The “Fourth Trimester”: Transition to Motherhood
Life as a new Mum is complex, no more so than in the first three months.
Welcome to the “Fourth Trimester”: an important time for baby and Mum, and one that should, in our opinion, be treated just as preciously as pregnancy!
We call it the “Fourth Trimester” because it is exactly that; an extension of the final trimester where we transition baby into life outside the womb, get to know him or her, and learn how to “Mum” them (verb: the act of “Mumming”; being a Mum).
No two women’s experience of the first twelve weeks will be the same; what works for Sally might not for Suzie. Sally might love every second of it, but Suzie might struggle; and that’s ok!
The more we talk about a real scope of experiences, the more we can give ourselves permission to feel what we need to feel and hopefully enjoy what is a beautiful time of life!
But what can you reasonably expect from the Fourth Trimester?
In a nutshell, while Mum is recovering from pregnancy and child birth; baby is working on some serious development milestones: learning how to move, breathe, eat, sleep, and interact with you in a cold, bright and loud environment.
During this time, the best way to support a newborn is to replicate womb-like conditions. So, in practical terms, newborn life looks a lot like a feed-play-sleep cycle, punctuated by baby wearing, cuddling, soothing and rocking – on loop.
Sounds like the ultimate nurturing love bubble, right? Absolutely!
But it would be remiss to not acknowledge its challenges:
- To cope; be happy; heal fast; look and feel good; “bounce back”; lose weight; be a “natural” Mum; love motherhood; know what to do; be a good wife/partner; be the best mother possible for your other children; the list goes on.
- To have a baby that sleeps well, feeds well, self-settles, and doesn’t cry.
- To return to work/contribute financially.
- Healing: you’ve just had a baby!
- Sleep deprivation.
- Hormones: oestrogen levels return to pre-pregnancy levels 24 hours after birth. When breastfeeding, oestrogen levels remain low, causing menopausal symptoms like:
- Night sweats.
- Hot flashes.
- Joint pain.
- Mood swings: aka “frequent desire to kill your significant other”.
- Feeling like you’re “losing the plot”: see sleep deprivation plus hormones.
- “Brain fog”.
- Family/relationship issues.
- Post-natal depression.
- Post-natal anxiety.
- Post-natal psychosis.
Let’s get real: it can be tough! But all the above and more, sits on the spectrum of “normal” post-natal experiences.
The good news is, it is possible to thrive in the fourth trimester, not just survive.
- Lower your expectations: accept you will have good days and bad.
- Don’t punish yourself for the bad days and be sure to celebrate the good!
- No brave faces! Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel!
- Repeat: “I’ve just had a baby! It is normal to feel like this!”
- Ask for help.
- Ask for a break!
- Slow down.
- Cut yourself some slack, let yourself enjoy the baby bubble! (Baby cuddles, baggy pants, Netflix and chocolate: hooray!)
Anyone who says you must “make time” for yourself (or for anything other than being a Mum to newborn baby) in the first 12 weeks, has either long since forgotten what it is like to have a baby, or hasn’t ever experienced it. Beware: it might be well-meaning, but this is not helpful advice!
How about we flip the dialogue to: if you have an opportunity to take some time out for yourself, do it! And do it without feeling guilt!
It can be as simple as going for a walk, grabbing a coffee with a friend, getting your hair done, or going to a Post Natal Pilates class, without the baby (what a treat!).
Nourish yourself, because you can’t pour from an empty cup!
In the toughest moments remember: this too shall pass, and quicker than you realise. While this thought might not bring you much comfort at 3.00am, it might just make you appreciate the fourth trimester for what it is: the transition to motherhood.
PFI is Perth’s pregnancy and post-natal Pilates specialists, and many of our Instructors are Mums! So, we thought we’d finish with their thoughts on the Fourth Trimester:
“The love bubble! It’s such a special time where the noise of life is silenced and it’s all you and your baby, getting to know each other. And at the same time, it is the steepest learning curve you’ll ever experience, especially first time around. No two days are the same: some days you feel like you’re nailing it, others are brutal and have you doubting everything you thought you knew. Some days are just survival and some are pure joy from start to finish. Every woman’s experience with it is different, and all of it is ok! It is beautiful chaos!” – Suzanne Newby, PFI Director.
“When your baby is born, it’s a crazy collision of looking after your new jellybean but also learning (really, really quickly and on no sleep) how to become a whole new person yourself. Motherhood changes you forever so it makes total sense that the months after childbirth are full of high highs and low lows.” – Frances Cahill, PFI Director.
“It is such a joyful time but it can also be a rollercoaster of emotions as you adjust to life with a new bub who relies on you 24/7. Expect to give your body plenty of time to heal – that’s only fair after the nine months it took to grow your baby. Try and rest when you can, nourish yourself with nutritious food and avoid putting undue pressure on yourself to ‘bounce back’ in the fourth trimester. Savour that beautiful baby smell and all those cuddly, snuggly times even at 3.00am!” – Maryann Taraborrelli, PFI Pilates & Barre Attack Instructor.
“In the first three months, anything goes! The terrifying beauty of motherhood is: you have no idea what you’re going to get, until you get it! Embrace the unpredictability, roll with it, get to know your baby, soak up all those lovely newbie vibes and remember (especially on those hard days/nights): you are the best mother for your baby.” – Carly Wise, PFI Consultant.
If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Our on-site, allied health partner Cressida Bell specialises in counselling for women during this time of life. Get in touch via her website, or phone +614 66 686 161.