What Is the Fourth Trimester and What Does It Mean to You

The fourth trimester is something a lot of women don’t know about - not until it happens to them.

The fourth trimester isn’t when your baby is just not respecting their due date - though even if it’s just mere days after that doctor-predicted due date, it might feel like an entire extra trimester! The fourth trimester are those first few months after you have had your baby. 

There are so many things going on - learning all about your newborn, adoring your newborn, navigating feeding times, post-pregnancy recovery, newborn basics, visits from family and friends, and, of course, figuring out when to sleep. Sometimes, it seems like there should be a lot more books and articles about these three months than the previous nine months!

Here are some tips for newbie moms and almost newbie moms as you navigate what you might find to be your most difficult “trimester.”

8  How to Bond

You might not be sure what to do with your little one. Don’t worry - no one does.

When my friends first started having babies, nearly every single one of them said, “I wasn’t ready yet” - even the ones who had planned the pregnancy! Perhaps they wished pregnancy was a year or more so they could have more time to figure out things like how to hold a newborn before they have one of their own!

But many people aren’t sure how to bond, or what to do to form that wonderful bond. A few suggestions include holding your baby skin to skin (that skin to skin contact!), singing or talking to your baby while looking into their eyes, snuggling and cuddling, and gentle bathing with baby.

If you’re not sure what to do, start with the basics of caring...very soon, you will fall in love with your precious baby, and the strong bond will form.

7 How to Sleep

At the beginning, you might be impressed with how much your newborn will sleep, but very quickly, they will soon be sleeping in 2-4 hour intervals, and wake up because their tiny stomachs are already hungry (and of course, this means diaper changes too!). If you can, try to establish a regular sleeping schedule and routine for the baby; it will help over time (even if it is seemingly difficult at the beginning).

We all know how to sleep - but how can you manage it if baby is up all night?

My sister and her husband created a sleep plan that allowed my sister to get at least two nights of uninterrupted sleep a week while she was on maternity leave and he was working. Because she was breastfeeding and not working, it made sense for her to be the one to get up with the baby during the night. During work nights (Sunday-Thursday), she got up to breastfeed the baby and change the diaper. 

On weekends, he would feed the baby pumped milk and change the diaper. When she returned to work, they rotated days so that she could get at least some uninterrupted sleep. Night after night of uninterrupted sleep leads to some very miserable and exhausted days. This really helps.

If you don’t have this option, there are other ways to do it. Try to take naps whenever possible. Even if you’re not a napper before your baby, you just might be after. (It’s way easier to fall asleep at random points when your baby has kept you up all night.)

6 Bodily Changes

So you’ve had nine months of your body showing you just how much it can change...well, things aren’t exactly back to normal yet.

There are a few bodily changes you’ll notice post-birth.

For up to six weeks post-birth, you’ll experience vaginal soreness. If you have trouble sitting, try a donut pillow or arrange several pillows around your bottom. The pain will slowly dissipate over time, so be patient.

You also might experience bleeding or spotting for those first six weeks. It’s completely normal.

Whether or not you plan on breastfeeding, your breasts will likely be sore. If you aren’t going to breastfeed, avoid any kind of nipple or breast stimulation, apply cold compresses to reduce swelling, and wear a sports bra for compression. If you’re breastfeeding, nurse your child whenever they’re hungry, pump any extra breast milk, and apply cold cabbage leaves to your breasts for relief (the shape of cabbage leaves modifies to the shape of your breasts and the cold feels oh-so-good).

Sad and not sure why? So many women experience postpartum depression, which some even say it’s a side effect of giving birth. Some call it the baby blues, and women experience mood swings, crying jags, severe depression, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, and anxiety. Talk to a therapist or medical professional if you think you need help.

I still remember my sister calling me, “I’m going bald!” She wasn’t exactly, but postpartum hair loss is very common. But don’t worry - this won’t last more than 6-12 months.

You also might experience constipation. It’s also normal, so eat a healthy, high fiber diet, and talk to your doctor if you want to try a stool softener.

If your skin seems out of control, don’t worry - it will pass soon. Your hormonal surges might be causing pimples similar to what you experienced in high school. Of course, the lack of sleep and your potentially erratic eating habits might be contributing - so eat as healthy as you can and sleep as much as your baby allows.

5 How to Handle Feeding Times

Babies have tiny stomachs. This means they need to eat very often to feel full, and because their digestive systems are so small, they go to the bathroom quite often too - which means more times to eat and more times to change diapers. To keep your sanity, establish some sort of routine. Maybe you and your partner already have an agreement in place so they’ll get used to hearing, “It’s your turn to bottle feed now.” 

