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The fourth trimester

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How to optimise closeness and your baby’s happiness after birth.

The need to be close

According to baby settling guru Dr Harvey Karp, author of the Happiest Baby on the Block, for all intents and purposes, babies are born three months’ premature.

As the size of the human brain has grown over the centuries, it’s become necessary for babies’ heads to pass through the pelvis before babies themselves are able to function on the outside.

As he explains via a passage in his book: “Our babies’ brains are so huge that we need to ‘evict’ foetuses from the womb well before they’re fully ready for the world to keep their heads from getting stuck in the birth canal.”

How to play the fourth trimester

By the time they’re three months old, babies have developed a few coping and communication strategies in order to better navigate their worlds.

However in the months prior, Karp suggests the most compassionate way to parent is to offer babies a fourth trimester. In other words, base your parenting around trying to bring ‘womb-like conditions’ to your baby’s life on the ‘outside’ (aka. the hospital and later, your home!).

Karp says: “To give babies a fourth trimester, parents need to answer one important question: What exactly was it like in there? In your womb your baby was packed tight into the foetal position enveloped by the warm wall of the uterus and rocked and jigged for most of the day. He/she was also surrounded by a constant shushing sound.”

The most effective caring techniques in the three months post-birth, therefore, are those that mimic the womb as much as possible.

Happy newborn nous

Try these ideas for growing a calm, happy newborn, straight off the starting block: 

1. Move around

Rather than putting your baby down to settle him or her, get moving! As parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith suggests, try dancing, swaying from side to side, taking a walk or going for a drive.

2. Baby-wear

Wear your baby in a carrier – in other words, keep them tucked close to your body while you slip out for a stroll to the markets, do a little housework, or sit down to read.

According to Ockwell-Smith, baby wearing is “one of the ultimate ways to keep them happy and calm… when a baby is in utero they spend 100 per cent of their time in physical contact with us – yet the moment they are born this is estimated to drop to 40 per cent.”

3. Swaddle

Karp describes swaddling your bub – wrapping him or her tightly in a large piece of fabric in a way that keeps the arms still – as the “cornerstone of calming”

Newborns all perform what’s called the startle reflex when they’re put down. Here, their hands outstretch and they ‘startle’. It’s a motion that’s anything but calm. A tight swaddle prevents this and packs your baby in a stiff, yet soft embrace – just as the womb does.

4. Play white noise

Apparently the womb is a noisy old place, with blood coursing through veins and the heart beating like a giant drum. Therefore babies tend to love noise. But as Ockwell-Smith says, the type of noise they prefer can surprise to new parents.

“For many babies a hoover [vacuum cleaner] is much more calming than a lullaby. A special white noise CD can be played on loop while your baby sleeps to keep them calm.”

Equally, you can find white noise tracks on YouTube; in those moments before your bub nods off, ‘shushing’ loudly can be prove a calming elixir, too.