The Fourth Trimester: Adjusting to Life Outside the Womb


You’ve heard all about the 3 trimesters of pregnancy but what about the 12-week period right after childbirth when you, Dad, and your baby are adjusting to life as you now know it? 

Your baby doesn’t magically transform into a different life form at the moment of birth—he is the same person he was just a minute before. So, the first three months are like a fourth trimester, and should be treated as gentle entry into this world—with respect and loving care.
— Elizabeth Pantley, The No-Cry Nap Solution

It’s called the “fourth trimester” and every new family goes through it. 

For babies, being launched out of the womb and into the world is quite a shock. One minute they’re in your warm, dark, cozy womb—literally attached to you—and the next, they’re on their back, clothed, in open air with bright lights and exposed to a constant stream of new sensations.

For moms and dads, it can be equally shocking. Your formerly predictable, calm, home environment is now upside down while you wrap your brain around how to manage the perpetual cycle of feeding, changing, burping, and soothing. On top of that, you’re body is healing, your hormones are fluctuating, your marriage is adapting, and you’ve never been so tired in your life. A shocker, indeed!

So, how best to manage this transitional trimester? Adopting a flexible, patient, no-pressure approach can minimize stress and make for a smoother transition into your new life—your new normal.   

Re-Create Life Inside the Womb

For nine months, your baby adapted to a womb environment, so the easiest way to help her feel comfy is to recreate the vibe.

  • The go-to in this department is Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block, which outlines 5 simple steps to mimic the womb and soothe your baby. Check out his book and website for video instructions.
  • In the womb, babies get used to being in motion, so look into a swing or bouncer that moves front to back and side to side to match your movements when pregnant. Try using a baby sling/carrier so your little one feels snuggled-up secure and you can move about.
  • Bust out the white noise machine or app. Babies spend months listening to your every body sound and it’s crazy loud in there. Constant shushing or heartbeat sounds help soothe them to sleep. There are lots of inexpensive white noise machines and white noise phone apps are great for home and when you’re on the go.
I don’t know if this is common or was just with us, but the baby smells you and when you go to set him down he will scream his head off. They call it the fourth trimester because they want to smell you and be with you.
— Veteran Mom

Let Go of Unrealistic Expectations

Placing unrealistic expectations on your baby, yourself and your spouse is setting yourself up for undue stress. With any human you meet, it takes time to get to know them—same with your baby. She may have come from your body, but that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically know what she needs. Be patient, as your whole family is learning the lay of the land together.

Follow Your Baby’s Lead

If you’re a really organized, scheduled kind of person, learning to go with the flow and follow your baby’s lead will take some getting used to, but it will pay off. Remember, babies don’t have their circadian rhythm in place for a couple of months, so expecting them to know night from day and sleep on a schedule leads to a load of fourth trimester frustration. Your baby will sleep and feed in a variety of spurts, depending on the day and their personality. No two babies are alike, and they’re all changing as they grow, so don’t compare your baby’s patterns to someone else’s. 

Also, at this early stage, avoid insisting on set schedules. Instead, opt for slowly building routines like an evening bath, dim lights and a lullaby as a way to help your baby build sleep cues. Babies love the familiarity of routines.


To start out on the right foot, set an intention to work as a team with your spouse. How you parent together will set the tone for your home environment and your future. Communicate with Dad about your feelings and needs, so he knows how best to support you, and trust that he is capable of caring for the baby, so you can take time for much needed rest and breaks. Stay on the alert for when “gatekeeping” starts to sabotage your ability to lean on him. Working as a team is key to creating a solid family foundation.  

The best thing for me personally was thinking of it as the fourth trimester and how much the baby is going through, being in open air, feeling hungry and all that. It helped me to not get as frustrated.
— Veteran Mom

Connect with Others

The Fourth Trimester can feel isolating when you’re deep in round-the-clock baby care, and it’s easy to get so cocooned in your house you don’t remember when you last got out. Counteract isolation by getting fresh air, going for walks, and keeping in touch with friends. Connecting with other new moms is a great source of support, and there are lots of ways to make new mom connections

Don’t fear 'Bad Habits'

Taking steps to help your baby settle into life outside the womb are always positive. In these early weeks, don’t worry that you’re creating bad habits your child won’t ever break; they change quickly and so do their needs. If you’re wearing or holding your baby all the time, or she’s sleeping on your chest, or using a pacifier—GREAT! Whatever it takes to be comfortable and get you both through the day. The goal is to go through this adjustment period as comfortably as possible. Do what you and your partner think is best for your baby and your family, and don’t worry what other people do or think. You have your own unique baby and situation, and if you’re feeling calm and gaining in confidence, your baby will too.