During pregnancy, we know that there are three trimesters. These are regularly mentioned in parenting books and guides. However, a fourth trimester also exists and can often be the hardest on new moms and their babies.
Becoming a parent for the first time is a transformative experience. While there are plenty of magical and rewarding moments with your newborn, there will also be stressful periods – especially in the early days. Below, we’re going to discuss the importance of the fourth and final trimester and why there needs to be more conversation around it.
The Fourth Trimester: Why We Need to be Talking About It
Throughout your pregnancy, you’ve known exactly what to expect. The pregnancy and baby books that you read made you aware of what symptoms you may feel or how your baby is developing in the womb. Not to mention how comforting the regular doctor visits and check-ups were during each trimester. Perhaps you even had a detailed birthing plan that you worked on with your midwife which you memorized.
Parents can easily prepare themselves for the various stages of pregnancy, right up until the moment of birth. Yet, what happens after all of this? Once you have given birth to your child and they’re finally here in the world with you, do you know what you can expect next?
While we are given a lot of information on the three trimesters of pregnancy, there is a fourth trimester that happens after the baby is born which is equally important. Yet, this trimester isn’t talked about as much as it should be.
No, it doesn’t refer to nesting or making sure that you have all the latest baby products. Instead, it refers to both the rewarding and difficult moments that both baby and parents can experience in the first few weeks of parenthood.
What is the 4th Trimester?
The fourth trimester (aka, the 4th trimester) was coined by Dr. Harvey Karp, author of the book “The Happiest Baby on the Block”. It refers to the period of time after birth to approximately 12 weeks postpartum. These three months act as a transition period for both parents and baby. While extremely rewarding, it takes a physical and emotional toll on everyone.
According to Dr. Karp, he believes that babies would rather stay inside the womb for longer. While humans famously have a gestation period of nine months, babies aren’t quite ready to leave the comfort of their mother’s womb when they are born. During this time, your baby will go through enormous physical and emotional changes as they adjust to life outside the womb.
The same applies to parents. As a first-time mother and father, you now have a brand new person that you need to care for and nurture. In a split second, your life has completely changed. This in itself brings a lot of stress and difficult emotions – all of which can’t be fully prepared for.
Examining Postpartum Life: What to Expect
As part of the conversation around what to expect during the fourth trimester, you need to examine both the baby’s and the parent’s perspectives. Oftentimes, we mistakenly put all the focus on the needs of the baby. Yet, planning for postpartum life needs to cater to the needs of a parent too.
Below, we’ll take a deeper look at what parents can expect during the fourth trimester.
For Your Baby
The reason why the first 12 weeks of a baby’s life can be trying is that they miss the comfort of the womb. For nine months, your baby was developing in a safe and comfortable environment. This is all they had known until the moment of birth.
While you will need to attend to their daily needs such as feeding, burping, and changing diapers what babies want most is skin-to-skin contact. There is a reason why many health care professionals advise parents to do skin-to-skin contact with their child. This practice is known for calming and relaxing a baby. It can also regulate their breathing and heart rate.
As the 4th trimester can be a stressful time for your baby too, cuddling with them like this will help them adjust better to live on the other side of the womb.
Unfortunately, a parent’s needs during the fourth trimester aren’t as straightforward as having a warm meal and relaxing cuddle. There will be physical and emotional hurdles that you must both overcome.
From a physical perspective, the mother will be recovering from the act of childbirth itself for the first 6 to 8 weeks. Regardless of whether you have a C-section or vaginal delivery, the physical discomfort can be unexpected and feel overwhelming. During this time, it is important to give your body the time that it needs to fully recover. After all, it did just bring another human into the world.
Additionally, both parents will inevitably be dealing with sleep deprivation which can bring physical side effects of its own. Suffering from lack of sleep can also lead to increased tensions and mood swings – make sure to remember that you’re both a team and are navigating a new experience together.
Another reason why the 4th trimester isn’t discussed as much as it should be is that this is the time period where women can experience the “baby blues”, mombrain, or postpartum depression. In fact, 15% of births result in postpartum depression. This can lead to severe mood swings and a sense of hopelessness due to the hormonal changes that are happening in the body.
Top Coping Tips All Parents Should Know
It’s not always possible to fully prepare yourself for the 4th trimester (especially mentally) but there are easy things that you can do in the lead-up and after birth to help you cope better.
1. Create a postpartum plan:
Although you won’t be able to anticipate all of your needs or your baby’s needs in advance, creating a postpartum plan can help you to prepare for any challenges you may face. For example, you can research what to do in various situations and take notes on what support you may need.
2. Buy what you’ll need in advance:
While ensuring that your baby has enough diapers and the baby grows is one thing, don’t forget about yourself either. Buy things ahead of time that you know that you’ll appreciate during the fourth trimester. Whether that is a new pair of comfy lounge pants, your favorite face cream, or even a big box of chocolates. You deserve to get treated too.
3. Sleep, sleep, sleep:
You and your partner will be very tired during the first 12 weeks with your newborn. That’s why you need to make sleep a priority. Nap as much as you can and have a discussion with your partner when you need help with night feeds. When they say “sleep when your baby sleeps”, they aren’t lying.
4. Make your self-care a priority:
We all see pictures of new moms on tv with greasy hair, no make-up and wearing t-shirts covered in spit-up. But, being a new mom doesn’t mean that you have to put your self-care on hold. Make sure that you put time aside to focus on things you like to do: taking a bath, reading a book, watching your favorite show, etc.
5. Remember to self-praise:
As new parents, we can often be very hard on ourselves during the fourth trimester especially if we can’t seem to settle our babies straight away. Remember that this is a learning experience for you too. Give yourself plenty of self-praise and focus on one thing every day that you’re proud of yourself for.
6. Allow your body to heal:
Bouncing back after pregnancy is something of a myth. You don’t have to drop the postpartum weight straight away or be back in the gym a few days after giving birth. Be kind to your body and give it the time it needs to heal fully, no matter how long that is.
7. Communicate your needs:
This 12-week period is the time to vocalize your needs. Make sure that you communicate whether you need help with cleaning the house or if you’d like to sign up for a meal delivery service so that you can focus fully on taking care of yourself and your baby.
8. Ask for help:
With a new baby around, many of your friends and family members will be more than willing to give a helping hand. Don’t be afraid to admit that you can’t do it all by yourself. When a visitor calls over, give them a task to do rather than feeling like you have to play host.
9. Speak to other new parents:
Becoming a new parent is a wonderful feeling but it can also feel lonely at times. By joining parent and baby groups in your local area or on Facebook, you can meet with other parents that are going through or have gone through similar experiences.
10. Remember it’s normal to not feel normal:
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not jumping for joy every second of the day. The “baby blues” combined with sleep deprivation leads to a storm of emotions. If you are feeling weepy, allow yourself to feel that.
If you forgot to put on another load of laundry, give yourself a little break. It’s normal to feel emotional and a little “off your game” after childbirth. However, if you believe that you may be suffering from postpartum depression, please go and speak to your doctor.
How Vivvi Can Help Parents and Their Newborns
Here at Vivvi, we understand that the fourth trimester can be a little bit of a roller coaster for new parents. At our early learning centers in New York, we accept children as young as 6 weeks into our inquiry-based learning program. Our early childhood educators will look after your baby’s primary needs while also supporting them to reach those all important baby development milestones.
Available both on-site or in-home, the Vivvi team can support you where you are. Regardless of whether you need child care support as your partner returns to work or you’d like a self-care afternoon. For more information on how our team can support you during the fourth trimester, get in touch with us today.