Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed after giving birth to your little one? Or perhaps you feel like you have no idea what you're doing and you just don't have what it takes to be a good mum? If so, please know you are not alone. Almost every mum goes through some rough and tough during the fourth trimester.
So what exactly is the fourth trimester? Defined as the first three months after giving birth, it's a special moment in time that's filled with equal parts wonder and chaos. It changes your whole life and your entire world. The fourth trimester can bring with it the highest of highs and lowest of lows. It's normal to feel a mixture of emotions, such as immense love and excitement, sadness, boredom, restlessness, irritability and a sense of complete overwhelm as you adapt to your new life.
If you are a desperate new mum who wants to know how to survive and thrive during the fourth trimester, read on for our top tips.
Is the fourth trimester the hardest?
We'd be lying if we said the fourth trimester was a total breeze. If you are a first-time mum, you might find yourself feeling like your life has been turned upside down and you'll never be the same again. During the 4th trimester, 80% of women become more emotionally sensitive. You might feel as though your family, friends and society as a whole expects you to be giddily happy, when you actually feel sad, overwhelmed and utterly despairing at times. You desperately want to enjoy this special and fleeting time with your newborn, but might simultaneously feel lonely and suffocated. Often known as the baby blues, these intense feelings are extremely common and experienced by most mums a few days after giving birth.
It’s OK to have a roller coaster of emotions after becoming a new mum. However, the 4th trimester can be made easier with social, emotional, mental, and physical help.
5 Tips For Surviving the Fourth Trimester
The postpartum recovery period can be short or long, depending on many factors such as how your labour and birth went, the state of your mental health, and whether you experienced birth trauma. Your body might take longer to heal, or perhaps physically you might recover relatively quickly but find yourself struggling psychologically.
You can’t sleep even though you desperately want to, you can’t go to the toilet without wincing in pain, you can never seem to eat a meal or drink a cup of tea until it's stone cold - and as for a long, relaxing shower? Never met her. While it can be intense, know that you can manage this period with the help and support of your loved ones.
Below are our top five tips for surviving the fourth trimester.
1. Let Your Body Rest, Rest, Rest
Your body goes through an enormous amount of hormonal, psychological, and physical changes during pregnancy. You might think that physically you'll return to 'normal' relatively quickly once baby is born, but in reality your body will be forever changed in small or sometimes big ways, and eventually you'll find a new 'normal'.
You will need rest, mama! Messy rooms, laundry, dishes, and mopping are not anywhere near as important as you and your wellbeing. Take it easy and ask for help with domestic chores. Your body has been through a huge physical feat and a massive transformation and deserves to be treated gently.
Baby will wake every couple of hours, so it can really help to get some shut-eye while bub is asleep, if you are able to. Sleep is critical for both your physical recovery and your mental health, so try to prioritise it as much as possible.
2. Understand Your Newborn’s Needs
If you are going to be a first-time mum, it can be really helpful educate yourself about the needs of a newborn baby prior to giving birth. Watch informative, fact-based videos and join forums for new parents to learn about newborn sleep cycles, feeding patterns and routines.
You can also take prenatal classes to learn more about what to expect after giving birth. Some helpful things to educate yourself on in advance include:
- How to safely swaddle a baby
- Breastfeeding techniques and feeding issues you may encounter (if you are planning to breastfeed)
- Safe sleep practices and approved products
- When it may be time to seek help, either for yourself or your baby.
3. Utilise a Certified Lactation Consultant
If you choose to breastfeed, there are a host of challenges you may or may not encounter. Things like low supply, pain, blistered nipples and latching problems are very common, and they can make the postpartum period more difficult.
If you are planning to breastfeed, it can help to locate and reach out to a certified lactation consultant and educate yourself on nursing before delivery. They can help you learn the correct breastfeeding techniques, and will also be a fantastic point of contact if you find yourself experiencing breastfeeding issues when your little one arrives.
4. Plan a Time For Yourself
Self-care is crucial for your postpartum recovery. You can't pour from an empty cup, and you can't care for others when your tank is empty. Time for yourself will be crucial. Plan 'me time' every day and make it a priority.
Some self-care tips to keep in mind during the postpartum period include the following:
- If you have a C-section, vaginal tear or episiotomy, follow the advice of medical professionals and take hygienic care of wounds and stitches.
- Avoid sex and other physical activities for at least six weeks (unless your doctor advises otherwise) and allow adequate time for your body to heal.
- Wear loose clothes and stretchy cotton pants. Comfort is paramount, plus if you are experiencing postpartum continence issues it helps to be able to whip pants off quickly.
- Slowly and gradually introduce walking during the fourth trimester. Make sure to discuss any physical exercise with your doctor prior to undertaking exercise.
- Your pelvic floor will be weaker - even if you had a complication-free pregnancy and delivery. Most women can greatly benefit from seeing a women's health physiotherapist in the postpartum period and beyond. They can assess your pelvic floor health along with any abdominal separation you may be experiencing, and can teach you the correct techniques for improving your pelvic floor strength.
Don't forget about those classic self-care practices that can help you feel rejuvenated and fresh, such as remedial massages, hot baths, and nutritious meals.
Social connection is also a vital part of any self-care routine, so be sure to schedule in visits with friends regularly. It will not only fulfil your social needs, but will also help boost your confidence as you start getting out-and-about with baby.
5. Rule out Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is incredibly common, and help is available. Here are some signs to look out for:
- Feeling sad or down: It's normal to feel emotional after having a baby, but if you're feeling persistently sad or down, it could be a sign of postnatal depression.
- Loss of interest or pleasure: If you're no longer enjoying the things you used to, such as spending time with friends or pursuing hobbies, this could also be a sign of postnatal depression.
- Difficulty sleeping: Sleep is crucial for both physical and mental health, but if you're having trouble falling or staying asleep even when baby is happily snoozing, it could be a symptom of postnatal depression.
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness: Many new mums feel guilty about not being able to do everything perfectly, but if these feelings are consuming your thoughts and affecting your daily life, it could be a sign of postnatal depression.
- Anxiety or panic attacks: It's common to worry about your baby's health and wellbeing, but if you're experiencing extreme anxiety or panic attacks, it could be a symptom of postnatal depression.
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's important to seek help. Don't be afraid to talk to your GP, midwife or a mental health professional. They can help you develop a treatment plan that's tailored to your needs.
The fourth trimester is a unique and magical time, but it's not without its challenges. Remember that it's not just your baby that needs care - you deserve to be cared for too. You're doing an amazing job (that also happens to be one of the toughest gigs out there) - and we're here to cheer you on every step of the way.
Words by Natasha Williams and Lauren Dunne.