The Fourth Trimester: How to Navigate the Postpartum Period
In this guest blog, Cassidy Gibson-Cooper shares her best tips for getting through the fourth trimester - or the first 12 weeks following your baby's birth - when all kinds of internal and external changes are happening quickly. Learn more below!
Cassidy Gibson-Cooper, along with her husband Tim Gibson-Cooper, created parenting-central.com to provide advice to other 21st century parents. They’re proud parents of 3-year old Sam and coparent Cassidy’s child, Autumn, with her former partner. Parenting-central.com was designed to be a cathartic, enjoyable way to share the ins and outs of their parenting lives, along with helpful tidbits they’ve picked up along the way, and they hope to share stories and advice from a diverse group of fellow parents.
If you’re a new mom, you may not yet be familiar with the fourth trimester. After all, pregnancy is typically around 40 weeks and divided into three distinct trimesters, right? And while that’s true, the fourth trimester actually refers to the 12 weeks following birth – when life is rapidly transitioning to reflect your expanding family and your newborn is growing even quicker. While your baby adjusts to life outside the womb, you’re likely still recovering from delivery, learning a new daily routine that revolves mostly around your newborn and discovering how to breastfeed together. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that this “extra” trimester is full of changes, challenges, and transformations!
Understanding what to expect during this sensitive time will help you feel more prepared and confident for what’s to come while acting as a reminder to treat yourself with the gentle care and compassion you deserve. See these top tips to survive and thrive during the early postpartum period:
1. First Things First - Focus on Recovering from Birth!
Before you can thrive in your new routine, it’s important to give yourself plenty of grace and time to recover from your birth experience. From hormonal fluctuations to healing areas impacted during birth, it’s no secret that moms experience a lot of physical and emotional changes during the fourth trimester. Postnatal hormonal fluctuations can lead to things like mood swings, fatigue and sleep changes, with some moms also experiencing a temporary period of glumness known as “the baby blues.” If you notice that you are instead feeling intense bouts of sadness, hopelessness or depression, that may indicate postpartum depression. If you suspect you could be developing postpartum depression, speak to your doctor right away to ensure you receive the care and support you need.
Physically, you may also experience changes to your breasts, nipples, belly, bladder, pelvic floor, abdominal core, and more. The fourth trimester is often a whirlwind of changes, so remember to go easy on yourself while your body recovers. As you begin to feel better, the transition to parenthood often becomes easier.
2. Keep Medical Files and Documents Organized
Tackling things that may feel overwhelming – like paperwork and finances – is likely one of the last things you want to do in the weeks following the birth of your baby. However, getting a head start on keeping your medical files, invoices for prenatal care and delivery, and important baby documents well-organized can provide peace of mind while ensuring you and your baby receive quality postpartum care. Consider keeping a record of your prenatal, postnatal and baby medical appointments in a spreadsheet, so you can easily refer to a timeline of care while tracking corresponding invoices and payments made.
PDFs are also a great option for storing your digital documents because they’re easy to share and can be viewed on any device. If you have a lot of related files to store or share, consider merging them into a single PDF file for quicker management and easy storage on your laptop or in your mobile device’s folder system.
3. Learn All About Breastfeeding and the Benefits of Breast Milk
As you and your newborn learn how to breastfeed together, challenges may arise – but can often be overcome with commitment, perseverance and sometimes a little extra help from a knowledgeable lactation consultant. If you have never breastfed before, remember to give yourself some credit too! After all, breastfeeding is natural but also a learned behavior – and this is something brand-new that you and your baby are figuring out as the fourth trimester begins.
Many moms experience sore nipples, trouble latching their baby, plugged ducts, and other common breastfeeding challenges – all while often wondering if their milk supply is enough or when their mature milk may come in. If you’re struggling with your breastfeeding routine, get in touch with your doctor or a lactation consultant. In particular, a lactation consultant will help you navigate whatever questions or concerns you’re facing as you embark on your breastfeeding journey and learn how to nurse your baby. Lactation consultants can also help your partner understand how to best support your baby’s feeding needs and routines, which can take some of the pressure off you as the primary source of sustenance.
I Have Sore Nipples, What Should I Do?
4. Soak Up All Those Precious Moments with Your Baby
…Because they’re growing fast! It may be hard to imagine your sweet newborn as a toddler running around, but this time will fly by quickly – believe it or not. Your baby is already well on their way through the rapid development they’ll experience during their first 3 months. In fact, you’ll likely notice them doing things like carefully watching your facial expressions and responding to your voice with those adorable coos and other fun sounds they may be experimenting with during this time.
You can encourage your baby’s language immersion by engaging in “conversation” and responding to your baby’s coos and gurgles with sounds of your own. These early days are also a great time to encourage tummy time and a lot of play. Colorful toys of varying textures, shapes, and sizes; sensory mats; and cuddly stuffed animals are all fun for your baby to explore during the fourth trimester (and even beyond!). Plus, it’s never too early to start reading to your little one! Just make sure any toys introduced right now are clearly designated as age-appropriate for newborns and have no pieces or parts that could potentially hurt them or be a choking hazard.
5. Don't Forget to Prioritize Self-Care During the Fourth Trimester Too!
Becoming a parent doesn’t have to mean deprioritizing yourself and your unique hobbies or interests – More often, it’s a unique balance that can take time and adjustment to achieve. Remembering to practice self-care will help alleviate things like stress and fatigue while encouraging you to be your best self in all facets of life, from motherhood to work, friends and loved ones. Rest when you’re able, ask for help when you need it and be kind to yourself. It’s okay to not feel right back to your usual self during the fourth trimester – Consider chatting with other new mom friends and loved ones or joining an online support group so you can keep the connection strong with others who may be transitioning into similar stages of life.
Many expectant parents overlook the fourth trimester while excitedly preparing for the arrival of their baby and counting down the weeks left in their pregnancy. Knowing what to expect ahead of time during those first 12 weeks with your newborn can make a world of difference in your experience as a new mama. Ready yourself for the fourth trimester by finding a local lactation consultant, getting a head start on organizing your medical documents, finding ways to prioritize self-care, and talking with your care team about how you can best support your postpartum healing process and breastfeeding journey. You’ve got this!