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The Fourth Trimester - Advice and Information

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

newborn baby

What is the fourth trimester?

The fourth trimester is the term coined for the first few months following the birth of a baby. Most mammals are born able to walk and be self-sufficient in some ways- humans are not. This is because if humans gestated to that point of development, they would be too big for their mothers to birth! The fully developed human brain takes up much space, and the narrowing of human hips over time due to walking upright, combined with the increased size of our skulls and brains, means that a baby has to be relatively underdeveloped at birth. It's also partially why our skulls aren't fully fused at birth, making the birth process more manageable and accommodating the rapid brain growth in the first few years of life.

Our brains practically double in size from birth through toddlerhood. Even an episiotomy couldn't help with that! Because of this, human babies are born virtually helpless, entirely dependent on their mom for survival. On top of having a brand new person who needs them for everything, new moms are also recovering from a monumental physical and mental change. The placenta detaching from the uterine wall leaves a massive wound that takes weeks to heal. The skin is stretched, and contractions continue after the baby is born to help the uterus return to its normal size.

Everything is sore, you're exhausted, and often also trying to feed this new baby, which can be uncomfortable, even painful, and downright exhausting. On top of this, there's often a parade of people who want to come to meet the baby (who wouldn't, babies are adorable!) and the mom usually feels immense pressure to host and be "on" when all she wants to do is close her eyes and rest. It's stressful!

There are also considerable changes in hormones post-birth that can significantly affect mood, the shift in routine and trying to establish some semblance of normal with a new family member with borderline constant needs. The fourth trimester is a pivotal time for mom and baby to bond, and the baby is often most comforted by recreating the feeling of being in the womb. This means swaddling, movement, humming or heartbeat noises, and being close to momma as much as possible, preferably skin-to-skin.

On top of everything a new mom is already trying to do, she is also biologically driven to be close to her child. In other parts of the world, in the first months after a baby is born, other people take over most of the mom's responsibilities so she can focus on recovering and bonding with her new baby. Meanwhile, we largely expect mothers to return to normal once they're home from the hospital. For moms, their health during this period is largely neglected. There's the six-week check, and some places do a three-week check, but otherwise, most women are sent home with a pamphlet that says to look for warning signs of postpartum depression and call if there's an abnormal amount of bleeding. This is a stark contrast from how closely you are followed in the final part of pregnancy and can leave many people thinking that once the baby is born, the mom should be back to business as usual in a few days. This is entirely unrealistic, no matter how the baby enters the world.

Another hallmark of the fourth trimester is at some point, mom will almost certainly feel what is referred to as "baby blues." It's an intense drop in mood caused by shifting hormones, and while it's normal, it's also terrifying to experience. So, what do mom and baby need during this period when their primary focus should be creating a connection and healing together? How can we help facilitate a smooth recovery for mom and baby?

Helpful Tips for Moms

You did it! You brought an actual life into this world. You will never be the same, and that's a good thing! You aren't the first, and you won't be the last woman to undertake this journey, so we've compiled a list of tips from veteran moms for new moms on how to best take care of yourself, what to do and what to let go of.

  • Your baby needs you most - there's no 'right' way to do things. Your baby, your rules. Don't be afraid to set boundaries and ask for what you need. It's okay to be tired or want a break. That's normal, and you're not a bad mom.

  • "No" is a complete sentence.

  • If you can't rest when the baby does, that's okay. Try to carve out some time when you can get sleep.

  • If possible, consider hiring a postpartum doula or accepting offered help.

  • Your brain might lie to you and tell you you're failing- you're not. It's supposed to be hard, and you are so much more capable than you realize.

  • Ignore the people insisting you need a routine right away- it's more stressful to try and make a newborn adhere to a way than to go with the flow.

  • Get outside when you can - it helps!

  • Ice pads and dermoplast are great for the pain and soreness after birth. Warm baths with baking soda can help promote healing, and if you're sore, it just feels nice.

  • Do your best to eat and drink. If you're breastfeeding, it will make the process easier, and if you're not, your body still needs fuel!

  • A maternity belly band (like the one you put over jeans once they stop buttoning) can help with the uncomfortable feeling of an empty belly but is still in the way, particularly when trying to sleep on your side.

  • Trust your gut. If something feels off, schedule an appointment before your six-week check.

  • Anxiety and fear are normal; they will improve, but you should call your doctor to discuss if it's impairing your functioning. There is no "right" way to feel. For some moms, there's an instant connection with the baby; for some, it takes some time. Both are normal! If you're worried and not feeling emotions like you should, like numbness, it's worth asking your OB about, as sometimes that can happen. Generally, though, there's a broad spectrum of emotions and reactions.

  • There are many methods out there for parenting, and the plain truth is that they can all be right depending on the family. Use what techniques feel best for you, and don't worry if your style differs from your friends. Whether co-sleeping, baby-led weaning, cry it out or other methods, no family is the same.

  • Don't lose yourself in all the changes. It's good to carve out time to do something you enjoy and to remind yourself of your identity outside of motherhood.

