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Things I Wish I'd Known About Babies

All Babies Are Premature

There are some things I wish I’d known when I had my babies. I wish I’d known about ‘the fourth trimester’. That's the way some paediatricians view the first couple of months after birth; it's a period when it is suggested the baby should ideally still be in the womb. It happens because we human beings have a narrow pelvis to help us walk upright, so we have to have babies small enough to pass through the birth canal. 

So how might it have helped knowing about the fourth trimester? I’d have been relaxed about getting my baby into a sleep routine if I’d known that a baby’s internal clock isn’t ticking like mine. Circadian rhythms which mean we sleep in the dark and are awake in the light, aren’t fully mature yet. But they will be. It takes about 12 weeks for infants to show day-night rhythms in the production of melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’. The circadian changes in cortisol—a hormone that regulates waking—may take even longer to emerge. 

On a similar theme I wish I’d known that crying peaks at 46 weeks gestational i.e. for a baby born at 40 weeks that 6weeks post birth. For a baby born at 36 weeks that would be 10 weeks post birth. So when my fully term daughter cried every evening I could have counted down the days to 6weeks watershed knowing it could only get better after that.

Truth to tell it didn’t get much better after that, - because something else was maturing. She cried nightly with colic. Dr Spock was our parenting bible, (though nobody used the word parenting then. In fact I think that most of us didn’t parent at all, we just got on with it.)  Dr Spock referred to ‘three month colic’ which he said miraculously corrects itself at three months. If I’d taken the fourth trimester view, then I would have thought her digestive system is still maturing and it will get better in its own time.

So what does it all mean? Close the 'baby training' manuals about establishing sleep routines from birth. Biology will do its job in time, with less stress to you and less distress to your child. Ditto crying and feeding.

These things are biologically programmed to kick in at a certain time, so follow you baby's lead, follow her biological timetable and forget about imposing yours until the fourth trimester is over. 




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Reader Comments (2)

Well, it looks like my information is a bit out of date.
Apparently research by a University of Rhode Island professor suggests that the length of human pregnancy is limited primarily by a mother's metabolism, not the size of the birth canal - as previously believed. The implications for the mother and baby remain the same whatever the reason - treat the first few months as having their own timetable.
To read the the full article click http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120827152037.htm

February 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterDr Pat Spungin

Greetings from Australia - I am a Psychologist and currently have young children and was aware of the the idea of the fourth trimester prior to having children and I have to agree with you that it did make the adjustment to parenthood that little bit easier by not having expectations that babies 'should sleep' or even that a human baby knows how to fall asleep by themselves! Waiting until the three, four or five month mark to 'teach' babies how to fall asleep in a cot (rather than in a cuddle) is much easier when they are developmentally ready for the change.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNicolle

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