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The Fourth Trimester: How does Responsive Breastfeeding fit in?



The first 3 months of our babies’ lives represents a time of significant adjustment and development. In recent years, this period beginning immediately after birth, has been named ‘the fourth trimester’.


The ease with which our babies adjust to life outside the womb is dependent largely on our ability as parents to empathise and to provide care in a way that recognises, and is responsive to, their evolving needs.


'Empathy is defined as the intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts or experiences of another’.

To truly identify with our new-borns, we need to appreciate the disparity between the two ‘worlds’ our babies have lived in. The womb is a warm, confined, constantly moving and loud environment in which the baby is in perpetual contact with its mother and in continuous receipt of nutrition. However, Western society’s parenting norms expose new babies to an entirely different situation. We expect them to be able to adapt quickly to the quiet and still isolation of a cot and to manage new sensations of space and fluctuating temperatures. We expect them to feed according to a pre-determined schedule and to manage new feelings of hunger and thirst. With these expectations in mind, is it any wonder that many babies are ‘unsettled’ during these early weeks and months?


These concepts inspired American paediatrician, Dr Harvey Karp to purport the theory that the more we mimic the womb environment during the ‘fourth trimester’, the happier our new-borns will be. Responsive breastfeeding is the perfect fit!


Crucially, a responsive feeding approach recognises that the benefits of breastfeeding are not limited to the provision of balanced nutrition but extend to the provision of comfort and security and the development of a close, loving parent-infant relationship during this difficult transitional period in our babies’ lives. If we can respond quickly to our babies’ feeding cues and avoid restricting their access to the breast, they will experience increased periods of close parent contact and reduced episodes of hunger, thirst and isolation. Crying, which is an instinctive survival behaviour, will be reduced when our babies’ needs are met in this way. Research has shown that when our babies cry less, we tend to enjoy parenting more and to breastfeed for longer.


If you would like to learn more about the fourth trimester and how to breastfeed responsively, please join us for one of our antenatal classes.

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