What Women Should know about the ‘Fourth Trimester’

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momnewbornIn order to accommodate the shift that allows human women to walk upright, their bodies have undergone a gradual evolutionary change that leaves their pelvises roughly 30% smaller than those of their homo erectus ancestors. The size of infants brains and the heads that house them have, in that time, gotten larger, according to studies conducted by paleoanthropologists at the University of Indiana.

The resulting shift means that, in order to walk upright, women’s bodies simply cannot accommodate a fully-formed infant.

This realization explains quite a bit about the complete lack of social understanding and high level of need exhibited by newborn infants, according to parenting and developmental experts like Dr. Harvey Karp. The theory of the fourth trimester posits that babies aren’t actually fully developed until sometime around four months of age. This phase of a newborn’s life is often referred to as “the fourth trimester” by developmental experts and pediatricians.

Even Full-Term Babies Aren’t Quite “Ready”
It goes without saying that an infant born prematurely is simply not as developed as her full-term peers. What often comes as a surprise to new parents, however, is that even perfectly healthy and robust full-term babies aren’t actually ready for the world, either. Your baby’s brain is not yet equipped to allow self-soothing or processing of outside stimuli when she’s less than four months old, which is why she seems so needy. The womb is the perfect environment for your baby. She’s fed on demand, so she’s never hungry. She’s lulled by the movements of Mom’s body and soothed by the sound of her heartbeat. Her temperature is perfectly regulated. When she’s born, she’s not only completely reliant upon her parents for soothing and sustenance, but also has a central nervous system and brain that aren’t fully matured. To put it plainly, even at full gestation, your baby isn’t “ready” at birth.

The Outside World is Scary and Overstimulating
The womb that your baby recently vacated wasn’t brightly lit. Instead, it was warm and all of the sounds that reached her were muffled by the body that contained her. Because she’s still developing in terms of her brain activity and central nervous system, she’s not only taken from that environment into one that’s full of constant stimulation, but she’s also not quite equipped to deal with that stimulation.

Feeding On Demand is Your New Best Friend
Dr. Harvey Karp, writer of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block series of parenting and childcare books, asserts that there’s no such thing as “spoiling” a newborn, and is an avid champion of feeding on demand. In fact, he believes that the phenomena of colic exists almost exclusively among Western babies that are expected to sleep in a separate room from their parents and eat on a schedule, versus cultures where babies spend all of their time within reach of a parent and are nursed in short bursts anywhere from 50 to 100 times each day. The inexplicable crying that most pediatricians diagnose as the mysterious “colic” may actually be the result of parenting tactics that keep babies removed from constant access to sustenance and contact.

You Can’t Cuddle Too Much
While old wives’ tales hold that cuddling a baby too much will spoil her, developmental experts like Dr. Karp resist such legends. Instead, he urges parents to help their babies through the fourth trimester by replicating the support and cradling offered by the uterus. Go ahead, cuddle your newborn to your heart’s content and hold her whenever you’d like. You can’t spoil her by holding her too much.

Moms Have Trouble During the Fourth Trimester, Too
The fourth trimester isn’t just a trying and confusing time for your baby. It’s also a scary and stressful time for Mom. Parenting brings with it major changes, not just to your lifestyle but also your body and emotions. Finding your new normal will take you a few months, too.

Thanks to Newborncare

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