Newborn

The Fourth Trimester: What Every New Mum Needs to Know

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As you prepare for your little one’s arrival, you buy all the baby essentials, read all the prenatal books, and attend the myriad of doctor appointments to ensure everything is going well.

Once your baby arrives, however, you may feel overwhelmed by the physical and emotional challenges of having a newborn.

While many mums prepare for their baby’s arrival and learn all about the three trimesters during pregnancy, not many parents are aware of the fourth trimester and what it entails. This magical, yet vulnerable time can be tricky to navigate. It’s filled with so many sweet moments mixed with sleep deprivation and physical and emotional ups and downs. 

What is the fourth trimester? 

The concept of the fourth trimester was originated by pediatrician Harvey Karp, MD in 2002. It is the twelve weeks following your baby’s birth as it is considered to be a period of adjustment for both baby and mum. 

Fourth trimester as a family
Source: Adobe Stock

Your newborn is adjusting to life outside the womb – not an easy thing to do – while you’re recovering from birth, coping with the physical and potentially emotional challenges of breastfeeding and functioning on very little sleep. 

Furthermore, as your hormone levels rapidly drop immediately after birth, you may experience mood swings and weepiness, which combined with your lack of sleep due to your baby’s feeding and unpredictable sleeping schedule, are a recipe for increased stress and anxiety. While this phase is completely normal and to some degree, expected, it is by no means easy.

Here are a few things to expect during the fourth trimester and how to navigate this emotional time with your new bundle of joy.

Navigating the fourth trimester – Tips for your newborn

Your little one has been through A LOT recently. It’s a huge transition from womb to world and, while some newborns seem to make this leap without dramas, others need a lot more encouragement, cuddles and time.

The best way to help your baby transition to life outside the womb is to try to recreate the type of environment they had while they were growing inside you.

1. Skin-to-Skin Contact

Having regular skin-to-skin contact with your newborn will provide them with the comfort and familiarity they need after birth. It is a simple act you can do anytime you’re resting, after a bath, while they’re napping, or while you breastfeed.

2. Swaddling

The womb provided your baby with a warm, snug space. To recreate that sense of safety and comfiness for them, you can try swaddling them.

The protection they feel by being swaddled will help your newborn ease into a more relaxed slumber and they will be less likely to be startled awake due to unexpected noise or unintended physical movements.

fourth-trimester-tips
Source: Adobe Stock

3. Movement

While in the womb, your baby became used to regular movement as you went about your day.  Now that they are out in the world, providing gentle movement through a baby glider, a stroller, or by wearing your baby can help soothe them through this new phase of life.

Babywearing can also have the added incentive of freeing your hands to do simple chores, eat a meal, read a book, or even trim your nails while keeping your baby close to you.

Be sure not to eat or drink anything hot to avoid hurting your baby and ensure you do not obstruct your baby’s mouth or nose.


Navigating the Fourth Trimester – tips for new mums

One of the hardest things about the fourth trimester is that you really don’t know what it will be like for you and your baby. Some babies breeze through the fourth trimester while others are hard to read and hard to settle, making the fourth trimester really hard for both you and bub.

But you will get through it. Here are a few tips to help get you there.

1. Aim for nutritious food

Easier said than done, especially when you’re probably eating one-handed, but healthy foods can help keep you energised. 

Setting up a nursing station stocked with essentials, such as healthy snacks, a water bottle, nipple butter, clean breast pads, a cell phone charger, hair ties, etc. may prove to be quite helpful. And don’t beat yourself up if you are relying on takeaway more than usual – it won’t be forever. 

2. Try not to focus too much on sleep (or lack of) 

Yes, you need sleep. But “sleep when the baby sleeps” is not always possible. You may be tempted to clean, do laundry, pay bills, or cook while your baby sleeps to save you some time. Don’t do it! Enlist your partner, a family member, or a friend to watch your baby while you get some much-needed sleep. 

Fourth trimester tips
Source: Adobe Stock

It can be stressful when you’re not sleeping but remember this – you are not going to die from lack of sleep. Yes, you’re tired, but you can persevere. 

3. Get Moving

Light exercise and movement can help with your postpartum recovery while giving you energy, but start small. You’ll need to let your body heal first.

Short walks with your baby can be beneficial for both of you. You’ll both get fresh air, they’ll get the movement they need during their transition, and you’ll get some steps in.

4. Accept Help

This is really hard for many new mums, especially if you are used to being the boss or completely self-sufficient. But, trust us, relying on others during this time is only going to make things easier. And again, it won’t be forever.

Let those around you help, even if they stack the dishwasher differently than you or their vacuum skills aren’t as good as yours. Let them cook, clean, do the chores and care for the pets. Let them take a night shift so you can sleep. Asking and accepting help doesn’t mean you cannot handle motherhood. It means you’re taking care of not just your baby, but yourself too.

5. Check in with yourself and your doctor

While regular doctor visits were common during your pregnancy, most of the attention will be focused on your baby during the fourth trimester. Thankfully many doctors are now aware of the prevalence of postnatal depression and are there to help ensure you get the help you need if you are struggling with this.

If you experience mood swings, have trouble sleeping, or have severe fatigue that lasts longer than ten days, it is critical that you reach out to your healthcare professional right away. Reaching out to your healthcare professional or helplines for new parents can be a source of support when feeling helpless.

6. Practice gratitude 

The fourth trimester can be incredibly challenging for some new parents. The tears, the broken sleep, the inability to even do simple chores. It’s a lot and it can be overwhelming.

You may fear losing yourself to motherhood and may also fear your dynamic with your partner changing due to your baby’s arrival, only to be riddled with guilt and shame for not appreciating the blessing you’ve just received.

mum with newborn motherhood

You’ve probably heard of keeping a gratitude journal before, which you most certainly don’t have time to do now that you’ve got a newborn.

But what you can do is focus on three positive things every day, before you head to bed (or start the night shift). They don’t have to be big things – perhaps you didn’t get pooed on today, or perhaps your baby slept 40 minutes in the cot and not in your arms. Maybe you shaved your legs or shampooed your hair or maybe your little one smiled at you (gas smiles count). Little things count and should be celebrated, even if it’s just in your mind.

7. Don’t expect too much of yourself or your little one

This is the most important thing for new mums to remember during the fourth trimester. Don’t expect everything to go to plan. Take this time to get to know your little one and their unique needs, and take it day by day.

Fourth trimester - mother breastfeeding her newborn
Source: Adobe Stock

Don’t expect too much of yourself, or your bub. You have both been through A LOT in the past few months. You deserve to take it easy, to leave the laundry in favour of cuddles in a nursing chair. You deserve to heal your body, rest your mind, and rediscover yourself in this new role of motherhood.

This is what the fourth trimester is all about.

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