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What is the "fourth trimester"?
You probably thought you were finished with trimesters when you had your baby. But the word "trimester" can also be used to describe the first three months after birth, from day one to the day your baby turns 3 months old.
In the fourth trimester, your tiny daughter or son has just moved from the familiar comfort and noises of your warm, dark womb to a bright environment full of unsettling new sights, sounds, smells, and sensations, as well as shifting temperatures.
This period of adjustment to the world outside your womb is a time of enormous change and development. There's so much for your little one to get started on, from refining and developing all her senses and controlling her reflexes to learning how to respond to you and your partner.
A huge transition for your new baby
Newborns have only their instincts and reflexes to control their behavior and movement. Some of their senses are still developing, and they have to start learning to interpret the sensory information that's flooding in.
They can see, but their vision is blurred.
They can hear, but they can't yet understand the meaning of the sounds they're hearing.
They can feel, but the reassuring and snug comfort of the womb has been replaced by disconcerting open space.
Your baby's brain is well developed at birth, but it's far from mature. It's like a sponge, soaking up everything that happens. The more the brain is stimulated at this stage, the more synapses (connections) will form. (Synapses are the pathways between brain cells that enable us to think.)
At some point in the fourth trimester, you'll probably notice your baby:
- Breathing more steadily, startling less, and developing more controlled movements.
- Settling into more consistent sleep and feeding patterns.
- Learning to self-soothe.
- Interacting with family and friends, objects, or music with greater attention and for longer periods of time.
By the end of your baby's fourth trimester, you will have seen a remarkable physical, mental, and social transformation take place.
New-baby highlights: behavior & movement
Here's a snapshot of just a few of the important behaviors and abilities you can expect from your baby in the first three months when it comes to crying, sleeping, feeding, and beginning to move. To find out more about baby growth and development during the fourth trimester, read up on baby milestones.
Your baby is likely to cry more during the fourth trimester than at any other time in his or her life.
Crying helps babies survive and thrive in various ways:
- It's the closest thing they have to verbal communication, giving them a way to ask for help when they're hungry or uncomfortable.
- It helps them block noises, visual stimulation, and other feelings that are too intense.
- It releases tension.
Find out why babies cry and how to soothe them.
New babies sleep a lot, especially in the early weeks. Sleeping is good for them. It helps the brain process all the wonderful sensory stimulation they're taking in from you and their environment when they're awake.
The youngest babies have little sense of day and night, and they rarely stay asleep for more than two to four hours at a time. Sleeping more at night instead of on and off around-the-clock is a new habit that takes time to learn.
Fortunately for sleep-deprived parents, by 6 to 8 weeks of age, babies have typically started sleeping less during the day and more at night. But most will still wake up for middle-of-the-night feedings for some time to come.
Newborns are too young for a feeding routine. They have tiny stomachs, so they eat (and by "eat" we mean "drink") small amounts frequently.
Gradually, as their tummy gets bigger, babies can take in more at each feeding and eat less often. If your baby suddenly seems hungrier than usual, he's probably having a growth spurt. Growth spurts will happen periodically. For example, babies typically have growth spurts around seven to 10 days after birth and between 3 and 6 weeks of age.
Don't be surprised if your little one spits up. He's just learning to eat, and – considering how tiny he is – he's swallowing and digesting a ton of nutrient-rich breast milk or formula. He's bound to overflow from time to time.
Using their body
At birth, your baby is almost completely helpless, physically. But babies start developing motor skills and muscles from day one.
When placed on her tummy, your baby will naturally learn to lift her head, push up with her tiny arms, roll over, and so on – developing strength and coordination as she grows. You can start tummy time in your baby's first week of life, whenever your baby is awake.