Friday, July 12, 2013

The 4th Trimester

Pinky McKay calls it "Womb Service".
Harvey Karp calls it "The 4th Trimester"

However you label it, there is no doubt that the first three months of life might be pretty full-on for parents - but they are totally confusing for infants!
Overwhelmed - photo by Susan D'Arcy

Charlie in the first hour after birth - not quite what she was expecting!
My darling granddaughter Charlie has hit the significant milestone of three months today and it is interesting to look at just how far she has come. Her mother's labour began on her due date, with Charlie arriving two days later (that is a whole other story!), so she was born full-term, healthy and ready for life outside the womb - well, according to Nature!

But like most babies, Charlie had no expectation of the enormous changes in every aspect of her life that happened instantly. She experienced breathing, digestion, air, skin contact, stillness, light, loudness, handling, movement and much more, all within minutes of her birth. No wonder she gazed around in confusion!

I will never forget my first sight of my son Kieran, born 22 years ago by elective Caesarean 10 days before his due date - his total shock at the rapid change from womb to room always etched in my memory.

When we compare the new-born infant to her three-month old self, you can see just how immature they really are - more foetus than baby:

Charlie - Day Three
Lost and confused, what the newborn needs most is a reassuringly familiar environment, created with close contact, frequent feeding, familiar sounds and rhythmic movement. There is no learning here, no understanding, no thinking. There is only act and react.

Charlie - Day 90
While she is, of course, still 100% dependent on others to meet all her needs, she can now interact with them, smiling, babbling and looking around to find them. Working hard on the beginnings of the hand/eye coordination that will be so important when she begins independent eating at around six months, you can see how her brain processes information and consolidates what she learns.

As she leaves the 4th trimester - a time of adaptation needing gentle understanding and a womb-like environment, she is moving into a time of learning and frustration, when she will still need lots of gentle understanding and support as she faces the challenges of muscle control between the chest and waist, which will see her rolling, moving towards independent sitting and preparation for crawling. At the same time, her brain is processing increasing complex input which will, at times, overwhelm her and see her retreat before moving forward again. There is a lot to look forward to in the second three months outside the womb but also challenges for both baby and caregivers.

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