Perhaps it’s sitting in a cozy chair, with a pile of burp cloths on the table next to you, and some soothing music playing on the radio while feeding baby. Create a system for yourself and your family where feeding times don’t feel like a chore. And remember that a breastfeeding women needs to consume more calories when they're breastfeeding, so be sure to eat a diet high in daily nutrients you need to keep your energy levels up.

Along with eating right, a breastfeeding mother is a thirsty mother, so make sure that you have a drink beside you when you breastfeed. Water is usually the best thing for you to drink while you breastfeed because of its cleansing and mineral rich makeup. And if getting comfortable while feeding is impossible, look into a breastfeeding pillow, you'll be glad you did!

4 Bath Time

Babies are so adorable in the bath!But we’re actually talking about bath time for mommy - don’t forget bath time for you! New moms often neglect their own bathing because they’re so busy; showers become rushed affairs because you simply don’t have the time. How do you figure out when to bathe? And what about baby?

You know how everyone says, “If there is anything I can do for you, just let me know?” Tell your friend/sister/cousin/neighbor, “Well, actually, I’d love to take a long uninterrupted shower. Would you mind coming over and watching the baby for 20 minutes or so while I get to enjoy a shower?” 

Of course they’ll say yes, happy to do you a favor, glad to play with baby for a bit, and you’ll finally get a decent shower, and maybe, even get to shave your legs!So your daily showers can be short affairs with the monitor in the room when baby is taking a nap, but when your partner or someone else is around, enjoy the moments of clean bliss.

3 Swaddling

First off - let’s get things straight. Not only are babies super adorable when they’re rolled up like a burrito, but swaddling is actually great for babies! Swaddling helps babies adjust to being outside the womb - for months, they were completely enclosed in a safe, comfortable environment - and now, they’re in the world. They feel safe and comfortable and cozy when swaddled. Help them adjust - and they’ll look so happy (and cute!) that it will help you adjust too. This is a great thing to do in the fourth trimester.

If you're not sure how to swaddle, don't worry, there's a video that explains how to swaddle your little one. And if the first few times you swaddle it doesn't work out perfect, don't worry, you'll get better with practice. And some babies don't like being swaddled, so all the swaddling in the world isn't going to soothe them as much as it is going to frustrate them. So if your baby seems to hate being swaddled, then don't do it.

And there's no hard and fast rule that says you have to swaddle a baby to stop them from crying. Even the way you hold a baby can be soothing to them and stop them from crying. One way to hold a baby and soothe them is the side forward hold. Support your baby's head in your hand with their body laying up your arm so their bottom is facing you. With your other arm hold them slightly on their side, but secure enough that they won't slip out of your grip and onto the floor.

This hold is best used when you're sitting down so you can have more control and a lap for the baby to safely lay in if your arms get tired of holding the baby in this position.

2 Baby Wearing

Similar to swaddling, baby wearing keeps baby feeling warm, tight, safe, and cozy. It recreates that feeling of baby being close to mom in the womb.

Best of all, many moms love baby wearing because it allows them to keep their hands free when they’re on the go. Plus, many women say they love the intimate feeling of their baby against their body. And of course, dads can baby wear too! Many cultures have been wearing their babies centuries, so this isn't so much a fad, but bringing back a piece of your motherhood heritage.

Whether you wear your baby in a snuggly or in a baby wearing wrap, make sure that you're wearing the baby correctly. Again, there are a number of YouTube videos with baby wearing demonstrations for you to watch before you try it out for yourself. But never wear your baby in a wrap if you don't feel comfortable with the way you've wrapped them up. It's best to unwrap your baby and try again then wear them in an unsafe manner.

You can find a snuggly or wrap at general places like ToysRUs, or you can order them from Amazon as well. When using a snugly make sure that you're abiding by the weight restrictions and never place a baby who is either too heavy or too small inside the snuggly. You don't want to hurt their neck muscles or joints of their arms and legs because they were placed in a snuggly that wasn't suitable for them.

1 The Noise!

No, I’m not talking about the crying.

As your baby slowly grew inside your uterus, they were lulled by a nice white noise sound. Post-birth, they hear so many sounds - the lawn mower, their screaming siblings, the television, slamming doors. Help make things easier.

A white noise machine in their bedroom might gently lull them to sleep. It’s a gentle relaxing sound, and keep it on during times of stress to soothe them as they enter the world of being a person.

The fourth trimester is a challenging time for both mom and baby. They’re both getting used to dramatic changes in their bodies and their lives. It will seem so very difficult at times, but know that it will soon get easier (and of course, there will be other changes ahead). Enjoy the precious moments as you can, and ask for help when you need it.

Oh, and don’t forget to sleep!

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