Remember how there are only three trimesters in pregnancy? You may think that once pregnancy is over, all the symptoms and hormones that you felt during those trimesters are over too. Unfortunately that's not always the case. Let me introduce you to the often ignored and unspoken trimester: the fourth trimester. Though there is joy in welcoming a new baby, it can be surprising how disoriented and overwhelmed you may feel as well. So here is what you can expect and how to cope with the fourth trimester, which we hope will help you feel better prepared.
What is the Fourth Trimester?
The fourth trimester is the first 12 weeks after you have had a baby. During this time your life, body, and mind have gone through an immense amount of change, and baby has as well.
You are learning to adjust to this new life of being a parent, how to care for your new baby, and how to still take care of yourself. You're on a new adjustment, whether you've just had your first or this is your third. Having a baby changes your old routine. It can definitely feel overwhelming as you deal with postpartum hair loss, your postpartum body, sleepless nights, a gassy baby, breastfeeding struggles, and so much more. In the same way that pregnancy is discussed and taken very seriously, so should the 4th trimester.
What Happens to Mom in the 4th Trimester?
Changes in Your Body
You've been carrying your baby in your tummy for 9 months (or so) and your body has changed so much! You may have some stretch marks or some stretched out skin around the tummy area. Don't worry, you're not alone in wishing you could fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans! But give yourself a break, Mama. Your body has changed in such a beautiful way, and you will rock a pair of jeans again before you know it--whether they're the pair you used to wear, or a pair in a new size! Remember to be patient with your body, and accept that it has to undergo some changes to bring so much new love into your life.
Pain or Discomfort
There's also pain. You may have stitches from tearing or an episiotomy; you may have sore nipples from breastfeeding. Personally, my back didn't feel the same in the months after having a baby. So go easy on your body, just like when you were pregnant. Listen to your body, and take steps, even small ones, to help your body recover, like short walks or an Epsom salt bath.
Changes in Your Brain
In the fourth trimester, your mind undergoes changes as well thanks to the hormones fluctuating in your body as well as the new, often stressful, situations that come with a newborn. Your brand new baby can't talk right now, so when they are crying it can be stressful figuring out what is wrong with them. Do they have colic? Are they hungry? Are they hurting? Your baby may have their nights and days confused so you aren't getting enough sleep. The increased amount of stress combined with physical exhaustion can greatly impact your mind--your reactions, your ability to cope, your memory, and your emotions.
Postpartum depression and/or anxiety can make you feel overwhelmed or lonely. Know that there are other moms going through the same things as you are and that how you're feeling with all of the emotions does not make you bad or alone! Take time to care for yourself. Talk to another mom, spouse, or your doctor or therapist to help you cope!
What Happens to Baby in the 4th Trimester?
Adapting to a New Environment
You baby spent 9 months in a cozy, warm space and now has entered the outside world, which is very new to them. Their tiny bodies were a confined tightly and now they aren't. Babies love to feel snuggled. That's why swaddling, swaying, and giving them plenty of skin-to-skin time will help them still feel snuggled, and will also help them adapt to the world outside the womb. Warm baths can not only relax your baby but also mimics how they felt in the womb.
Learning a New Schedule
Often, babies get days and nights confused during the first few months of life and want to be fed (what seems like) all the time. Take heart, Mom. It is normal for them to have some irregular feeding or sleeping patterns, but trust that they will eventually figure it out as you work on creating routines for them.
Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the 4th Trimester
Here are some more ideas to help you prepare, recover faster, and love yourself during the Fourth Trimester:
Give yourself LOTS of GRACE
Let people help you: From cleaning the house, preparing a meal, or holding a baby so you can get some needed time to yourself, let people help you. And don't be afraid to ask. Don't feel like a nuisance--people are more than willing to help you if they know you need it. A little bit of help can make a huge difference to your mental and physical well-being.
Schedule time for yourself: Whether that's taking a shower, reading a book, going into the store by yourself, hanging out with friends, or getting your nails done, do anything that makes you feel like yourself and gives you some breathing room to recover and relax.
Relax your mind: There's so much to do when caring for your new baby; the worry or stress you may feel during the day can sometimes not go away even after the baby is asleep. Relax your mind. Through affirmations, meditation, or conversation, remind yourself that your baby is healthy, loved, and safe. Know that you can get through this, that tomorrow is a new day, and that you're not alone.
Find a group of moms: Try to find a support group of other mom who have babies around the same age as yours. You can search for groups on social media, through your church or community center, or even through many pregnancy apps. These groups can help you with questions you may be having about your postpartum life or caring for your baby, and help you feel connected. You may even make some lifelong friendships.
Eat nutritious food: Your body is going through a lot of change that requires a ton of energy. By consuming healthy food, your body will start to regain the strength and energy it once had, it will heal quicker, and it will help your mind feel better too.
I hope this has given you some insight into the fourth trimester. In the same way you adjust expectations of yourself while you are pregnant, you should do the same in the months after giving birth. Your mind and body do not go immediately back to the way they were before pregnancy after your baby is delivered. You will need to allow things to be different during the fourth trimester just like they were in the other three. I find it's always helpful knowing what to expect, and I wish I would've known about this when I had my first child.
Know that you're never alone, and there will be moms out there who have gone through the same things you are going through. Know that there are other moms out there who are awake at 2 am.
Know that this is not only a learning experience for you but also for your baby. Give them all the snuggles they want and give them plenty of love. This is but a short time in both of your lives and it will soon pass. Give yourself grace, and love the new you and your new baby!
You've got this, Mama!