The first few weeks after giving birth can be a roller coaster of emotions. Pregnancy lasts for three trimesters, but the first three months postpartum (also known as the “fourth trimester”) can be a tumultuous time period full of big feelings, emotions, and stressors.
Coined by Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician, and author, the fourth trimester refers to the first three months postpartum as parents adjust to having a new baby at home. The first few months after babies arrive are such a life-changing time that parents should view it as an adjustment period for an infant learning to survive life outside the womb. Coupled with parents’ notorious sleep deprivation, the fourth trimester can be a very difficult, draining period for new parents as they undertake the physical and mental load of caring for a newborn baby.
This 12-week postpartum period is notoriously difficult, from the baby blues and postpartum depression, to the learning curve that is taking care of a newborn baby, to struggling to maintain self-care, to physical postpartum recovery. There are many physical and emotional changes after the baby arrives. The first several weeks of a baby’s life will probably be filled with lots of crying, as they adjust to the noisy, bright, tumultuous life outside the mother’s womb.
Thankfully, there are steps that parents can take to make the fourth trimester a lot more manageable.
Babywearing is important in the early days.
The switch from being in the womb during pregnancy to being disconnected from the mother’s body after birth can be a challenging time for a baby! However, babywearing, even if just around the house, can be a huge lifesaver for parents in the early days of caring for a newborn!
Babywearing helps moms (and dads or other caregivers) keep the baby close by at all times, and is a great way to stay hands-free while carrying a baby all day. Investing in a quality baby carrier can make a big difference for new parents as they help their baby adjust to the outside world.
Babies love movement because it mimics life inside the womb. Your baby is used to being jostled and jiggled, but as they learn to function independently in the first weeks after birth, remaining close to the parent in a carrier can be helpful.
Babywearing is also a great way for newborns to get some shut-eye. Wearing them in a ring sling, cloth wrap carrier, or structured carrier, can be helpful for a new mom or dad. Babies will feel similar motions to pregnancy, and rest assured that they are safe and secure. This calming effect can help them adjust to new life in the outside world.
The KeaBabies Baby Wrap Carrier is ideal for babywearing.
The KeaBabies Baby Wrap Carrier is the perfect tool for babywearing in comfort and style. This wrap is available in a variety of fashionable colors, and is ergonomically designed for even weight distribution, making it easier to carry around a new baby.
Swaddling is important for infant sleep.
From breastfeeding and cluster feeding, to frequent night wake-ups, to endless diaper changes, it can seem impossible to get enough rest when a baby is in the fourth trimester! In addition, the Moro reflex that babies are born with can also prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep, and that sleep deprivation can hurt both babies and new moms and dads!
The Moro reflex typically lasts for several months after birth, and is a startle reflex that causes newborns’ arms and legs to flail when they feel like they’re falling. This sensation is one of the many reasons why it’s hard for a newborn to settle and rest at night, as they wake themselves up with frequent jerky movements.
Swaddling is one way to help your baby sleep better during the fourth trimester. It can help calm them enough to help them get a normal amount of sleep at night, even if they wake up to eat. Swaddling decrease the startle reflex, and helps recreate the snug, cozy environment that a baby is used to during pregnancy.
Parents should use a swaddle blanket or swaddle sleep sack to wrap their baby snugly and safely, making sure to keep their mouth and nose clear. Wrap the baby securely, but be sure to keep their lower body loose enough for their legs to form a hip-healthy, “frog” position.
Swaddling should stop at 8 weeks, unless an infant shows signs of rolling sooner than that. Once a baby can roll over, or attempt to roll over, it is no longer safe to swaddle.
Skin-to-skin time during the first weeks postpartum can be beneficial for moms and babies.
Typically, after a baby is born, they are placed on the mother’s chest for skin-to-skin contact. This causes a release in the hormone oxytocin for the mother, which can help her recovery by causing uterine contractions that reduce bleeding, and it also helps the baby in a number of ways. Skin-to-skin time can help regulate a baby’s body temperature, regulate breathing, lower the amount of crying and agitation, and lower the rates of hypoglycemia.
