What Is The Forth Trimester?
We typically hear about the first, second and third trimester of pregnancy, however, parents and birth workers have been introduced to the term “fourth trimester,” which refers to the first three months after your baby is born. This period is a time of intense change for both you and your baby, and the rest of your family, as you all learn to bond and grow together. Your baby can appear particularly unsettled a lot of the time during the fourth trimester, and many mums can interpret this as something they are doing wrong. The truth is, your baby just needs you close to feel safe and to help them to get used to their new environment.
When your baby is in the womb, they don’t experience feeling hungry because they are fed automatically by your placenta. Your womb is warm and snug, and your baby feels safe and secure hearing your voice and heartbeat from the inside. When they arrive earthside, they have to adapt to the feeling of hunger, having clothes on their naturally naked bodies, and hearing sudden noises in their environment, which they are not used to hearing in way they do outside the womb. This can be a lot for newborn baby’s to process, and often results in babies who appear to be "fussy," or "clingy." It is absolutely OK to find this phase overwhelming, because it is!
The western world encourages babies to learn to self-soothe, for parents to sleep training their babies and to refrain from “making a rod for your own back." This can be confusing for a new parent, who is unsure of how to respond to their baby’s increasing demands. Many mums I have worked with have felt like they were failing their baby who they are struggling to settle, or that their baby didn’t like them because they cried a lot. That's why I am writing this blog, to normalise the difficulties that come with the fourth trimester, and to validate the struggles that new parents can experience.
When I had my first daughter, I remember worrying that I would spoil her if I kept picking her up when she was unsettled. Back then, I didn’t know any better and so I just listened to what I’d read or what I had been told, not realising that my own mother instinct was right, to pick her up and respond to her was what I wanted, and what she needed.
What Is The Impact Of The Fourth Trimester On Mothers?
For me, and I imagine many other mothers and families, the fourth trimester was tough. The near on constant feeding and needing to be held was unbearable at times. On the one hand, I was so in love with my baby boy, but on the other I felt trapped with him on me 24/7. Even though I knew that this was a big stage for both of us, I still found it hard.
In the fourth trimester, it is common for you to feel tearful, irritable, exhausted, fed up, anxious, and emotional, as well as feeling elated, excited and in love with your newborn baby. There is no right or wrong way to feel but expect to go through a wave of emotions over and over again!
Remember, if you are feeling overwhelmed, it is completely normal and OK to feel this. But my advice would be to take each hour as it comes because, like all things, it will pass.
What Is The Impact Of The Fourth Trimester On Relationships?
The fourth trimester can impact on relationships with those closest to you, in particular, your partner. The transition into parenthood, whether for the first time or not, is a big one. So much changes in such a short space of time, and it’s understandable that this can feel hard to work through.
Some couples find that having a baby brings them closer. You may notice that your partner feels a new sense of awe and admiration for you and the labour and birth experience they have witnessed you go through. You may also notice that you and your partner are more distanced from each other for a variety of reasons.
Maybe they feel left out and that the attention is no longer on them since your baby arrived. It can even work the other way round that you may feel that your partner gives your baby more interest than you get from them. Maybe you had a difficult birth, and this has affected you and your partner more than you expected it to. You may have other children, meaning quality time with your partner goes out the window.
You will both be physically exhausted from the needs of your new baby. You may find you are sleeping in separate beds for whatever reason, and this understandably will restrict the closeness you may have had before your baby arrived.
How Can I Survive The Fourth Trimester – Tips From A Therapist (And A Mother!)
- The first tip would be to invest in a sling or baby carrier. The closeness the baby feels to you mimics how they felt in the womb, all warm, snug and safe. When you hold your baby close, your smell, voice, feel of your skin, and sound of your heartbeat will be so comforting to your baby. Placing them in a sling makes your life easier but will also make the transition from your womb to your arms, a smoother one for your baby.
- My second tip is support, support support! Using your village and accepting all the help and support you can get can make the transition easier for you. Ask friends and family to bring a cooked meal when they pop over, or to give your house a quick clean before they leave. Doing this will mean you have more time to rest, heal and recover from your birth, and your baby will thrive being close to you.
- My third tip is to (safely) co-sleep. Many healthcare professionals will advise against co-sleeping because of the risk of SIDS or accidentally rolling onto the baby then you are asleep. It is entirely possible to co-sleep safely (see the below link from the Lullaby Trust on the advice on how to do this). For me, co-sleeping meant we all got more sleep, and sleep for me improves my mood and ability to cope, so it was a win-win. If you don’t want to co-sleep, then don’t. It really is down to personal choice. If you do, please ensure you follow the guidance from the Lullaby Trust to minimise any potential risk to your baby.
- A very important tip is to treat yourself with kindness and compassion. It is a big change for you, and beating yourself up for what you have or haven’t done is going to make it harder for you to manage. Focus on what is important for you and your baby and find things that will nurture you so you can be in the best place to nurture your newborn.
- If you can, hire a doula! They are worth their weight in gold and can help you with practical stuff as well be there to provide emotional support to you.
- Lastly, if you are planning on breastfeeding, book an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) who are experts in all things breastfeeding. They have had a substantial amount of training and can provide evidence-based, up-to-date knowledge of your breastfeeding concerns.
- My last tip – go with the flow and use your maternal instincts. And do what works for you and your family. The fourth trimester, although hard, really is over in a flash and after that, things should start to settle down.