The first 12 weeks of a baby’s life are often called the 4th Trimester because your newborn isn’t quite ready to be out of the womb yet, and their new world can be quite overwhelming and overstimulating. It is a huge period of adjustment and growth for both you and your newborn. As you figure out how to keep them happy and thriving; they are trying to figure out day vs night, how to eat, and how this bright new world works. As an Advanced Newborn Care Specialist and professional nanny with over 20 years of experience, I have spent a lot of time helping families navigate the newborn stage of parenting.
Here are some key things you can do to help make the transition into parenthood smoother.
Tip # 1: Put your oxygen mask on before you put your child’s on
When we fly on an airplane we are told, if the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling, to put our own mask on before we put our child’s on. This concept applies to most parenting, but especially in those first 12 weeks. A newborn requires so much of your time, energy, and focus, it is very easy to forget that you are adjusting to a whole new normal as well and often are trying to do so while also healing from giving birth. In order to be the best parent to your new little one, you have to make sure you are taking care of yourself. Self-care looks different for everyone and only you know what you need. It could be having meals delivered, asking your partner and family for support, making sure you get a shower every day, making sure to nap and catch up on sleep when possible, or even just going for a walk outside. Doing whatever you need to do to feel a little more like “you” and refill your cup, will allow you to thrive in your new role and allow your new little one to thrive as well.
Tip # 2: Focus on bonding and getting to know your baby
As a new parent, you are bombarded with information, advice, and opinions about what you should be doing, what your baby should be doing, and when and how it should be done. There is huge pressure to do things the “right way” and have a baby who immediately nurses like a champ, sleeps through the night, and never cries. There will be plenty of time to figure out what routes you want to take as a parent, the only thing you need to worry about in those first 12 weeks is making sure you and your baby are healthy. Focus on bonding with your baby and allowing yourselves to get to know each other. Hold them, love on them, feed them, do skin to skin; schedules and all the other things they are “supposed” to be doing can wait. In these first 12 weeks, if your baby is voicing a need it is because they need it. They are needs, not wants. They need to be held, they need to be fed, they need skin-to-skin contact, they need you to help them figure out the world. Meeting those needs is how you help them to learn, grow and develop, helping them to become more independent. Do what feels right for you and your baby.
Tip # 3: Log the first 12 weeks
Mom brain is a real thing and during those first 12 weeks, the days and hours can all blend together. Logging when you feed, how much they eat, when they sleep, how long they sleep, and other important information about their day will be extremely helpful. As they get older and you learn your baby’s habits you will need to log less and less until eventually, you don’t need to. In the beginning, logging these details helps you remember what you’ve done, know when and what they need next, and allows you to learn their natural patterns enabling you to identify if there are any issues. Having a log that shows you their natural patterns will help guide you in creating a routine that works best for them as they get older.
Tip # 4: Get in a routine
While you are bonding with and getting to know your baby, there are some easy things you can do that will help set you up for success now and in the future. Your newborn’s needs are constantly changing which means making a “schedule” in those first 12 weeks is unrealistic. However, what you can do is focus on trying to get into a routine. A routine of eat, play, sleep establishes a predictable pattern for you and your newborn, allowing your newborn to learn that their needs will be met and helping you prevent them from getting over-hungry or overtired. The eat, play, sleep routine also helps them to be awake and alert when it is time to eat, helping to prevent them from falling asleep while eating. Establishing a routine takes time and flexibility. There will be times where despite your best efforts, it doesn’t work, and that is ok. Parenting is all about progress over perfection.
Tip # 5: Recreate the womb
In the 4th trimester, your newborn’s needs and overall regulation are completely dependent on their caregiver. Their bodies need your body to regulate. So what do you do when you have met all of their physical needs and they are still fussy or even inconsolable? The best way to get them regulated in this situation is to recreate the feeling of being in the womb.
Here are some strategies I recommend
The 5 S’s: Dr. Harvey Karp’s, 5 S’s: Swaddle, Side/Stomach Position, Shush, Swing/Sway, and Suck. Getting them wrapped up tight and secure in a swaddle, holding them so they are positioned either on their side or stomach and making a shushing sound while you swing them or sway back and forth, allows them to feel like they are safe and secure back in the womb. Sucking is a baby’s natural way of soothing themselves, so give them a breast, pacifier, or clean finger to suck on and let nature do its part.
Water: Baby’s spend their first 9 months floating around in the womb so putting a newborn safely in the water, like in a bath, to mimic the womb environment can calm them. You can swaddle a newborn and then, using a handheld faucet, run warm water over the top portion of their head, or place them in a baby bath and run the water over their body. You can hold them behind their head and neck and let them float in a sink full of warm water. If your infant cries in the bath make sure their ears are either fully out of the water or fully in the water and that they aren’t cold. You can also take them into the shower or bath with you and then run warm water over their body. Getting them in and near water mimics both the physical sensations and the sounds of being in the womb.
Move around: Wearing your baby in a wrap or carrier, taking them for a ride in the stroller or car, or putting them in a baby swing are great ways to mimic the motion from the womb. Using a white noise machine can help to mimic the sounds of the womb in any of these situations.
Regardless of the methods you use, one of the most important tools for calming a fussy baby is remembering to put on your own oxygen mask before theirs. You can’t regulate your newborn, if you aren’t calm, so take some deep breaths, place them in a safe place and step away for a few seconds, etc… Whatever it is, do what you need to do to find your calm and then help them find theirs.
Tip # 6: Trust your gut
Out of all of my tips, this may be the most important. Regardless of how much experience you have had with babies before your own, you are better equipped to meet this challenge than you think. Nature and biology were helping parents nurture their babies long before we had parenting books and blogs. It is built into our DNA to keep our babies alive. So many of the parents I have worked with feel like they don’t know what they are doing, and most of the time their gut is telling them exactly what to do, they are just afraid to trust it. Listen to that instinct. No one knows your baby better than you do. There isn’t a better parent out there for your child than you.
Those first 12 weeks can be exciting, overwhelming, and exhausting, but are also full of so much love. The days can feel never-ending and at the same time will be over in a blink of an eye. Remember to take deep breaths, do what you need to do to take care of yourself and your new baby, soak it all in, and be kind to yourself. You’re doing great and no one can love and care for your baby better than you.
Randi Johnson has worked with children and families for over 20 years as a parent/child educator, a professional nanny, and a trained Advance Newborn Care Specialist. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Child Development with an emphasis in young children and families from San Francisco State University.
Randi is passionate about supporting families during the 4th Trimester and beyond. She really values building a strong connection with families and becoming a trusted, reliable source of information and support. Her desire to support families through their transition into parenthood, helping them to gain the confidence they need to trust and listen to their intuition, motivated her to pursue her education as a Certified Lactation Educator and Postpartum Doula. That same desire is why she offers 24 hours on-call phone support to her families. She offers Postpartum support as well as ongoing future support.
She founded Crib Notes Consulting to partner with families to provide customized strategies for navigating all the ages and stages, offering hands-on, personalized support tailored to the needs of each family, including phone consultations, hands-on in-person education, and support, as well as 24 hours on-call phone support. She believes every family, parent, and child is unique and what works for each of them is different. She works to inform parents, provide them with options, and help them choose and implement what works best for them.