Surviving The Fourth Trimester
Remember when you got pregnant? You saw the positive test, you cried tears of joy, or maybe you were in complete shock (like me!), your family was incredibly excited, maybe you had a gender reveal, and then you started to picture what your life would be like with a little one (or two!) in your arms.
It’s such a happy and exciting time. You envision your family growing, or maybe your family will now be complete.
Everyone tells you all about their pregnancies; some love to share their delivery stories, others will tell your every single thing you need (and don’t need), but almost no one tells you what to expect after your baby is born. They seem to forget the recovery process, figuring out feeding, sleepless nights, and exhausting seemingly endless days.
And that is where we as mothers are completely let down and left wondering what just happened. So, no more. I’m going to share everything you need to know about your newborn and their sleep habits starting now.
None of this is here to scare you; it’s here to prepare you and make you aware that you are not alone. All of us moms are here for you, and I’m one of many who are happy to share the truth and my tips on how to survive the first four months, otherwise known as the 4th tri(mester).
What is the 4th Trimester?
The 4th trimester is a term that was coined by Dr. Harvey Karp. He believes that babies need more time in the womb before they are truly ready for the outside world. As they are born earlier than they should, it often makes for a very emotional, tiring period of time as you work so hard to acclimate your newborn to the world, and in his option, they just aren’t ready for it yet.
Ok, so how do I get through this?
First off, you will get through it, but you might want to put aside those well-meaning baby books that promise your baby will sleep through the night in 12 weeks. You need to know that it’s going to take some time, learning, and effort before your little one is on the predictable routine you were expecting.
There is an order of events that you just need to go through, and as a new (or a new again) mom, they are rites of passage.
You need to recover, and that means taking help when you can. Your body has grown, nurtured, and delivered a tiny human! If you are depleted and exhausted from labor, you will only have so much you can give to your little one before you hit a wall. Though you’ll find it’s not always easy to take help when offered, this is the time to do it.
You are often looking at 2-3 hours between feeds in the early days, and your pediatrician will likely advise you to wake your baby at night until they reach and/or exceed their birth weight. Whether breastfeeding, chestfeeding, or bottle-feeding, it can take weeks to get into a great rhythm.
Start working on sleep foundations
Once feeding is sorted out, and that in and of itself is a true journey for all mothers, you soon look to sleep and how to get more of it.
There may be a few sleepy days or even a few weeks where your newborn seems only to want to sleep but eventually, they all wake up, and I mean, they really wake up and are fussy, hard to settle, and seem to want to be held or fed all the time.
So, let’s talk about what Normal Newborn Life Looks like.
What is normal newborn behavior?
- Need to feed every 2-3 hours.
- Feeds are longer and slow; the baby isn’t overly efficient at the bottle or breast just yet.
- Most babies have a witching hour around early evening and bedtime, where they are simply harder to settle. Try cluster feeding if nursing, a carrier, warm bath, or head outside for a stroller walk.
- They sleep approximately 16-18 hours total sleep and take 4-6 naps per day
- Bedtimes run later; often between 10 – 11 pm .
- You may need multiple attempts to get them down into the bassinet or crib (but keep trying).
- Are harder to settle after their initial longer night stretch.
- Take short cat naps or maybe very long ones and;
- In the first two months, they most definitely have their days/nights confused.
How to work toward good sleep habits with your newborn
Helping your newborn establish good sleep habits, both patience, and consistency. These are my top 5 recommendations to get sleep off to a great start.
- Regular daytime feedings
- Keeping an eye on wake windows
- Developing predictable routines
- Creating a protected sleep environment
- Trial & Error
Regular Daytime Feeds
You may have heard more than once never to wake a sleeping baby, but if you don’t, you risk two things. One, they don’t get sufficient daytime calories which means they will require you to make up those feeds at night, AND two, that monster 3-hour nap may be the only long stretch you’ll get that day/night.
It’s recommended to wake your baby at the 2-hour mark for naps to ensure they feed sufficiently and that their long stretch is reserved for their first one at night.
Wake windows are important and are used to ensure your baby isn’t getting overtired but at the same time provides them with enough sleep pressure to fall asleep with relative ease.
If you find your baby’s sleepy cues elusive (they really are!), then keep your eye on wake windows based on age (or corrected age) and always start on the low end. I also recommend winding them down a good 10 minutes before the end of their window to prevent them from getting overtired and not settling.
It’s never too early to start establishing a consistent bedtime routine. Start with bedtime and when you are ready, introduce a short nap routine. Routines are so important because they cue our baby to know what is coming next. After some time, a comfort develops when they soon understand what lies ahead. You’ll start to see that they start to relax as you go through the steps, but this does take time.
A great routine is on average 30-40 minutes and should include soothing things you also enjoy. Here is a sample for you to play around with:
- Lotion and Massage
- A couple of songs or a story
- Nursing session or bottle
- Soothing (may or may not include a pacifier)
Just because your baby can sleep in a crowded restaurant or during a rowdy family dinner doesn’t mean it’s ideal for them to be surrounded by light and noise during their downtime. Like you, their most restorative sleep happens when they are in a quiet, dark, cool room.
Though it’s not always possible to lay them down in a nice dark room, I do recommend whenever possible, and you give them an opportunity to nap in just that type of environment.
Wrapped in a snug swaddle, pacifier in their mouth (if needed), in a sleep safe bassinet (or surface like a crib, SNOO, or playard), and surrounded by comforting white noise, will make for the ideal sleep environment for them as a newborn and as they get older.
Trial and Error
The best time to try something new, like laying your baby down awake or less drowsy, is generally when you feel calm and at ease. The first nap of the day or bedtime is ideal as the drive to sleep is much higher.
If they fuss or whine a bit, it’s ok to give them a few moments before picking them up and soothing them some more before trying again. It’s all about calmness and consistency. The sooner they are laid down in their bassinet, the quicker they adapt to sleep in this space.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider with newborn sleep, but it’s so important that you go at your own pace and try things when you are ready. It’s normal for babies to wake a lot and take short naps; every baby moves through things at their own pace. Lastly, and this is a big one, there are no mistakes or bad habits at this age if you are practicing safe sleep, so don’t worry and just SURVIVE! You got this (and if you don’t, join me for my masterclass, and I’ll help you out)!
Andria is the Owner & Founder of Have Baby. Must Sleep. She is a mom of two boys (Lenny and Nate), a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant. She is a former fellow sleep-deprived, highly caffeinated, desperate parent, ready to do just about anything for even an hour of uninterrupted sleep. If sleep is what you are after, Andria will get it for you (fast) and have you feeling empowered around all things child sleep in no time.
She also runs a free monthly Surviving the 4th Trimester Sleep Masterclass, where she ends it with a Q&A.
Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees and/or contractors.