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After Pregnancy: The Forgotten Fourth Trimester

Most people think of pregnancy as taking place in three parts, or trimesters. But there’s actually another part — a fourth trimester — that starts once the baby is born and continues up to one year after birth. Besides being a critical time in the baby’s development, it’s also a vital time for moms to recover physically and emotionally. Yet that aspect is often overlooked as they focus on caring for the baby.

Many women have read all of the books on what to expect when they’re expecting and what to expect in their baby’s first year, but do not have a plan in place for their own self-care. As a result, they may have a hard time balancing caring for themselves and caring for their newborn and family. A survey by Orlando Health found that 25 percent of women did not have a plan to manage their health after giving birth and more than 40 percent felt overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.

The Reality of the Fourth Trimester

Consider what a mom encounters after she gives birth. Mother and baby in rocking chairIn many situations, she’s back home the next day. She’s tired, uncomfortable, perhaps in pain and trying to take care of a newborn and maybe other children as well. Breastfeeding can be challenging, and hormone fluctuations can add to the emotional upheaval. And those are just the common issues. Abnormal bleeding, postpartum anxiety and any complications with the baby’s health only increase the physical and emotional stress on the mom.

Surviving the Fourth Trimester

Here are 5 ways a new mom can get ready for her fourth trimester.

Don’t wait until the baby is born to start preparing for this vital stage. Talk with your obstetrician or midwife during pregnancy about what to expect after delivery and when to schedule follow-up appointments. Have a plan in place for how to manage things such as sleep and self-care, and know when and whom to call for problems after delivery. Have contacts available for lactation consultants and additional help, such as postpartum doulas or night nurses.

Accept offers of help. When friends and extended family tell you to let them know what they can do, give them specific tasks, such as to come over in the afternoon to take older children to the park, walk the dog or empty the dishwasher.

Check in with yourself. Caring for yourself after delivery is imperative for overall health. Ignoring problems can lead to them escalating, which ultimately can be detrimental to you, your baby and your family. Take some time every day (even if it’s only 20 minutes) to center yourself and focus on you. Do not ignore problems — if it is bothering you or you’re uncertain, see your physician or midwife. Ask for help. It’s not an admission of failure. It takes a village to raise a mom! Get input from friends and family because they may notice symptoms or problems before you do. Know that even if you feel physically recovered in the six to eight weeks after giving birth, it can take longer before you feel like yourself.

Eat a nutritious diet. This is important to fuel your body during recovery and even more important if you’re also breastfeeding. Pick easy-to-grab foods such as yogurt, fruits and vegetables, mozzarella sticks and low-fat protein, and be sure to drink water to stay hydrated.

Get as much sleep as you can. The adage is to sleep when the baby sleeps — and that is absolutely true. Most women underestimate how fatigue will affect them.

By understanding the challenges that can occur, enlisting help and taking time for yourself, the fourth trimester can be a memorable time of recovery, getting to know your little one and integrating the baby into the family.

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