What Is a Fourth Trimester, Anyway? By Emily Graham
The phrase “fourth trimester” refers to the three months immediately after a baby is born. This is a time of adjustment when both baby and mother are undergoing major changes and slowly creating their new normal. As with many life transitions, it is not always easy. Learning about the process may help you figure out the best ways to approach it.
Your baby goes from a dark, climate-controlled environment where sleep, feeding, waste removal, and temperature are automatically regulated out into the brightly lit world, where schedules may determine these things. Often the infant will have to make its discomfort known in order to get things right. The child also now has the opportunity to stretch out, develop muscles and muscle control, and learn about the world and how to interact with it. While your child is meeting these challenges, you, the mother, have your own set of physical changes to manage as you recover from pregnancy and delivery. You may have rather extreme fluctuations in hormones, postpartum bleeding, and soreness as you heal from delivery, and other changes as your organs gradually shift back to their previous positions. You may have unexpected issues with nursing your child if you choose to do this. A lactation consultant can help you with these concerns.
The emotional adjustment after birth can be massive. The hormonal changes alone may cause unexpected mood swings. A sense of overwhelm frequently accompanies all the new responsibilities that come with having a baby. Being physically exhausted and sleep-deprived can make it difficult to maintain your emotional equilibrium. You may need to adjust your ideas of what a “good mom” is. If you are able to eat, rest, and care for the baby, this is a resounding success. The fourth trimester is a period of adjustment, and there will be some amount of trial and error involved. Postpartum depression, characterized by ongoing feelings of sadness, indifference, or inability to cope sometimes develops. If this is your experience, speak with your doctor about it. There are ways to treat postpartum depression, and the sooner you request help, the sooner you can be feeling better.
Managing your work life
It may seem unthinkable to attempt to continue meeting your responsibilities in the business world during the months immediately after giving birth. It is important to let clients and customers know in advance that you will be out of the office during maternity leave, however long that may be for you. This is critical if you are self-employed. It is a good idea to list the tasks you normally do that must be done in your absence. Other employees or a temporary worker can take over, and although things will not be perfect, they will be far better than if you made no effort. You might consider hiring a virtual assistant to carry some of the load while you are gone.
Ask for help
It is important to ask for help during the months right after giving birth. You may feel comfortable delegating tasks at work but feel as if you should be able to handle everything at home yourself. Doing everything yourself is too much, so ask friends, family, and neighbors for assistance when you can. If people come to visit, put them to work. They can unload the dishwasher, walk your dog, or hold the baby for a short time while you get a shower. Find a support group for new moms. If you have experienced particular challenges with nursing, gestational diabetes, or other issues, you might want a group focused on that aspect of becoming a new parent. While your new mom support group might be online, it is a great idea to create an in-person group, however small, of new parents that can support and encourage each other.
The fourth trimester or three months after giving birth brings a completely new set of challenges. Self-care is very important during this time since you cannot care for your baby if you have depleted yourself. Although the first few months of a child’s life are a delightful time of growth and bonding, they are also some of the most physically demanding for the mother. So be sure to take time off work if you can, ask for help, and try to have realistic expectations for yourself.
Emily Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.