The Fourth Trimester – The First Opportunity for Attachment


Children's Sleep, Attachment Parenting / Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

The first four months of your baby’s life are called The Fourth Trimester for a reason – she was already born, but is still a fetus.

During your baby’s fourth trimester, her physical systems are not yet fully functional; her digestive system is forced to digest for the very first time, causing gas, discomfort, and even pain. Her eyesight is very limited, and the constant transition from light to darkness is overwhelming. Her muscles are met with gravity for the first time and most of her movements are involuntary, still controlled by reflexes. During these months, your baby is a fetus, out there in the world, still seeking uterine environment. Your little one spent the first nine months of her life in the warmness of your womb, touched and carried inside your breathing body, constantly moved, never hungry, never in pain.

Once born, your baby still needs an environment of the like for the optimal development of her brain.

Holding and cuddling your baby when she asks for it is not pampering or spoiling her, but rather meeting her existential needs. It is for the best reasons that constant touch was proven critical for optimal brain development and the positive effect on motor, sensual, cognitive and emotional development.

Mother of Love

Touch was scientifically proven to be a high need, even higher than nutrition. In the absolutely terrible Harlow experiment, newborn Rhesus monkeys were separated from their mothers and put in a controlled environment where all their physical needs are met, yet were deprived of social or emotional interactions. Two dolls were then placed in their isolated cages, a cloth doll that can be cuddled, and a stock-wired doll, set up as a feeding machine. Only when struck by hunger, did the newborn monkeys shortly shift to the stock-wired doll, quickly feeding on it only to go back and cuddle the Mother of Cloth, the only mother they knew. They spent up to twenty-two hours a day, hugging and cuddling that cloth. When setting their object of love, all monkeys chose emotional attachment over food.

Proximity – The First Stage of Attachment

Your and your baby’s attachment starts as soon as she’s conceived. Your expecting thoughts and loving feelings towards the wonder growing inside of you are super important to the bond between the two of you. Once your baby is born, proximity becomes even more important. Now separate from your body, your baby needs it even more. All her senses are looking for attachment: he needs to hear the sound of your voice, to see you close to him, to feel your loving touch, to smell your unique smell and even taste you 🙂 He needs to get to know you as well as possible and for you to get to know him and recognize her needs as soon as they arise.

Check this out for the full list of (existential) needs building attachment. This will make it so much easier on all of you.

The Benefits of a Loving Touch

There are physical, as well as emotional benefits babies derive from being held and carried. Here are some of them:

  • Regulation of breath and temperature: young babies’ breath is irregular and they can’t yet regulate their body temperature. Physical touch helps babies keep their needed temperature, regulate their breathing, and heart rate.
  • Improved balance: since babies are unable to move by themselves, being held and carried is their only chance to experience movement and strengthen their muscles in response to that movement.
  • Growth: your baby’s one and only task is to grow. Babies who are held and carried breastfeed more and have better chances of tripling their birth weight in the first twelve months of their lives.
  • Sleep: babies’ need for a loving touch is existential. When this need is met, your baby is calm and relaxed, sleeps better, eats better, less likely to suffer from extreme gas and cries significantly less than babies who are offered limited touch.

This period might be hard, but it is only a very short period.

Slowly but surely, reassured by the touch and comfort you provide, your baby’s brain will develop, her physical abilities will grow and widen, she will become more aware of herself and her surrounding, more active, interested and engaged.

All this will happen naturally, there’s nothing here for you to teach, no way for you to speed the process.

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Ok, She’s Sleeping. Now What?

Most babies will wake up as soon as you’ll try to put them back in their cribs. There are quite a few tricks you can pull to successfully make that hands to crib transition, including two that literally saved my life (#2 and #3):

  1. Wait for deep sleep. The time frame found on the internet is twenty minutes, but as I always say: your baby probably didn’t read that website. Learn to recognize deep sleep: you’ll know it’s there when the cute little smiles are resting, when there’s no eye movement behind the eyelid, when reflex movements are light and shallow. Might take ten or twenty minutes, or even more, but it’s worth the wait.
  2. Give her a worn shirt of yours to touch and cuddle with, your smell will make your little one feel closer to you even when she is put down.
  3. Warm up her mattress with a hot water bottle before you put her down. Although she knows her bed is not mommy, a similar temperature might just do the job. Make sure to check it’s not too warm.
  4. Instead of a bed-sheet, put her on a cuddly, soft blanket. A soft touch is always better than no touch.
  5. Swaddle your baby. This keeps her warm and prevents reflex movements that are known to be sleep-enemy #1.
  6. Baby bean bag chairs and hammocks are great to keep your baby feeling warm and cuddled, providing them with their natural sleeping position.

On days none of these seem to work today, remember that your baby is not yet picky – she’ll take anyone else to hold her (as long as she’s fed and in a generally good mood 🙂 ) Grandmas, grandpas, aunts, and friends – let them have their piece of love and use that time to get some well-needed rest.

The Fourth Trimester is nothing but a period. You won’t notice the time and all too soon your baby will show you the brand new way she wants to fall asleep in. You’ll miss the hugs and cuddles. I know I do 🙂 If you haven’t yet read it, here is my personal journey through baby sleep, from 0 to 24 months. And here you can find the comprehensive guide on baby sleep that breaks the modern myths we’re accustomed to.

What do you do to get your baby to sleep? And more important – what do you do when your baby is sleeping? Join my Facebook group and tell us your secrets. It will be fun 🙂

If you are trying to get some sleep during the fourth trimester - this one is for you

Viki de Lieme

Hi there! Welcome to my home 🙂 I am a mom, a parent educator, a Nonviolent Communication specialist, and attachment parenting advocate. I help children (and their parents) reconnect and find the joy of family life.

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