Let’s Talk about the Unacknowledged Fourth Trimester

Shreya Nayak

May 20, 2022

A new baby is always a source of excitement for a family. It’s a moment of complete happiness and a lot of joy. However, the new born comes with their own set of challenges. A new mom makes several changes in her life in order to comfort her newborn.

Even if the infant is her second kid, the changes she makes must remain the same after being accustomed to a routine with only one child to care for. As a result, every pregnancy and delivery and the experience are unique. Also, the physical and emotional health of a new mother is equally as vital as the health of her infant. 

The fourth trimester, or the 12 weeks after birth, is just as crucial for a mother’s health as the first three. Unfortunately, however, this is the time when moms have the least involvement with their healthcare provider, even though they need it the most.

Mothers should see their OB-GYN for the first time within three weeks after giving birth. It should be followed by ongoing care as needed and a complete postpartum visit no later than 12 weeks. Throughout pregnancy, you should develop a postpartum care plan to prepare yourself more for when you return home.

While giving birth signals the end of your pregnancy, many medical professionals and experienced parents feel that a new mother’s physical and emotional journey has just begun. The first 12 weeks after birth is a haze, but you and your baby will navigate this unknown territory together. Welcome to your new world, the fourth trimester.

What Exactly is the Fourth Trimester?

The fourth trimester is the period between birth and twelve weeks following delivery. Your baby is adjusting to the world outside the womb, and you are adjusting to your baby. While there is plenty to be thankful for, it can also be a physically and psychologically exhausting time for parents and a time of substantial developmental changes for your newborn.

Parents go through many changes over the first 12 weeks as well. The learning curve is steep; it takes time to master swaddling techniques and distinguish hunger cues from discomfort complaints.

New mothers may also be experiencing postpartum pain, breastfeeding difficulty, and hormonal mood swings. With sleep loss, it’s reasonable to say that new parents have a lot on their plates.

Parenting is a life-changing event. First, you find yourself in charge of a fragile little person. The early days of parenthood will be rewarding and stressful, full of beautiful firsts and significant obstacles.

These 12 weeks will try your patience and exhaust you beyond imagination. It’s a tug of war; you’ll want to savour every moment while anticipating a more stable period. It’s common to feel a variety of emotions as a new parent. You’ll be joyful one minute and then question your ability to parent the next. The fourth trimester is an emotional roller coaster with numerous highs and lows.

One of the challenges is feeling lonely. In contrast to your regular medical appointments and examination near the end of your pregnancy, you may not see your caregiver for 4 to 6 weeks after birth.

Many new parents will experience a brief bout of “baby blues” during the first few weeks. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, can last for a long time and be quite oppressive in the life of a new mom.

Seek professional treatment if you feel helpless, depressed, or unable to care for yourself and your child. A birth parent is also healing from the trauma of childbirth in the first 6 to 8 weeks, whether it was a vaginal delivery or a C-section.

Delivery-related vaginal pain can make any degree of exercise unpleasant, and bleeding and cramping can last for weeks. If you had a C-section, you need even more time to heal while your body adjusts and recovers.

Most new parents will have their first postpartum check-up six weeks after birth. Still, that wait can feel interminable if you’re in pain physically or emotionally, so don’t be afraid to contact your doctor.

Some Causes Leading to ‘Baby Blues’ During Your Fourth Trimester

It is incredibly crucial to monitor your mental wellness throughout the fourth trimester. Feeling under the weather is quite natural. However, if you believe your mental health is deteriorating and you cannot address it, get help from a mental health expert.

You’re going through a transition, so give yourself time to psychologically mature and adjust to your additional duties with the birth of your bundle of joy.

1. Feeling a Sense of Grief

It is never simple to deal with loss. However, it becomes extremely tough when you are feeling perennially low or experiencing a sense of loss and must maintain your emotional wellbeing while avoiding negative hormone changes.

For instance, suppose you are feeling low or anxious. In that case, you should pay extra attention to your mental health and seek professional treatment.

2. The Health of Your Newborn

Your first concern as a new mother would be concerns revolving around your precious baby. Having a tiny human who is entirely dependent upon you brings in the sense of anxiety. It is an anxiety that stems from love and a mixture of multiple emotions. The fear can result from you having read something online, and now you fear that happening to your baby.

It is very acceptable to be concerned about your baby’s well-being. However, if you find yourself worrying over it to the point of being unable to accomplish everyday activities and negatively impacting your life, don’t be afraid to get help from a therapist.

3. Love Between You and Your Partner

The support of your partner is especially vital during the fourth trimester. This is because we have a complicated connection with our bodies during this time. Your spouse must make you feel loved because it is so simple to find our bodies unappealing owing to the changes caused by childbirth.

