How to Support Someone During the Fourth Trimester

mother and baby sitting on sofa surrounded by friends

So, your friend or loved one is about to become a mother and you want to show up and support them as much as possible. If you’re a parent yourself, you may think you already know the best way to do this. If you’ve never been around a newborn, you might feel completely clueless. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, whatever your background or experience, learning about the fourth trimester will help you help them.

Trimesters Explained

A pregnancy is divided into three trimesters. The first trimester is from week 1 to the end of week 12. The second trimester is from week 13 to the end of week 26. The third trimester is from week 27 to the end of the pregnancy. Each trimester is marked by specific foetal developments. In recent years, parents and birth workers have also been introduced to the term ‘fourth trimester’. This refers to the first 12 weeks after a baby is born.

Why is the Fourth Trimester So Important?

The fourth trimester is a period of massive physical and emotional change. While the baby is adjusting to being outside the womb, the mother is adjusting to life as a new mum (or, in subsequent pregnancies, mum to more children). Babies are likely to cry more in this 12-week period than at any other time. As well as obvious challenges like sleep deprivation, birth and/or perinatal trauma can make the fourth trimester even more difficult to navigate.

Here are some other things that can be difficult during this time:

  • Healing and recovering from birth, both emotionally and physically
  • Potential feeding difficulties
  • Emotional vulnerability
  • Struggling to adjust to a new routine with new responsibilities
  • Practical things like school runs, cooking and keeping on top of housework and laundry
  • Finding the time and energy for even the most basic self-care

During the fourth trimester, the whole family is vulnerable, not just the mother. Older children are adapting to having a new sibling in the house and partners are adapting to being a parent too. While I acknowledge this period can be tough for everyone, I’m passionate about helping mothers. After all, everyone offers to hold the baby, but who is holding mum? When a mother is seen, heard and emotionally supported, I believe she and her whole family can benefit.

How to Support Someone During the Fourth Trimester

  1. Check on them regularly and ask them if they’re OK. Not so much that it gets irritating, but enough for them to know you care and their feelings are valued.
  2. Be emotionally supportive. Listen without judgement and validate their emotions. Use phrases like ‘I can see you are very (upset, sad, frightened, scared)’, ‘That must have been hard for you’, and ‘I can see how hard you are trying’.
  3. Be with them in the bad times as well as the good. Ask them what they need and be prepared to help that need be met.
  4. Know the signs and symptoms of post-natal depression and stay alert for them.
  5. Before you visit, check whether there’s anything you can pick up for them on the way. Nappies, bread, a prescription from a nearby pharmacy, or their favourite Starbucks order. Anything to lighten their load or brighten their day.
  6. Once you arrive, don’t expect to be waited on. Make the tea, give them lunch and keep an eye out for any chores that need doing. Folding laundry, emptying the dishwasher or loading up the steriliser will all be appreciated.
  7. Offer to make dinner or deliver a meal that has already been cooked and is ready to eat.
  8. Suggest they take a nap, have a shower etc while you look after the baby.
  9. If there are any older children {or other caring responsibilities like a pet or elderly parent}, offer to take them for a few hours. The mother can decide how to spend that free time with less children/fewer responsibilities to worry about.

Useful Links

What is the Fourth Trimester?

How to Survive the Fourth Trimester

PANDAS UK (PND Awareness & Support)

How CBT Can Help with Postnatal Depression

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