The Fourth Trimester

The Fourth Trimester

Have you ever heard of the term “the fourth trimester”? Not everyone has heard this term, nor do they know what it means. During pregnancy, people often talk about the three trimesters of pregnancy. However, we hear very little, or nothing, about the fourth trimester. What we do know is that the fourth trimester is also a critical time period for women and their baby’s. 

from: The Bump

What is the fourth trimester?

So, what exactly is the fourth trimester? Well, it's 12 weeks, or 3 months, after giving birth. Many healthcare professionals believe that the mother and the baby go through huge changes in this very short period of time. This is also a time when your baby is adapting to life outside the womb. 

According to pediatrician Harvey Karp, full-term babies are born too early. He encourages parents to think of their babies as a fetus outside of the womb for the first 3 months of their life. In addition, mothers are also going through big changes too, including: hormones, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, postpartum healing, and in some cases postpartum depression. 

from: Cleveland Clinic

Why is the fourth trimester important?

For your baby, their nervous system and brain are not completely developed. As well as senses needing more time to mature, and beginning the foundation for physical and muscular growth. 

For mothers, once they’ve given birth, their care is often overlooked. During pregnancy women take vitamins, as well as having many prenatal care visits. The close attention given to the mother, generally moves to the well being of the newborn. Mother’s are encouraged for one postpartum visit 6-8 weeks after giving birth. Many women are still dealing with substantial physical, social, and emotional changes. This is why it is important to stay vigilant during the fourth trimester.

from: Baby Centre UK

What can I do to help my baby during the fourth trimester?

Your baby spent the last 9 months cocooned in a very small space, constantly being rocked. Something to help your baby adjust is swaddling, this can help give them a sense of safety and security. Sway, or rock, often with your baby. Moving is a great way to calm a baby. Whether you do this while holding, wearing , or a ride in the car - gently moving your baby is a great way to help soothe them. 

Skin-to-skin is another great way to connect with your baby and soothe them. Doing this, not only when they are just born, but long after is a comforting activity for your baby. This gives you and your baby a chance to connect and bond. Your baby finds comfort in your familiar smell and your heartbeat. 

When your baby is hungry, feed them, don’t wait for a schedule this early on. This is the same whether you bottle-feed or breastfeed. Feeding your baby can also be a great bonding experience and can also include some skin-to-skin time.

Another relaxing activity for your baby is a warm bath. Surrounded by water can remind them of the womb while  helping them calm and relax. You can even try a towel bath, when your baby is in the fourth trimester. This is when you lightly swaddle your baby in a light blanket or towel so they can stay warm while you gently clean them. 

from: Baby Chick

What can I do to help myself during the fourth trimester?

The fourth trimester for a mother, and many times the whole family, can feel overwhelming and chaotic. Remember, it’s okay to feel what you are feeling. You are not alone. Many times mom’s begin to overlook their own health and wellbeing while taking care of a new baby. Remember, you can’t take care of your baby if you do not take care of yourself. 

Many mothers feel all different emotions during this period. Some love the first three months after giving birth, while others find it difficult to deal with. Still others feel a mixture of both. This is normal. Everyone experiences the fourth trimester differently, which is why it is important to take care. This may look different for different people. 

Ask for help! Whether you have a partner, family, chosen family, or friends - ask them for help. You may thrive on having a small close-knit community to rely on. While others enjoy a large group of people to help. Either way, ask your support system for help. This could be anything from meals, help with chores around the house, watching older children, or holding your baby to give you respite. 

Eat, and eat healthy and nutritious food. Whether you breastfeed or not, you’re going to need a lot of energy to get through the fourth trimester and beyond. Take care of your body by eating a variety of healthy foods. 

Sleep when you can. That may mean you take a midday nap because you were up at night with the baby. Those household chores can wait, but your body needs to rest. 

Don’t be afraid to call the doctor for yourself or your baby. Many pediatricians have a nurse line, where you can call and ask the nurse questions. If you feel you are still feeling down, or depressed, see your doctor. Postpartum depression affects many women, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Don’t forget that mother’s need care just as a baby does. Take care of yourself, and when you can’t ask for help. It’s okay, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, to set your baby down and walk to the other room. These feelings are not your fault and are completely treatable.