If you’ve no idea what the fourth trimester is, you’re not alone. Three babies in and I’ve only just discovered it. Here’s what new mums need to know and why we should be keeping it front of mind.
‘What, there’s another trimester?’
In case you’re thinking that the fourth trimester is another 12 weeks of pregnancy that no one told you about, relax. It’s not.
The fourth trimester is the first 12 weeks of your baby’s life and your new life as a mum. It’s the period in which your baby adjusts to life on the outside and you begin to recover from nine months of pregnancy, the physical trauma of labour whilst coming to terms with the reality (shock) that your life will never be the same again.
It’s a time when you are supposed to mimic your baby’s environment inside the womb, outside. When you are encouraged to nurture your baby as your body did. With feeding, cuddling and soothing, without the fear of instilling bad habits that plagues so many new mums. ‘You can’t spoil a newborn.’ Apparently.
It’s a crucial period for you both. So why on earth aren’t we being told about it by medical professionals? Why aren’t we being advised to treat those first three months in the way we treat the rest of pregnancy? Preciously.
Why am I only just finding out about it on my third child?
When society expects too much.
Beyond those first couple of weeks, when you’re being fussed over (hopefully), your partner is on paternity leave (hopefully) and you’re revelling in the gorgeousness of your new baby (hopefully), there aren’t many provisions for a new mum.
All being well, your midwife signs you off at 10 days. Sob. Your other half returns to work. Sob. And you’re left to your own devices. Sob.
New mums are surrounded by so many pressures. The pressure to feel good. To look good. To have a baby who sleeps well. Feeds well. Settles well. And the frantic pace of life means that we almost expect these things to happen overnight. Like everything else in our lives.
Add to this pressure hormonal changes and sleep deprivation and it’s no wonder that so many new mums really struggle in those first few months.
But if we tapped into this fourth trimester lark, it could all be so different, couldn’t it?
Because if someone said to you, ‘For the first three months (at least), you’re going to feel like X and you’re going to need to do Y,’ you could relax a bit, cut yourself some slack and let yourself off the hook. For the first three months, at least.
And focus on the most important thing of all.
Recovering. And enjoying your baby.
You’ve just had a baby.
It might seem obvious. That after nine months of pregnancy it’s going to take time to heal. That your baby is going to take time to adjust to the outside world.
But for every rational thought like that, there’s an irrational thought to counteract it. From sheer lack of sleep. From another mum whose baby is sleeping through at two weeks. From a book you read. From a well-meaning, passing comment that you look great when actually you feel dreadful.
Anything that undermines you. That lulls you into a false reality.
When the reality is this. You’ve just had a baby.
Remembering there is a fourth trimester reminds us that in the first three months anything goes.
There is no right or wrong. You might feel good one day and rubbish the next. It’s an unpredictable time and all you can do is live in each moment. And it’s perfectly ok if you don’t enjoy every moment.
I wish someone had told me this when I had baby no. 1 and baby no. 2.
I wish someone had told me to stop worrying. To slow down. To put the Gina Ford book away. And stop rushing the whole process.
Because the process is there for a reason.
Hormones and sleep deprivation.
The physical trauma of pregnancy and birth is huge. We conveniently forget this because it’s a ‘natural’ occurrence.
Oestrogen levels play a big part in the way women feel after giving birth. After reaching a peak in the third trimester, in the 24 hours after labour, they drop drastically and return to pre-pregnancy levels.
If you decide to breastfeed, your oestrogen levels remain low (oestrogen inhibits milk production) and you may experience menopause-like symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, joint pain, mood swings, anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia. Yay!
It helps to remember this. That there is an actual reason why you’re waking up stuck to your duvet with a 1980s perm. Why you’re feeling like you’re losing the plot. You’re not. And you won’t be like this forever. That’s reassuring to know, if nothing else.
On top of hormones, you’ll also be feeling sleep deprived. And there is little worse than sleep deprivation, right? It causes brain fog, an inability to concentrate, mood swings and a desire to disembowel your other half. Who’s slept through the nightfeed. Again.
No wonder it’s used as a form of torture.
Feel it, don’t conceal it.
(I know, I’ve been watching too much Frozen. Sob.)
So, what can you do to thrive in the fourth trimester? A lot, actually.
You can lower your expectations. You can accept that you will feel up and down. You can simply allow yourself to feel how you feel in any given moment. There’s no need to pretend otherwise or put on a brave face. The fourth trimester is your friend. It’s there to protect you.
You can keep reminding yourself.
‘I’ve just had a baby. Of course I’m going to feel like this.’
This too shall pass.
Nothing lasts forever. Nothing.
One day soon the tiny little baby you’re holding in your arms will be a feisty toddler or a determined preschooler.
Whilst this thought won’t make you love them any more at 3.00 AM when you’re up doing the dreaded nightfeed, it might just make you cherish the fourth trimester for what it is. A permissible period of time to make the transition to motherhood.
Not to mention 12 weeks of newborn cuddles, eating chocolate cake, wearing big pants and cutting yourself some serious slack.
(Big pants optional.)