Fourth Trimester Essentials You Actually Need
A lot is happening in the first 90 days of a baby’s life, but what about the mother’s? In this article, we’re looking deep into the fourth trimester and sharing our tips for optimal mental and physical health, successful breastfeeding and choosing the products you actually need during this transformative time.
In the US, we usually think about pregnancy in three trimesters. However, many cultures around the world divide it into four, with the fourth being the first three months of your child’s life.
During this time, your baby is (typically) in a cycle of feed, poop, sleep, feed, poop, sleep, feed, poop, sleep.
But what about mothers? They’re (typically) not in any sort of cycle. Their bodies are aching, healing, changing and trying to nourish multiple lives.
Kimberley Ann Johnson’s book, The Fourth Trimester provides a holistic approach and road map for mothers navigating postpartum hormonal changes, both emotional and physical trauma from delivering a baby and building a bond between mother and child.
To be completely honest, many of us parents at The Tot devoured this book and were shocked that such little information exists about this period of time for a mother. Most of the resources available are focused on newborns or managing the mental health of a mother. The keyword being, ‘manage.’
In this article, we’re taking a deeper look at the fourth trimester so that mothers can learn more about the realities of:
- Recovery after birth: the mental journey
- Postpartum mental health
- Breastfeeding a newborn: what to expect
- What products and gifts you actually need (and want) during the fourth trimester
Scroll down to keep reading.
Recovery after birth: the physical journey
It doesn’t matter if you gave birth vaginally or via cesarean, your body has been through A LOT. For starters, it just grown human for nine months.
Many women experience cramping and bleeding for six weeks or more post-birth. This is completely normal, but if you feel a heaviness or something pulling in your uterus/ vaginal region, speak to your doctor as this is a sign of infection.
Ligaments are stretched, organs have moved, your abdominal muscles are finally able to think about joining again…. and to top it off: your milk is going to come in. We will talk more about what to expect when breastfeeding a newborn shortly, but for now, let’s focus on what a postpartum body needs.
Sleep is such an elusive lover when you’re a parent. But it’s the thing that will help your body heal and your mind reset. When you miss out on sleep, you put yourself at risk for mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. It also puts an enormous amount of strain on an already strained body.
Here are our tips for prioritizing sleep with a newborn:
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. (If you can’t actually fall asleep – just lay still with your eyes closed.)
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants they may prevent sleep.
- Blackout your room during the day if you need to nap.
- Avoid screen time/ artificial lights close to bedtime as the blue light rays can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm.
- If you’re anxious about sleeping and not hearing your baby – ask your partner or family member to ‘be on duty’ so you can sleep confidently.
#2 Water & Healthy Food
Postpartum mothers’ bodies are working overtime creating milk, coursing hormones through their veins, and anticipating the needs of their baby. It’s imperative you keep up your food and water intake!
In particular, you should eat foods that promote healing such as:
- Organic broths
- High iron foods (particularly if there was a lot of blood loss)
- Nuts like cashews, walnuts and almonds
- Dark leafy greens
- Whole grains like organic buckwheat, millet and oats
But let’s be honest: you’re probably not going to want to be cooking. One of the best gifts a mother can receive is a meal delivery service or pre-cooked food that is stacked in her freezer!
As parents who have collectively experienced the fourth trimester quite a few times, we’re all about creating stations in your home, particularly if you live in a large space or have two levels.
These are the stations we suggest setting up nearby:
- Water & snack station
- This is where you can keep high-energy foods like nuts, granola, bananas or protein balls. And your water bottle of course!
- Diaper change station
- This is where you can keep a changing pad, diaper cream, diapers, extra clothing (yes, there will be explosions) and other personal care items like nail clippers.
- Breastfeeding station
- This is where you can keep your nipple balm, burp cloth, breast pads, nipple shields, pump – if using one.
- Play & learning station
- This is where you can do tummy time and other important activities to help your baby reach their developmental milestones!
Of course, mothers need to get up and move, but it can be really overwhelming when a baby is screaming and you can’t find a diaper and cream. By having everything organized, stocked and ready to go, you’ll be much more likely to handle stressful situations when they arise.
Postpartum mental health
Chances are, you’ve heard of the Baby Blues.
Even though many women are doing an incredible job of trying to break the stigma around postpartum depression and anxiety, it still feels like a taboo topic and one that women feel guilty about owning. Because society tells us we are supposed to ‘bounce back’ we feel like it’s our fault when we feel a disconnect with our child, our minds and our bodies. Quietly – we sneak into the doctor’s office, confess that we aren’t coping and are given something to ‘manage.’ In reality – we just aren’t fully finished with our pregnancy and therefore not actually ready to ‘bounce back.’
The two words, ‘bounce back’ imply that the moment we have our baby, everything returns to normal – our waistline, our life, our kitchen counters, our mental health. This is simply not the case.
We’ve met women (and are women) who feel so sad and guilty about not being on Cloud 9 post-birth that their internal stress levels caused them to feel physically ill and in some cases – their milk supply dries out.
The fourth trimester is a particularly vulnerable time for new mothers and a period when support is needed most. When you’re 38 weeks pregnant, even strangers are willing to give you their chair, pump your gas or carry your groceries to the car. Suddenly when you don’t look pregnant anymore, the help seems to fade and we are expected to manage on our own.
Donna Walls, RN, BSN, ICCE, IBCLC of the International Childbirth Education Association says,
“In many other cultures, the emphasis is on a prescribed period of time focusing on rest and recovery while friends and family care for the mother and often her family and home. The mother’s only responsibility is caring for her infant. In China, the postpartum time literally means “sitting the month” when new mothers are served nourishing foods aimed at restoring health and supporting lactation. In Korea, the resting period post birth is commonly referred to as “the 100 days of birth” while in Japan the “ansei” means “peace and quiet with pampering” for the first three weeks.
