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The fourth trimester of motherhood including sleep

The fourth trimester of motherhood including sleep

Once your baby arrives you will experience a new way of living like no other. You will transition and begin navigating everything the best you can for you and your baby.

This article takes you into the world of mum and baby in the first 12 weeks beyond the womb (also known as the Fourth Trimester).

After the initial rush of baby announcements and leaving the hospital, you will find yourself settling at home in the ‘newborn bubble’. This largely entails meeting the needs of the tiny bundle you’ve spent the last nine months growing, waiting, and dreaming about. There is no doubt there’ll be highs and lows, parenting wins, and lots of learning curves, but the aim of this article is to make the fourth trimester a better-understood topic.

I’m here to pull back the curtain on what it’s really like to be in the thick of postpartum and help you arrive at this stage feeling less like a deer in headlights and more like an empowered parent who is excited for the time ahead. Once you have an understanding of what you and your baby are going through, you’ll have the knowledge for both you and your little one to flourish.

What is the Fourth Trimester?

The Fourth Trimester is a concept first coined by Dr Harvey Karp and is the first 12 weeks of your little one’s life as they transition from “womb life to room life”, along with everything adjusting to the outside world encompasses. There are four key areas that make a mum and baby’s world go around in the first three months after birth. They are: * Feeding * Awake Time * Sleeping * Healing (for mum)

Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of these areas:


Newborn feeding is frequent and normal. Baby’s on average feed every 2-3 hours or around 8-12 times in a 24-hour period. Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, ‘on-demand’ is the best approach as their tummies are tiny and they’re growing to establish your supply. Focus on steady weight gains and plenty of wet nappies to know that your baby is having enough milk for their optimal growth and development.

Expert tip: Did you know a rule to guide you through the early days for wet nappies includes:

  • Day 1- 1 wet nappy
  • Day 2 - 2 wet nappies
  • Day 3 - 3 wet nappies
  • Day 4 - 4 wet nappies
  • Day 5 onwards: 5-6 wet nappies in a 24-hour period

Awake Times Often very short awake times for a newborn (birth to 4-6 weeks) is around 40-60 minutes including a feed and diaper change – it really is eat, sleep, poop repeat! Their days and nights may be a little mixed up but this usually self-corrects anywhere between 3-6 weeks of age when the maternal melatonin wears off and your little one starts to produce their own. Ensure to wake your baby regularly if they are sleeping A LOT during the day and turning into a party animal at night.

Here is a handy guide for awake times: Birth to 3 weeks - 45 minutes 3-6 weeks - 1 hour 6-9 weeks - 1 hour and 15 minutes 9-12 weeks - 1 hour and 30 minutes

Expert Tip: You might be surprised to know you don't need to focus on a sleep routine at this age. Babies are born without a functioning circadian rhythm and sleep is neurologically disorganised. Instead, focus on the awake times to guide your day- babies need around 15-16 hours sleep in a 24-hour period. This is not split equally as newborns often have a much later bedtime and are known for cluster feeding in the evenings.

Hands-on Sleep Assistance

Feeding, holding, cuddling, and rocking your baby to sleep at this age is extremely normal. Newborns haven’t yet developed the ability to self-soothe and need our hands-on support to fall asleep and stay asleep. Their sleep cycles are immature and catnapping is developmental (albeit frustrating) and normal as their sleep may vary from as little as 20 minutes or up to 3 hours.

Expert Tip: If you need to be a little more mobile and get a few things done inside or outside the house, babywearing can be a saving grace in this period. Your baby NEEDS YOU to be close - especially during the day. For more information about safely babywearing and to get the right fit for your baby, get in contact with Amber from The Infant Boutique, who provides a personalised service for fitting your carrier.

Physical And Emotional Healing (For Mum)

During this time it’s important to remind yourself it took nine months to grow your tiny little human and it’s going to take some time to find YOUR new groove of parenthood. Physically and emotionally there is a huge shift. Whether you’re a first-time parent or adjusting to multiple children, you need to be gentle with yourself, ask for support and more importantly, ACCEPT support when offered. Have a load of washing that needs doing? Please ask for help! Your new role isn't so much to entertain multiple guests or give out your baby for cuddles. Your most important role is to rest and bond with your new little human. We can keep the Fourth Trimester really simple and have more realistic expectations when we keep these four key areas in mind. Mum’s everywhere deserve this simplicity so they can embrace postpartum freely and live in the moment with their newborn baby.

Find out more from Kelly Martin Sleep Consultant