The oxytocin release helps the mother and baby bond, and moms experience feelings of happiness and peacefulness as they snuggle their new baby. It also triggers the baby’s instinct to locate the breast and latch on to begin breastfeeding.
Even after leaving the hospital, skin-to-skin time can be very beneficial as parents and babies enter the fourth trimester. New moms can benefit from holding their babies close, and it aids in physical recovery as it causes uterine contractions that promote healing. Skin-to-skin can even reduce the risk of postpartum depression, reduce stress levels, and promote breastfeeding and the production of breast milk. Skin-to-skin contact can be extremely benefit for the mother’s mental health as she navigates the postpartum period.
Use a white noise machine to help with sleep issues.
Babies aren’t accustomed to peace and quiet. During pregnancy, they’re used to all the muffled noises they hear from inside the womb. Parents can help their new baby sleep better by using a white noise machine to mimic the same noise their little one is used to hearing!
White noise machines help by decreasing startling background noises, and creating a calming effect using loud, uniform sounds. Noise machines are available in many varieties. Some have night lights, some play lullabies, some are portable, and some play “womb” sounds. Sound machines and white noise machines are one of the most helpful products for surviving the fourth trimester.
Make it through those first weeks and months after giving birth by staying in contact with medical providers.
Women should be sure to stay in touch with their healthcare provider during the postpartum period as they heal from giving birth. A doctor can make sure that women are healing properly from a vaginal delivery or cesarean delivery, perform a comprehensive exam, make sure moms are getting enough sleep, and screening for warning signs of postpartum mood disorders. It’s important for women to keep up with postpartum appointments and seek support when needed.
A lactation consultant is another medical provider that can help new moms access ongoing care. Lactation consultants assist women in assessing breastfeeding issues, such as latch, reflux, pumping, and positioning. A lactation consultant can assess how you feed your baby, and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.
Take time for self-care.
Postpartum women should navigate the “fourth trimester” with special focus on their own self-care. During the fourth trimester, women are often sleep deprived, emotionally drained, and healing from childbirth, and taking care of a newborn baby around the clock can cause emotional health to plummet!
Moms shouldn’t feel guilty for taking a little while to support themselves by doing different forms of self-care. Whether it’s taking a long, hot bath, going shopping with a friend, going out on a date night with a partner, getting her hair or nails done, or working out, self care is the best way for many women to survive the difficulties of the fourth trimester.
If self-care seems impossible, women should find a trusted family member, babysitter, friend, or nanny to help alleviate some of the stress of taking care of a newborn around the clock. A growing family can experience many stressors, and it’s important to reach out to family members or friends who can help alleviate some of the pressures that come with new parenthood.
Women can actively prepare for the fourth trimester during pregnancy, by stocking up on freezer meals, healthy snacks, breastfeeding supplies, and first aid essentials that are necessary for healing from a vaginal delivery or a cesarean section. Taking the time to prepare can help those first few months after childbirth seem more manageable, and can free up more time to practice self-care.
Sometimes, women wait too long to reach out to family and friends during these difficult weeks and months.
When women are feeling like they can no longer handle their day-to-day duties, or feel completely overwhelmed by simple things, it probably means they waited too long to ask for help. A vast majority of women experience the baby blues during the first weeks of the postpartum period, and symptoms usually include irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and crying for seemingly no reason. Women should not feel guilty when they ask for help – the postpartum period is not an easy time by any means!
Practicing self-care can make this time period feel more manageable. Drink plenty of water, get as much sleep as possible, and nurture your own well-being, and this “new normal” will feel much easier over time.
The “fourth trimester” can be a challenge, but adequate preparation can alleviate some of the stress.
The best thing new moms can do is give themselves grace when it comes to the postpartum journey. It’s not easy caring for a new baby around the clock, especially while healing from birth, dealing with lack of sleep, trying to learn how to breastfeed, and attempting to manage basic household duties with a new little one to care for. Women should seek help from other parents, medical providers, and friends as they navigate this tumultuous period.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.
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