what is the 4th trimester? The Montessori baby series

Our babies are born too early. Compared to all other mammal’s babies,  the human being new-born is very immature and fragile.

Human babies are also the ones who take the longest to mature to functional independence. According to Maria Montessori - and more recent studies have confirmed this - we only become adults at around 24.

Compared with other animals that can get up and walk from birth, your new-born relies totally on you for care, attention, and love.

After having spent 9 months in the womb, your baby will need another 9 months to begin to crawl and go any distance away from you.

Therefore, we can say that the first 9 months are an external pregnancy, or “exterogestation” (Understanding the human being, Silvana Quattracchi Montanaro, M.D., Nienhuis Montessori, p21 – sixth edition 2007).

Modern parenting experts talk about this as the 4th trimester. The first 3 months after birth are of great important. It's a time when the baby needs to be close.

There is an evolutionary reason why our babies are born so immature.

Due to the size of the human brain, a pregnancy can’t be much longer than 9 months. The baby’s head need to go through the pelvis.

Babies remain helpless for many years, which allows us to nurture them, not only physically but socially and emotionally.

This necessary caring relationship between baby and caregiver is what has made us so advanced in term of brain’s development.

“Only humans are capable of walking on two feet and articulating a language. These two characteristic abilities are acquired only by experiencing them directly” (Understanding the human being, Silvana Quattracchi Montanaro, M.D., Nienhuis Montessori, p22 – sixth edition 2007)

During this period of helplessness, your baby has some specific needs as he learns to adjust to the external world.

Let’s consider the first 3 months of life, described by modern parenting experts as the 4th trimester. It was called the symbiotic period by Montessori.

Symbiosis means a life together, where both parties need each other to survive. In the case of the mother and her newborn, this symbiotic life lasts for up to 8 weeks.

The mother feeds the baby.

By suckling at the breast, the baby helps the mother’s uterus to contract and shrink back to its normal size and position. The newborn baby recognises his mother’s smell, and the mother can identify her baby by smell too during the first days after the birth. This promotes attachment. This is why giving a bath straight after birth is not “necessary and recommended” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7349450/)

In many cultures, there is a ritualized postpartum period that lasts 6 to 8 weeks.


During that post-natal period, the mother is taken care of. Her only duty is to feed and hold her baby. She receives a lot of support and follows a specific diet to regain her strength. (Dennis, Cindy-Lee, Kenneth Fung, Sophie Grigoriadis, Gail Erlick Robinson, Sarah Romans, and Lori Ross. “Traditional postpartum practices and Rituals: a qualitative systematic review.” Women’s Health 3 (2007): 487–502)

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What can you do during that symbiotic period:


For the mother:

  • Enjoy your rest. As a new mother, you may feel that you must be active and come back to a social or working life as soon as possible. But there is no need. Feel free to enjoy those first weeks at home with your baby. Keep your outing simple and short.
  • Prepare yourself for that period of rest. I encourage you to prepare some meals for the first weeks. Ask your partner to help with meals, shopping and house cleaning for the first weeks. If you can afford it, it is the perfect time to hire a cleaner or to subscribe to a recipe box.
  • Ask for support. You will have guests coming to visit the baby, but what you really need is relatives who will take care of you, your older children and your house while you rest.
  • Eat healthy. Stockpile on healthy snacks of your choice.
  • Sleep when the baby sleeps. Cleaning the house can wait, recovering is vital. Enjoy as many naps as you can!

For the baby:

Maria Montessori said in the Absorbent mind, p98 : “the child must remain as much as possible in contact with his mother. There must be not too much contrast, as regards to warmth light, noise, with his conditions before birth, where, in his mother’s womb, there was perfect silence, darkness and an even temperature”.

Note that we do now know that the foetus hears muffled sounds. He can recognize her mother heartbeat and the voice of a close caregiver.

We now talk of points of reference, special memories related to what was happening during the pregnancy. For example, the baby recognizes her mother voice and heartbeat. And the baby can also remember what he was doing in the womb, such as sucking his thumb, touching his face and bending his limbs into a foetal position. 

As the womb is a very muted environment, prepare a space for the baby that will allow an easy transition.



You may want to:

  • Have a dim light
  • Listen to a soft white noise
  • Carry and rock the baby to replicate the constant movements he experienced in the womb
  • Some babies enjoy a bath in a specific bathtub in which the baby adopts a foetal position
  • Skin to skin contact will promote a healthy attachment and reassure your baby with your smell and warmth
  • Feed the baby on demand. He is not used to hunger and thirst
  • Respect your child’s biological rhythms. There is no need for a strict schedule.

Also, remember that your baby is born active.

In the prenatal life, the foetus is always active: he moves around, swallow the amniotic liquid, hears sounds, moves his limbs, touches his face... These are very slow movements, yet the infant is active.

Your baby’s environment



Your child has to adjust to new stimuli and take it all in. There is no need for bright toys and entertainment, the world itself is brand new and exciting!

How you can help your child to understand the outside world:

  • Give him a sense of order and routine. Determine where the child will be fed, changed, and where he will sleep. As you repeat those activities in the same order and in the same place, your baby starts to develop new points of reference.
  • Give your baby space for unhindered vision and movement. As the new-born is very attentive and capable of concentration, a cot surrounded by rails or a crib with hood is inappropriate. Offer your child a space from where he can have a good view of his surroundings.  
  • Dress your child in comfortable clothes that allow movements. Even if your baby is not crawling yet, he will move his limbs and will need to feel comfortable in his clothes. Cute outfits are not suitable for babies.
  • Your baby is very attuned to his 5 senses from the start. First he will develop his vision and his grasping skills. He is also very stimulated during the feeding session as he can smell you and feel your warmth.

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I hope you have found this article helpful. Please, share with expectant parents!

About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.

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