The Fourth Trimester for Dad

The day your child is born is one that you will remember forever.  It is the moment that a pregnancy becomes YOUR baby.  You get to hold, cuddle, rock, and snuggle the tiny human that you helped create.  While there is no handbook that comes with your newborn, there is something that every new father should learn about: The Fourth Trimester.

The fourth trimester is the first 3-4 months after a baby is born.  A time when she is transitioning from the womb to the world.  Everything is new and scary, but can be made calm and safe if handled well.  While the fourth trimester is more notably recognized as the mother’s time to transition her baby, there is a huge place for the father or partner as well.

Overview of the Fourth Trimester

The first three to four months of your child’s life will bring with them many emotions; some emotions you never knew you had in you.  It will also bring about a period of adjustment for everyone, including you.  To help your baby smoothly transition to the world, she needs to be in contact with her mother for as much of the day as possible.  Hearing her mother’s heart beating, feeling her touch, smelling her, and hearing her voice while being held close promotes a healthy sense of security and calmness.  There are several key elements to practice during the fourth trimester:

  • Breastfeeding on Demand (Or Feeding on Demand)
  • Movement
  • Skin to Skin
  • Babywearing
  • Being within Arms-Reach for Sleeping
  • Warm Baths
  • White Noise

Don’t worry, you can help accomplish all of these.

How Dad Can Help

You are perfectly capable of doing everything on the above mentioned list (minus breastfeeding).  The problem comes when you are not sure how to help and think you cannot do what mom can – so why try?

It is very true that your baby needs to be near her mother, but she also needs YOU.  And your spouse needs a break.  She is healing from birth – and she deserves to pee alone whenever possible.  The key to the fourth trimester is to mimic the womb in every way possible.  You may not smell like your partner, but your scent will become familiar quite quickly to your baby.  So let’s break down how you can help:

Breastfeeding – You need to be supportive.  Keep mom hydrated, help her with positions, cheer her on and celebrate feeding milestones. Encourage her to bring a lactation consultant in if one is needed, and do not ask her to pump or supplement so you can feed the baby.  You can offer to burp, change, and rock baby once she has been fed.

Movement – Learn to correctly swaddle your baby and then walk, bounce, or use the baby swing for constant subtle motion that may mimic a mother standing and moving throughout her days of pregnancy.

Skin to Skin – Help regulate your baby’s body temperature, create a calm environment, and aid in her feeling completely safe in your presence by placing her bare body on your bare chest.  Your body temperature, scent, and heart beat will all help her transition smoothly to the world.

Babywearing – There is NOTHING HOTTER than a babywearing dad.  Now that that’s out of the way…  safely babywearing allows you to multi-task while providing the most ‘womb-like’ environment for your baby!  Make sure you learn to wear your baby correctly.  

Sleeping – Your heart will feel as though it is outside of your body, and your protective nature may jump in and you should not fight it.  Keeping your baby close at night has been proven to be the absolute safest option.  

Warm Baths – Bath time is a great opportunity for you to take the lead.  

White Noise – Keep a soft background noise going.  A baby spent her time in the womb hearing a constant muffle of noises.

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety for Dads

It is not uncommon for fathers to feel anxious, overwhelmed and stressed out about taking care of and providing for a newborn.  No one seems to talk about the possibility of a new dad suffering from a mood disorder.  

While your hormones are not trying to rebalance like a mother’s are after birth, you are still experiencing the life-altering emotions and fears, such as:

  • Stress of caring for the newborn
  • Stress of taking care of and providing emotional support to the postpartum mother
  • Realization and anxiety about the increased responsibility
  • Financial pressure
  • Stress of increased childcare responsibilities of the other children
  • Past abuse or neglect in your history
  • Conflicted relationship with your parents
  • Low Self-confidence
  • Medical complications in mother or baby
  • Marital discord
  • Colicky or hard-to-care-for baby

For information about working through PPD, please visit http://www.postpartumdads.org/ and talk to your medical care provider.