that I was not tired at all, in fact quite the opposite, I loved being pregnant and the impending due date gave me a feeling that I could only describe as bitter-sweet!

I learnt a lot during those weeks and months and was able to reap the rewards of this knowledge ten fold. Below are a few realisations I had and things I learnt that helped me make the most of my pregnancy.

 

 

MAKE MEMORIES FROM DAY 1

Almost from the word go I started tracking every minuscule moment. With the help of a pregnancy journal nothing was to be missed out! Every twinge, every feeling, week by week I tracked every appointment, our ideas, dreams, hopes for a healthy pregnancy and birth.

Once the baby is born you will, over time, forget most of the little details, especially all the wonder and discovery moments.

Quite often Mothers can only recall negative events from their pregnancy, I feel this is a tragedy. I did not want to forget this wondrous journey. To see the big picture you must include the small details.

 

HAPPY AND HEALTHY GO HAND IN HAND

Determined to start as I meant to go on I looked up details on healthy eating, exercise classes and the dos and don’ts of pregnancy. Although overweight I was the fittest I had ever been, running 3 times a week and ate a relatively balanced diet. Having always heard phrases like ‘eating for two’ and advice given to pregnant women about ‘resting up’, I was curious to know how helpful this advice was, as it turned out it was quite the opposite.

I was shocked to find that in the first two trimesters of pregnancy you don’t really need any extra calories! Yes you might be tired and therefore use food as fuel to get through the day until you can return home from work and fall asleep on the sofa before dinner, I know there were days I did; but it’s not a necessity to the development of the baby. Only in the third trimester do you really have a need for them, and then it’s only another few hundred calories or so, this equates to two slices of bread and butter!

As for exercise, because I had already established a fitness regime it was absolutely fine to continue as normal. As long as I wasn’t doing any abdominal workouts or pushing my usual boundaries (ie distance or quantity of runs) I and my baby were safe and I was encouraged to continue as normal.

I ran until I experienced pelvic discomfort at 20 weeks, caused by a Calcium deficiency. At this time I had already started pregnancy yoga classes which I attended weekly from week 16, right up to the night before the birth.

Doing this kept my serotonin levels up and I was getting as much goodness as possible by enjoying a normal balanced diet with just maybe an extra treat or two. It was a great decision and I believe made all the difference.

I feel I had a much happier and healthy pregnancy then I would have had if I was ‘eating for two’ or ‘resting up’.

 

ACCEPT ALL THE CHANGES AND BE PREPARED TO ADAPT ACCORDINGLY

It’s important to understand and accept that your body will change, in ways that are pleasing and ways that are not.

Morning sickness kicked in quite early on for me and was at its worst in the evenings. Discussing what to have for dinner was almost impossible, the idea of eating was nauseating. So I changed my habits to suit, I would eat a large breakfast, eat lunch early and then mid afternoon when the sickness started I had already pretty much eaten my calorific intake for the day so if I had to skip dinner it was no big deal. Listening to my body and responding in kind was the only way to cope.

During my pregnancy a lady commented to me that she thought I was having a girl because I had put on weight ‘all over’. I found this comment insensitive, however I was not ignorant enough to be believe my weight and shape wouldn’t change. In the beginning I was desperate to have my bump, as the weeks went on and the bigger my tummy grew the greater I felt about my body. After all, the more my tummy grew the more room my baby had to grow, I felt this was something to be thankful for, not to be resented. Yes I have stretch marks, but who doesn’t? Yes I have been using an ointment to reduce their redness, but I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of them, they are a reminder of a wonderful unique journey, never to be replicated.

 

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

Almost from day 1 I had cravings for orange juice and ice. Other cravings came and went but these things we’re the only that stayed with me throughout pregnancy. At my early blood tests I was found to have low iron so put onto supplements, it’s not a coincidence that craving orange and ice is linked to low iron. I listened to my body and gave it what it needed. That said, not all cravings are linked to deficiencies, otherwise I would’ve eaten a LOT more sweets; but by listening to my body I was helping it get all the nutrients it needed.

As most mums will know it is recommended you don’t sleep on your back or left hand side after so many weeks into the pregnancy. That said, I was very uncomfortable on my right side and so would turn over in my sleep or wake at night to find I was sleeping on my back. Talking to other mums-to-be at my yoga class it was reassuring to find I wasn’t alone. One lady who was quite a few weeks ahead of me said you will know when it’s no longer good for you and will automatically adjust. She was right, the night I woke up and was stuck like a tortoise on its shell I knew it was time to stop sleeping on my back! The only damage done was that of my pride when I had to wake my other half and ask him to roll me over so I could get out of bed to use the toilet!

 

TALK TO YOUR BABY AND ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR PRESENCE POSITIVELY

With the help of a few ‘apps’ I could look up the progress of my pregnancy day by day, week by week and I revelled upon reading about every little detail my baby and body were going through. This was exciting and made my pregnancy feel ‘real’ but the best thing I did to bond was talk to my baby. I strongly believed that by talking to my baby and touching my belly he would understand my love for him and the happiness I felt for his presence.

When he moved I acknowledged him and when he moved in a way that made me feel uncomfortable I would gently move him and explain that it was causing me discomfort.

I would share with him many happy journeys to work singing in the car and the excitement on the way home when I would tell him we were going home to see daddy, who loves us very much.

Already having conversations with him was wonderful and it really helped me feel he was a part of me, sharing my being, not ‘invading my body’, which is unfortunately how I hear so many women describe it.

I feel so privileged to have taken that journey into motherhood. I thank my baby every day for letting me carry him in my tummy and for all the precious moments we shared.  Each private communication, when he would move and I would respond in talking to him acknowledging his presence, or when I would rub his back and pat his bottom when he had hiccups and seemed to be annoyed by them somehow. Even now he will get upset if hiccups won’t go away but is soothed by my picking him up and rubbing his back or patting his bottom, it’s a beautiful gentle reminder of the special bond we shared for so many months before he was born.

 

-B