In India, the “confinement” lasts from 40-60 days and includes herbal baths and massages. In Africa, new mothers remain quietly at home for 10-40 days, and in some African countries it can be up to three months with friends and family taking care of her home and other children
In Mexico, “la cuarentena,” translates to “quarantine” and continues for forty days which some studies have shown to encourage infant and mother bonding.”
While it’s easy to want to 100% focus on your newborn, you cannot give what’s needed if you’re not whole, which is why we’re trying to change the way we view the number of trimesters in pregnancy.
Breastfeeding a newborn: what to expect
A contributing factor of postpartum depression and anxiety is difficulty breastfeeding. It’s a maternal instinct to want to feed a baby and see it thrive.
When things don’t go to plan (cracked nipples, nipple confusion, poor latching, low milk supply, mastitis, tongue-tie…. to name a few roadblocks!) it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, guilty, sad, angry and lost. Here are a few things we wish we had told ourselves when learning how to breastfeed:
- Mother’s milk can come in anywhere between 3 and 6 days. Do not fret if you don’t feel like you have ‘enough’ milk during the first week. During this time, your baby mostly just needs your colostrum (the yellow stuff that comes out before your milk comes in!)
- Your nipples are so dark because your baby’s eyesight isn’t very good yet and it helps them find your nipple.
- Not every breastfeeding hold or latching tip works for everyone, feel free to ask multiple nurses or friends for help.
- Chapped nipples can get better, but be sure to use nipple balms or shields to make sure they don’t get infected.
- If breastfeeding problems persist – seek out a lactation consultant – the sooner the better.
- Breastfeeding should not continue to be painful.
- It’s okay to supplement with organic formula.
- It’s okay to pump and bottle feed.
- It’s okay to do whatever makes you and your baby feel at ease, nourished and loved.
Gift ideas for new moms that support recovery and mental health
Instead of frantically searching for a cute onesie or swaddle, we suggest opting for a gift like a massage or home cleaning service for new moms.
- Organize a cleaning service to come to their home while they’re in the hospital
- Offer childcare help
- Gift cards for meal delivery services
- Gift cards for a laundry service
- Gift card for a clinical nutritionist who specializes in postpartum recovery
- Massage, facial or another wellness service
- Breastfeeding-friendly pajamas
- Cozy robe that allows ease of movement
- Feeding set that includes tips from a Registered Lactation Consultant (nipple balm, cover, silicone breastmilk storage bags)
- Breastpump and/or breastmilk catch
- Developmental newborn toys
- Baby and mama-safe skincare
- Postpartum recovery bath salts
- Bedside bassinet that promotes bonding and reduces strain on a mother’s body
- A journal for mothers to help process emotions
Scroll down to see some of our picks!
Our favorite fourth trimester essentials
When you’re breastfeeding or healing post-cesarean, button-down pajamas are a must! We love the ultra soft, stylish and timeless sets from Petite Plume!
One of the hardest things to get when you’re a new mom is SLEEP. ettitude makes a wonderful bamboo Lyocell eye mask, eye pillow and pillowcase set that feels like an actual dream!
Available in more colors
When choosing skincare products for new moms, it’s important to remember that it needs to be BOTH mama and baby-safe. It also has to provide the level of hydration and nourishment a post-birth body needs.
We love gifting things like recovery bath salts, stretch mark oils, face masks and of course – nipple cream!
We’re not going to lie – a lot of us at The Tot pretty much LIVED in cozy robes for the first three months of our babies’ lives. The waffle bath robe from ettitude is a fantastic pick because it’s made of 100% organic bamboo Lyocell which is naturally breathable and hypoallergenic.
Available in more colors
The Tot Feeding Sets: Nursing was created by mothers and a Registered Lactation Consultant to provide women with helpful tips for breastfeeding. It also includes breast pads, nipple balm, a feeding cover, and silicone storage containers for breastmilk!
We also always recommend the Nook Sleep Systems Niche Organic Feeding Pillow because it can help you find your optimal breastfeeding position while reducing the strain on your neck, back and arms.
Available in more colors
Breastpumps truly do keep getting better and better! The Elvie is designed to slip into your bra for a comfortable, hands-free pumping session!
They also have the ‘catch’ which is designed to catch leaking or a let down from the breast you’re not feeding on.
According to the AAP, babies should sleep in the same room as their parents for the first 6-12 months of their lives to reduce the risk of SIDS. Having your baby nearby can also help promote mother-baby bonding and make feeding and diaper changes less of a physical endeavor. This is particularly important if you’ve had a c-section.
We recommend the height-adjustable swivel bassinets from Halo because they work with any bed size, rotate 360 degrees and even have built-in soothers like music.
From day 1, your baby is beginning to take in the world around them and try to make sense of how they belong. From strengthening their eyesight to acknowledging sounds and discovering textures, their minds are busy making important synaptic connections!
You can help them reach important developmental milestones like focusing, tracking an object, reaching, grasping and shaking with The Tot Play & Learn Set for 0 – 3 month olds.
Giving birth and becoming a mother is an incredibly emotional time. We find writing about our feelings and even letters to our babies to be therepeutic.
Interviews, stories, and guides on thetot.com contain information that is general in nature and should not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical condition or concern or plan on trying a new diet, supplement or workout, it’s best to first consult with your physician or a qualified health professional.
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