Chances are, you’ve heard the term “the fourth trimester” during your pregnancy and postpartum journey. Coined by pediatrician Harvey Karp, M.D. (of Happiest Baby on the Block fame), the term originally referred to the first 3 months of your baby’s life.
These days, healthcare providers increasingly use it to refer to the mom’s experience after birth.
Recovering from birth and adjusting to the feelings and sensations of new parenthood is a lot. It can feel overwhelming to be in a newly postpartum body, to learn how to breastfeed, and to take care of a totally helpless new person.
Your body is recovering from birth, a process that can take weeks to months:
- Your uterus is shrinking back to its normal size.
- You will continue to have vaginal bleeding for roughly 6 weeks after birth (regardless of whether you had a vaginal or cesarean birth).
- Make sure you know the signs of postpartum complications that need medical treatment. Don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider if anything in your body feels off.
Although the physical recovery is difficult, many moms find the fourth trimester to be challenging emotionally and mentally, too. It’s normal to feel some “baby blues” and anxiety, but be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of postpartum depression.
- Prepare! Now (or ideally during pregnancy) is the time to set up practical and emotional support systems for yourself. These can include having important items (like nipple cream and pads if you are breastfeeding) on hand and a plan for food, cleaning and care for your other children or pets (if you have them).
- Ask for help from your friends and family. They will be willing and you will need them for emotional support, errands or chores, and a break.
- Line up professionals (such as breastfeeding consultants and postpartum doulas) to consult about breastfeeding or postpartum life.
- Eat healthy foods and stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water.
- Rest is key. Don’t push yourself to be active if your body is asking for quiet and relaxation.
- Learn about normal behavior for infants and have realistic expectations for how your baby will act (hint: sleeping through the night right now is not a thing). Babies need almost constant attention and physical contact during the first few weeks of life.
- Be gentle and tender with yourself, too. Don’t fixate on getting back to “normal”; simply let the new normal unfold. This is an intense time for you and your baby, but it will pass.
- Give yourself patience and praise—you’re a great mom already!
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This message is not intended to provide individual medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have about your health or medical condition, your breastfeeding issues and your infant's health. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you have read in our emails, webpages or other electronic communications.
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