Insights for Partners

Congrats on your growing family! Sometimes, partners can feel overlooked or worried that the baby will take their place in their significant other's heart. That won't happen so there's no need to fret. It is so crucial for you to be involved, supportive and patient right now. You are probably looking for all the ways to be most helpful now that the baby is here to help your family bond and grow stronger.

  • Have conversations about your expectations of each other in parenting BEFORE the baby is born. How will night feedings and diaper changes be split up? Who will make sure bottles are washed, or clothes are laundered? Maybe you'll have specific times when you are "on duty." Ensure you both understand how you envision things going BEFORE the baby arrives.

  • Don't wait to be asked to help - offer. Offer to change a diaper or, vacuum or make dinner. Offer to take care of the baby so mom can shower. Please don't make her ask you because it will make her feel guilty and needy. Better yet, do the things instead.

  • Be patient and sensitive. Comments about her being hormonal or irrational are not helpful. She is physically and emotionally uncomfortable, and she needs you to be kind and supportive.

  • If you're not sure how something should be done, ask. Either she will have an idea already, or you can solve the problem together.

  • Don't ask her, "Are you thinking of hurting the baby?" whenever she confides that she is sad or anxious. It will make her feel terrible and send the message that her feelings only matter if they will affect the baby. If you are genuinely concerned about this possibility, ask about her mental state differently, such as, "What is on your mind?" or "Have you had any thoughts that scare you?" Most cases of postpartum depression do not lead to postpartum psychosis in which the mother hurts her child. That is incredibly rare, and while it is essential to look out for, the fear that people will assume she might harm her baby could prevent a mom from expressing that she is struggling.

  • Please don't comment on her body at all. She is well aware of how it looks, and it is disconcerting and uncomfortable adjusting to living in an unfamiliar body, even if it's normal.

  • Be sure to notice everything she does and tell her when you're feeling amazed by her. Many partners find that seeing a mom with a baby fills them with a new love for her, and watching her have the baby leaves them in awe. Tell her these things! She is now sensitive, and your support and encouragement are significant.

  • Do little things to make her feel seen. Run her a bath, surprise her with her favorite candy, do her least favorite chore, hire a babysitter so you can go on a date. Small things to brighten her day make all the difference.

  • Advocate for her. If you know she doesn't want visitors and you've got family being pushy, be the one to tell them your boundaries. If you know she wants people to wash their hands before they hold the baby, make sure that happens. During delivery, understand her wishes so you can help advocate for her. Labor is vulnerable and intense and having her back will help so much.

Notes for Loved Ones

A new baby in the family is a super exciting event for everyone, and most loved ones are eager to help however they can! Every mom is different, so what they need most can vary too.

  • Don't help with the expectation that you will get baby time in return. If the baby is cranky, cluster feeding or finally asleep for the first time in hours, we might not want to pass them off.

  • Make yourself useful and reassure the mom that you don't expect her to cook or clean for your visit. It's just too much for her to do at that point.

  • If the baby cries, make sure to offer them back to mom. It can be very anxiety-provoking for a new mom to hear their baby crying and not be actively soothing them.

  • Think before you offer advice. Even if it's well-meaning, it can often appear like you think they need to do a better job.

  • Don't just respond to them sharing their feelings by talking about someone else you know who had a baby. If they are talking to you and opening up, it's important to validate their emotions and ask if they want to vent or help problem-solving.

  • Ask before you bring your kids over. Some moms might be okay with it, especially if they have older kids, but always make sure to ask.

  • Respect boundaries and don't take things personally. It's very stressful as a new parent to know your loved ones are upset with you over a boundary you tried to set. Even if you're disappointed or have something different in mind, it's important to respect their wishes. If they want to avoid hospital visitors, do not show up at the hospital. If they wish to have a few days alone to adjust, let them do that. Don't take offense to things like that. New parents are doing their best and should be allowed to decide when and where people will meet the baby.

  • Watch how the parents care for the baby and do things that way. You may have put every one of your babies on their stomachs to sleep, and they may have been just fine, but if the parents want the baby placed on their back to sleep, that is what you need to do. Follow their lead. When they see that you are paying attention, they will feel respected and loved and much more likely to trust you with the baby. It's a sure-fire way for mom to be able to relax.

  • If mom uses a pacifier, don't talk about how bad they are. If she's bottle feeding, don't say "breast is best." If she's breastfeeding, don't tell her to cover up. Being a mom is hard enough without all the unnecessary judgment.

New babies are exciting for everyone involved. Something about the tiny bundle of potential and hope is captivating to all of us. When a baby is born, so is a mother, and that transition into a new stage of life is full of joys and challenges - often at the same time. Let's come together to celebrate, nurture and support not just the baby, but also the mother and the entire family. The journey of motherhood is a shared experience, and your role is crucial.

At Rochester Poppins, we believe every mother deserves a helping hand, and that's exactly what our nannies and babysitters offer. With expertise, care, and the special Poppins touch, our team is here to ensure your fourth trimester is as smooth and stress-free as possible. Contact us to learn more about our services and how we can help!

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