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Diagnosis: Fourth Trimester

Published in Birthing Services, Women's Services, For the Health of It Author: Katherine Lauer, RN, BSN, St. Cloud Hospital Birthing Center

Dr. Google...paging Dr. Google.

Despite knowing that Dr. Google is not a replacement for a real provider, we are all guilty of consulting him at one point in our lives. Sometimes it is out of curiosity and other times it is out of pure desperation. That point of desperation may occur at 2 a.m., when a sleep deprived new mom finds herself franticly searching, “Why does my newborn want to be held all the time?”

I was that new mom.

The next day I knew what I had to do. I made an appointment with the pediatrician, and I found out my baby and I were normal. We were experiencing the fourth trimester.

The fourth trimester, which includes the first 12 weeks after delivery, is a period of transition for both mom and baby. It is a time when the mother is discovering her new postpartum body, learning how to care for her newborn and managing changing hormones. The newborn is adjusting from a warm, dark, consistent womb into a world of unfamiliar sounds, smells and touch. During this time, it is important that mom and baby get the support they need. For mom, this can include a variety of self-care measures. For the infant, it can mean a special set of care-giving practices.

Self-care measures for mom

Sleep

Having a newborn is exhausting, and most new moms report not getting enough sleep. First-time moms are more likely to suffer from sleep deficiency, which can increase the risk for postpartum depression and have a negative impact on relationships. Sleep, which plays a key role in healing, is especially important for recovery after delivery. Taking frequent naps and allowing others to help care for baby may help prevent sleep deprivation.

Personal care

Caring for a newborn is a full-time job and taking time for one’s self is a vital part of parenting. Eating a balanced meal, drinking water throughout the day and bathing regularly are simple, but often forgotten tasks. Once approved by the provider, light exercise has a positive correlation to increased physiological and psychological wellbeing. To achieve the daily recommended 30 minutes of exercise, a woman can do multiple exercise sessions that are as short as 10 minutes.

Accept help

The old saying of “it takes a village” is especially true in postpartum. With a newborn, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with day-to-day responsibilities. Accepting help from others, whether it is an offer to watch baby, cook a meal or clean the house, can help with the sense of overload.

Newborn care-giving practices

Skin to skin

The warmth and closeness of skin to skin feels like a familiar womb-like environment. Studies have shown that prolonged skin to skin contact has a positive impact on a newborn’s ability to grow and gain weight, maintain temperature and blood glucoses, and reduce the amount of crying.

Movement

Much like the warmth and closeness of skin to skin, movement is a key part of recreating life in the womb. Rocking, bouncing, or carrying baby in a sling carrier mimics the soft and gentle movements of the womb.

Swaddle

Safely swaddling an infant in a sleep sack is another great way to imitate the womb. Many babies will sleep better, be more relaxed, and cry less when swaddled, especially if combined with movement.

Weeks after finding out that my infant and I were experiencing the fourth trimester, life with a newborn became easier and more consistent. My baby didn’t need to be held all the time. He cried less and had a more regular schedule. I felt more confident as a mother, better rested, and comfortable in my new post-baby body. I was happy that I reached out to a provider and learned about the fourth trimester. This education not only helped me to understand my needs and emotions as a new mom, but also the needs and behaviors of my newborn. Whether you are a new mother or an experienced mom, take it from me: Reach out to a pediatrician or OB, prenatally or in postpartum, for advice and guidance on what to do in the fourth trimester.