The support of your partner is also necessary to demonstrate that you do not exist only to care for your child. Your spouse must promote and support you in practising self-love and self-care. A lack of affection and care from the spouse can significantly influence a new mother, who may feel ignored and unwanted.

4. Working Mother Guilt

It is difficult to bond with your newborn while meeting job commitments if you are a working mother. Even when on maternity leave, some women cannot switch off and continue to think about work-related responsibilities. If you are one of them and you plan to do a quick refresher course or chat with your colleagues, it does not mean that you lack commitment as a mother. The conditioning and perceptions breed inside our own heads. You need to learn to quieten the noise and question yourself. 

Leaving your infant with a nanny causes you to feel guilty for not spending enough time with your kid. Still, it also causes you to worry about whether the nanny is caring for the child as well as you could.

In these situations, keep in mind that the nannies have child care expertise and will be able to care for your infant appropriately. It is also crucial to note that even if the mother is not always around, the infant maintains the connection with her.

5. Breastfeeding and Guilt

According to many people, breastfeeding has long been the ideal way to bond with your newborn. However, because it differs from body to body, many women cannot breastfeed. If a new mother cannot breastfeed due to any cause, she may feel immensely guilty.

It’s important to remember that breastfeeding isn’t the only way to feed an infant. If you cannot produce breast milk, various infant formulae are now available that will not deprive your baby of nourishment. If you choose to, you may also get breast milk via breast milk donation centres these days.

New moms who pump instead of nursing, whether owing to job obligations or an erratic breastmilk supply, often feel the same guilt. You should bear in mind that this is no longer an issue with innovative methods of pumping and storing breastmilk in a sanitary manner. You may take a break without feeling guilty since it is natural to do so.

6. Added Stress from Extended Family

Extended family members, particularly in Indian families, are likely to offer an opinion or two on properly nurturing a newborn. However, it may all build up and put a lot of strain on the new parent.

If you feel you cannot deal with the ongoing pressure from them, you are free to seek the help of a mental health expert to deal with the additional stress. You may also try to talk to your extended family and explain that while the advice is greatly appreciated, it gradually strains you and prevents you from taking care of your bundle of joy.

7. Ways to Deal with the ‘Baby Blues’

When you start feeling under the weather, remind yourself that you can’t take care of your baby if you’re not feeling well. Instead, take rest and relax when required. Don’t feel bad if you ask your spouse for assistance so you can take a break.

If ranting a bit helps you out, reach out to your girlfriends and set a brunch date with them. You should also not be afraid to seek the help of a mental health expert. Especially if you realise that your mental state isn’t improving despite attempting various treatment options.

8. Communication with Partner is Key

Maintain open lines of communication with your partner. Communication is essential throughout the fourth trimester. Talk to your spouse and reach out when necessary. Most of the time, our partners are unsure of how they can assist us and decide to leave us alone to not get in our way.

Your companion would most likely be delighted to assist you and make things easy. So, talk to them and let them know if there are any specific chores you want them to undertake daily. 

9. Enjoy the Fourth Trimester to the Fullest

Your bundle of joy will be a grownup before you realise it, so take the time to savour and appreciate the ride. Don’t be afraid to snuggle and swaddle your baby as much as you want because someone else said it would result in a clingy kid.

They’ll be too old and cool to embrace and kiss before realising it. So, enjoy the journey and remember that no two journeys are alike. Every new mom’s journey is unique, and whatever route you choose for your baby is the right one.

10. Seek Professional Help

During the Fourth Trimester, it is best to seek the advice of a mental health expert. Even if you do not have a predisposition to Postpartum Depression, obtaining professional counselling will assist you in regulating your mood swings induced by hormonal changes.

The fourth trimester is a time when all women’s mental states fluctuate. Having the assistance of a mental health expert will aid you in managing the frequency of such shifts and general mental well-being.

The Bottom Line

The fourth trimester is the moment you’ve been looking forward to: your baby has arrived, and you’re a parent! Therefore, take advantage of this small window of opportunity. It will be demanding, challenging, and incredibly rewarding all at the same time. Your baby may struggle to adjust to life outside the womb during the first 12 weeks, but they will find comfort and contentment in your loving arms.

About the Author

Shreya Nayak holds a Master's degree in Psychology from the Indian Institute of Psychology and Research, Bangalore. Shreya's passion to help people led her to pursue this field. As a counsellor, she firmly believes that with compassion, empathy, and guidance one can achieve overall holistic and mental wellness. Shreya uses an eclectic approach which helps her guide her clients in achieving their true potential.

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