For our entire pregnancy the finish line in sight is the birth of our babies. We hurdle towards the end of third trimesters and think AH HA! We’ve made it. But we soon realize that we’ve merely arrived at our fourth trimester. A strange period of time where you are simultaneously recovering from pregnancy and the delivery of your baby, while also trying to stay afloat as you learn the ropes of motherhood.
What is the fourth trimester?
Technically defined as the first 12 weeks after birth, the fourth trimester was termed by Dr. Harvey Karp who theorised that babies are born about 3 months too early. If we let our tiny humans cook for much longer on the inside, it would be somewhat impossible for their heads to squeeze on down the birth canal. Alas, they are born at around 40 weeks, but still take around 3 months to adjust to the outside world and the rapid development that their babies are undertaking. But, this fourth trimester is not just a developmental shift for our little ones, there’s a lot of readjusting to undertake from a mum's perspective too.
What can you expect during the fourth trimester?
After going through 9 long months of pregnancy and the birth of our babies, our bodies are now in recovery mode. To start with, your hormones are in flux, riding on a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Your organs need time to adjust and shift back to their former positions AND to top it off, you’re now gearing up to keep a human alive with your very own milk (how amazing are women’s bodies?!).
While all of this is occurring, you’ll still be experiencing postpartum bleeding and dealing with the discomfort of a healing perineal or C-section scar. We do all of this, while functioning on less sleep than most of us have ever dealt with before.
From a mum that has been through this fourth trimester, believe me when I say that this foggy, whirlwind period really doesn’t last forever. The discomfort and challenges are soon replaced by unwavering confidence and an abundance of love and lasting memories of raising a human. It’s not to say that these initial days and weeks can take a toll, so here’s a few things you can implement to make coping with the fourth trimester a little more bearable.
4 Tips for coping with the fourth trimester
1. Ask for help
Don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself. Let you partner, family and close friends support you wherever and however works for you. If you decide to breastfeed, this might look like your partner putting your little one down for the evening while you take a shower and relax for an hour or so before the first night feed. It might even look like your mum or sister coming over and prepping a few meals for you, or hanging out the washing. Don’t be afraid to lean on those closest to you during these times.
2. Connect with your healthcare practitioners if and when needed
Just because you’ve now finished being pregnant and have delivered your baby, doesn’t mean that the support from your healthcare practitioners should end. Checking in with your providers and talking about how you feel is really important. It’s also a great time to get a postpartum blood test to check your levels and supplement with anything required to ensure you are still nurturing your body
3. Take it one day at a time
The first few days and weeks can feel a little overwhelming when you are in the thick of it. Taking it one day at a time can allow you to feel more present and like the current challenges in front of you are more bearable. Babies change and adapt so quickly before our eyes that what might seem like a hurdle this week resolves itself by the next.
4. Find your support network
Having a mum tribe to lean on, talk to and ask advice from was one of the best things I did during my fourth trimester. Instead of turning to Dr Google and freaking myself out with any question I may had, talking it through with my other mum friends gave me the reassurance and confidence I needed as a new mum. Getting out of the house, going for a walk together, taking a moment for a coffee, all of these small things are so important for your own well being and feeling like you are still YOU as well as a mother.