I always tell parents that being little isn’t easy. The difference between a baby’s life in the womb and the outside world is totally different. It is like water and fire – a full 180-degree change.
During the 9 months of pregnancy, your baby lives in a specially created environment just for them. Amniotic fluid is the perfect temperature. Food is always available. Your heartbeat is the perfect volume for their liking. Your voice is always there.
But what next? What after the birth?
It’s time for the 4th trimester. Where the world is new. Overstimulation is real. Learning never ends. Adventure begins.
But wait! If the change is so drastic is there something we can do to make this transition a little bit smoother and slow down time to help them adjust? Yes! There is so much we can do!
From skin to skin, feeding on demand, swaddling your baby during sleep time and when they are fussy, surrounding them with familiar sounds, making sure your baby gets all the sleep they need, working on a predictable routine, doing baby massage and practicing baby wearing.
Let’s dive in and discuss all the options.
Skin to Skin
Skin to skin is such a powerful tool to use during the early days and beyond. You are your baby’s safe space. Your smell is familiar and it helps them calm down. Your voice is the perfect sound that they have known since they can remember. Your body temperature keeps them warm – like it was in the womb. Your heartbeat always puts them to sleep and it is still able to do so out of the womb.
The benefit of skin to skin is to calm your baby’s nervous system down while they are adjusting to the lights, noises, and smells of their new home. Also keeping them close to the breast allows you to be in tune with their hunger cues and feed them at the first sign of hunger.
This activity slows down the time and allows them to process and adjust to the changes. It also holds the space for the whole family so everyone can adapt to the new normal at their speed.
Is the skin to skin only beneficial with mom? No. Anybody can do skin to skin with a baby. Father, siblings, grandparents, and others. Just make sure parents’ consent is given and children are supervised during this activity.
Skin to skin is done when the baby’s unclothed body (keep that diaper on) is in contact with another person’s body. Does the person need to be clothes free from the waist up? The answer is no. Button up shirt, t-shirt with a v-cut, zip-up sweatshirt are great options for skin to skin time. During the first few days, we want the baby’s whole body to come in contact with another body while doing skin to skin. That changes over time. As the baby grows cheek to cheek is a great and fast skin to skin method. A few other alternatives are caregiver cheek on the baby’s head while snuggling, long kiss on the forehead, baby’s cheek on caregiver’s neck, and more. As long as the baby’s bare skin touches your bare skin you are doing skin to skin.
This activity also gives a huge advantage for moms who want to work on a nursing relationship with their baby and establish their milk supply. It is due to prolation being released and hormone oxytocin being stimulated. Both of those help with milk production.
Feeding on demand
Life in the womb, your baby didn’t need to wait for food so the feeling of hunger is a new feeling for them. They need to learn what it feels like and that you will always provide the food for them. Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding the signs of hunger are always the same and feeding on demand looks really similar.
The one thing I want you to be aware of is that a lot of hunger and tired cues are the same. How to tell the difference? If you just fed the baby you can offer them sleep time by changing their diaper, swaddling, turning a sound machine on, and supporting them during the process of falling asleep. Also seeing an IBCLC and doing a weighted check will let you know about how much your baby eats during the feeding. That information will let you figure out if your baby may be hungry or tired.
Making sure their bellies are full will help with their growth, sleep, development, mood, and milk supply if breastfeeding is your choice and goal.
As we all know babies don’t have too much space in the womb at the end of their time there, but they don’t mind it. It is a familiar feeling and recreating it after birth will help them calm down, relax, not be woken up by their startle reflex, and help them sleep.
If your baby is breaking out of the swaddle you can try a different one. There are ones with hands up, hands down, transitional, traditional, thinner, and thicker. Everyone can find something that works best for them.
The thickness (Tog) of the swaddle should be chosen based on the temperature in the house and the base layer your baby sleeps in.
It is safe for a baby to be in the swaddle only up to 8 weeks of age. I do recommend starting the transition around 6 weeks of age so by the time they are 8 weeks old they have a strong foundation and are familiar with sleeping with their hands around their face.
Babies come from a super noisy environment. As long as they can remember there were plenty of noises in their old home – womb. From heartbeat, air entering and exiting the lungs to your body digesting food and all the outside noises. Quite isn’t something they know.
How can you help them? Use a sound machine. Constant noise like white noise is perfect. It drowns the outside noises, helps the brain relax and it is a nice reminder of life in the womb.
Before the birth, your baby slept around 20 hours in the womb. Rocked by your movement and heartbeat. So what after the birth? Sleep out of the womb looks completely different.
As I mentioned above in the feeding on demand section, cues of being hungry and tired are really similar. It is really important to not keep your baby awake when they show any signs of sleepiness. Babies also become overtired and overstimulated really fast so 45 – 60 min of being awake — with the feeding — is plenty of time for them.
Also laying flat on their back is a new skill for babies. They never had to do it so helping them be comfortable while sleeping on their back is really important. That is also a skill they use their whole life as we as humans sleep approximately 1/3 of our lives.
Routine will be your child’s best friend as they keep growing. This is due to not understanding the concept of time until they are old enough to understand it and we teach them it.
So how does the routine work? The baby learns what order the activities happen. For example in the morning the baby knows that after waking up there is a diaper change, feeding, and then playtime. They will learn what actions are happening before bedtime – we call this a bedtime routine. Or what happens when one of the parents comes home after work.
From day one you can start implementing two routines. The first one will be: EAT -> PLAY -> SLEEP. It will have a few benefits. It will help you establish if your baby is getting enough food during feeding time. It will ensure you are offering your baby sleep time when they are showing signs of being tired. Your baby will get at least a few minutes of playtime each cycle. It will help you, as a new parent, to understand your child’s needs, and in the situation of fussing or crying you can cross out the stuff you already tried.
The second routine will be a BEDTIME ROUTINE. This is to help your child transition from day activities to nighttime sleep. It will be a time of pleasant and quiet activities to prepare for the night’s sleep. Yes, in the beginning, they will still wake up frequently through the night for feedings but in the long run, it will be really beneficial for their circadian rhythm.
Baby massage is an amazing activity to bond with your baby, help their muscles to relax, and calm their body. For the whole pregnancy, they didn’t have too much space to move and learn how their limbs work so baby massage helps their muscles relax and their body get used to a bigger range of motion.
I do recommend taking a good quality baby massage class to learn all the do’s and don’ts for safety purposes. The one thing to remember is that you don’t need to do a whole body massage each time. You can do a hand massage while feeding, legs massage while changing a diaper, face massage while helping them go to sleep, and so on.
Babywearing is a wonderful tool to use when you want to have your hands free, don’t want to take a stroller for a walk or your baby is fussy and you have stuff to do. It lets your baby be close to you like during the skin to skin activity but without the need of undressing anybody.
It works because like during the skin to skin it lets your baby feel your body temperature, hear your heartbeat, smell you, and more.
As you see there is so much you can do to help your baby adjust to their new life and their new adventure. I know I mentioned a lot of stuff but they all work together. You can do skin to skin while babywearing or feeding. You can feed on demand while implementing the EAT -> PLAY -> SLEEP routine so you know your baby’s needs are met and you can work on figuring out if your baby is getting enough. Add a baby massage and you covered all 3 of them.
Take it slow. Take it day by day and enjoy it. Parenting is not a race nor a competition so don’t compare yourself to other parents as their child is different and the life they are living is different as well.
Enjoy the fourth trimester and the days to come!