The fourth trimester: Yes, it’s a thing

fourth trimester

Most women  will shout when they hear of a fourth trimester in pregnancy – as if three aren’t enough! This concept of the fourth trimester isn’t about women entering into another three months of gestation, but rather what our babies’ experience might be in their first 12 weeks of life.

The term  “ the fourth trimester” of pregnancy  came from a US paediatrician, Dr. Harvey Karp. He says, human babies are born three months too early. And for the first three months of life after birth they benefit from being cared for as if they are still in their mother’s uterus.

Potentially, short changing babies of an extra three months inside Mummy may be a little harsh. So to keep their environment quiet and calm and handling them very gently helps with transitioning to the outside world.

You honestly believe this?

The idea of managing a newborn’s care to match intra-uterine conditions has created a loyal following. Principles of the fourth trimester philosophy, while perhaps a little odd to some, sound logical and most importantly, are unlikely to be harmful. They may also help to boost the emotional attachment between a mother and her baby.

fourth trimester

Get up and walk!

Evolutionary science has shown that when our ancestors got off all fours and upright onto two legs, this freed us up to use our hands as tools.

Some people also believe that when we discovered fire and were able to cook meat that the increase in dietary iron and protein from eating animal flesh also supported greater brain growth. Eating meat meant there was a huge increase in the size of our brains and intelligence. We became smarter because our brains were being fed better nutrition. And as one generation became smarter and better nourished, their offspring followed a similar pattern.

But becoming upright came with a cost, because it also created a more narrowed pelvis. In men this was not such as big deal but in females it was. And while most of us women would willingly take a few inches off our hips, from a survival point of view, having a wide pelvis is a pretty good thing.

So why aren’t we pregnant for 12 months?

Tacking an extra three months onto pregnancy and delaying human gestation past 40 weeks would mean babies having bigger heads. They would simply not be able to fit through the female pelvis. Eventually as a species, humans would cease to exist.

What’s the benefit?

Replicating the same conditions as in the womb for the first three months of life is thought to help very young babies acclimatise more gently to extra-uterine life.

At birth, human babies’ brains are only around a quarter of their full size, as compared with other primates whose brains are around half their adult size.

Brain growth is huge in the first few years of a child’s life, particularly in the regions which control social and emotional intelligence. How a baby is cared for makes a big difference to the type of adults they will become.

What helps to comfort baby crying?

Swaddling, frequent breastfeeding, parents responding immediately to their baby’s cries and saying shshsh when they are crying are all thought to help. It’s all about gentleness and parents being emotionally and physically present, “with” their baby to help soothe and comfort them.

It’s also about respecting the baby as a unique and special, separate individual. They have human rights and we, as their parents and caregivers, have a responsibility to ensure they are cared for in a loving and nurturing way.

It’s important to remember

Most parenting approaches are fine as long as they aren’t taken to the extreme and are balanced with good common sense and reason. The human race has survived for around 200,000 years. Clearly, all the generations which came before us have been doing a lot right.