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What is the fourth trimester? And how to survive it

I see so many posts from new mothers on social media wondering if something is wrong with their newborn baby because they are unable to put them down without them crying - and so I want to reassure every new parent that THIS IS COMPLETELY NORMAL! There is nothing wrong with your baby, and you're not doing anything wrong either.


The first 12 weeks after a baby's birth is referred to as the fourth trimester, and it's a time when both new parents and a newborn baby are adapting to their new lives. The term comes from the idea that you should try to recreate, for another 3 months, the environment that your baby had in the uterus.



According to the NHS, babies cry more in their first 3 months than at any other point in their lives. Why? If you consider that whilst babies are inside the womb they have a constant supply of food, can sleep whenever they want to, and are being rocked in a cosy, comfortable environment which doesn't change, it's easier to understand why they may feel completely overwhelmed when suddenly everything changes - not only is there a sensory overload of different sights, sounds and smells, but food is no longer in a constant supply and they are now separate from their mother and completely unable to communicate their needs and feelings effectively, and are often put somewhere separate to sleep. Looking back, I wish I understood more about this time. I felt frustrated and couldn't understand why my baby was constantly crying (or screaming), and why he didn't settle when I sang him a song!


So, how do we make this stage easier for parents and babies? To recreate the environment of the womb as much as possible, it's recommended to use the following techniques:

  • Swaddling, to recreate the safe and secure feeling, which often helps babies sleep for longer and wake up less. We used Love 2 Dream Swaddle Up sleeping bags which really helped with our babies' sleep.

  • Swaying, to recreate the rocking motion. This is usually an obvious one as babies often start crying as soon as you stop moving, but you can also try going out in the pram or the car to soothe them, or try a rocking chair or baby swing (disclaimer: we invested in a baby swing thinking it would change our lives with our second baby - but she screamed every time we put her in it).

  • Using a sling (pretty much a combination of the above) - this was a lifesaver for both our babies, but all babies are different and some hate them. With our second baby we had to do laps around the house in the sling to get her to sleep every night until she was at least 3 month's old, as she would get so overtired by bedtime that she couldn't get to sleep any other way!

  • If the only way your baby seems to sleep is when they're being held, this is very common, and it's worth looking into safe co-sleeping if you'd like to try it.

  • Skin to skin contact, which is recommended in the early days but actually has many benefits beyond this time, and which can be done by either parent, helps everyone bond and is very comforting for babies. I definitely regret not doing this more, as I think we put pressure on ourselves to get up and get everyone dressed and get on with things, so I wish I'd embraced the fourth trimester a bit more. You can also combine skin-to-skin with feeding, whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding.

  • Another suggestion is having a warm bath together, but I'm pretty sure this didn't work for us, and prepare for possible screams when it's time to get out and get dry!


All of these suggestions are mainly to help your baby adjust, although by doing so you will certainly be making your life easier as a parent too. But I have some more advice for parents to survive the fourth trimester too.


Firstly, lower your expectations. Don't put pressure on yourself to get things done, get out of the house, or even get dressed. It's hard, but try to relax and focus on bonding with your baby.


Don't be afraid to ask for help - whether with your baby, or with cooking or household chores. Friends and family will gladly step in to help you. But equally, if you don't want visitors just make sure that you tell your friends and family - be honest and explain that you need some time to adjust as a family but that you will let them know when you're ready for visitors. You probably won't know how you feel about this until your baby arrives, so don't plan anything in advance until you know how you feel.


Finally, I wanted to make a note about mental health. Apparently 80% of women experience 'baby blues' in the first 7-14 days after birth, which is completely understandable given the huge change, hormones, and lack of sleep, on top of physically recovering from birth. Some new parents get an immediate rush of love and adoration for their newborn, can't stop staring at them and can't bear the thought of anyone else holding them. I just want to reassure you that this is not always the case, and that's completely ok. Personally I didn't feel like this, and was happy to hand my baby over to anyone who would take him! Don't feel guilty or that anything is wrong if you feel different to other new mums. But if the baby blues don't go away, you should talk to your doctor, as it can be a sign of postnatal depression.


One last thing I want to say is that it wasn't until my first baby was around 6 months old that I felt like I was actually bonding with him. For more than the first few months babies are incredibly demanding of us, and it can feel like we don't get anything back. My Mum kept asking me if I was 'enjoying' breastfeeding, and I honestly couldn't say that I was. But when those first smiles and laughs start coming, it suddenly all starts to feel worthwhile and like you finally have a little human instead of a crying machine!!

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Belles and Babes is a UK-based rental business specialising in sustainable maternity, baby, and nursing clothes. Founded by Emma Gillespie in 2017, the company is driven by her corporate sustainability background and has a mission to provide a more sustainable alternative for parents seeking to move away from fast fashion and reduce clothing waste.


B&B offers maternity and nursing clothes to rent as part of its capsule wardrobe service for £5 per item each month, with the option to swap items and add on extras such as a maternity coat, and also has styles available to buy pre-loved. Baby capsule wardrobes start from £25 a month for a personalised bundle of 18 items of sustainable organic clothing which are replaced as your baby grows.


If you are a parent seeking a sustainable alternative to fast fashion, you can find out more about our rental options by clicking the links in the menu above.



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