For the media

What to expect in the ‘4th trimester’

By The Health News Team | July 5, 2024
Parents with their baby

Parents the world over look forward to the birth of their child. Through three trimesters of pregnancy, they imagine what their infant will look like, go over lists of possible names, and studiously dive into books about childbirth and child rearing. But many parents don’t realize there is another important period they should prepare for: the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy.

“The fourth trimester is the first 12 weeks after an infant is born,” says Veronica James, a licensed clinical social worker at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns. “It is important for parents to plan for this crucial period so they can feel prepared and supported. It can set the stage for the long-term health and wellbeing of both parents and baby.”

According to James, along with the joy of baby’s arrival, the fourth trimester may bring a host of challenges, including:

  • Infant care

  • Mood changes

  • Breastfeeding

  • Recovery from delivery

  • Altered sleep patterns, exhaustion

  • Contraception

  • Sexuality

  • Role and relationship changes

Social media vs. reality
The idyllic social media posts featuring fit moms in the latest styles and looking as if they’ve had 12 hours of sleep and a stay at a spa aren’t often representative of the reality most new parents experience. Parents who have just given birth often must cope with everything from mental health challenges to fatigue, incontinence, pain and even hair loss.

During the fourth trimester, James urges parents to keep in mind the three essential tasks they have in relation to their baby:

  1. Bonding with your baby

  2. Feeding your baby

  3. Calming your baby

“Along with focusing on healing after pregnancy, rest and transitioning to parenthood, this should be your focus,” she says. “Bonding may take time and requires regular involvement with baby’s care. Feeding requires balanced attention on physical, logistical, emotional and scheduling elements. And soothing your baby is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced.”

Promoting health as new parents
Ultimately, balance in all areas is key. James recommends parents take time to ensure the six pillars of self-care are maintained. These include:

  • Quality sleep

  • Nutritious, balanced diet

  • Regular exercise

  • Time for yourself

  • Shared emotions through effective communication

  • Social support

“These are essential for all new parents to work on,” James says. “Doing these will look different in the first year postpartum than it did before the birth of your baby. Nevertheless, they are still very important for your well-being and your partner’s well-being.”

Talk with your doctor if you are having a difficult time adjusting to parenthood. There are treatments available for physical and mental health-related concerns, support groups and classes for new parents, and other community resources that can help.

“The fourth trimester is often the hardest trimester,” James says. “Be flexible and make adjustments to expectations when necessary, keep communicating how you feel every step of the way, lean on your partner for support, enlist help from your ‘village’ and seek professional help when needed.”

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