What to Expect in Your 4th Trimester, Postpartum
Congratulations! You endured three trimesters of fluctuating hormones, rapid changes to your body, aches, pains, and growth, and you’ve come out on the other side with a sweet little baby.
So why do you still feel so hormonal and achy, and what’s with all the ongoing changes to your body?
Welcome to the 4th trimester. Even though you’re no longer pregnant, your body still has a lot of adjustments to make in this earliest stage of motherhood. Let’s talk about what to expect, how to get through it, and what to look out for as possible signs to get a little extra support.
What is the 4th trimester?
The “4th trimester” is a colloquial term for the initial postnatal period of motherhood – the 12 weeks immediately following the birth of your baby, also known as postpartum. While this is a time when you might feel completely absorbed in your little one’s needs, it’s a really important time to pay attention to your own needs, too.
You may have heard that new (or new again) moms should see their medical provider about four to six weeks postpartum, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) actually recommends check-ups within three weeks of having a baby and again at about 12 weeks postpartum. Most women spend their first few weeks of motherhood healing from vaginal tears or cesarean incisions, possible hemorrhoids and general soreness, cramps and bleeding, lack of sleep, and the emotional rollercoaster that comes from all of that during a time when hormones haven’t yet leveled out. There can also be struggles with breastfeeding, a case of the “baby blues,” and the general loneliness that can come with caring for a newborn 24/7.
In short, the first 12 weeks of your baby’s life are just as important for your own health and wellness as the baby’s. Beyond making sure you keep in touch with your medical provider and care for your physical healing, you can also take steps to make life easier for yourself.
Breastfeeding and sleepless nights: how to survive the postpartum period
Despite how important self-care is during the 4th trimester, it can be really hard to prioritize – especially if you’re breastfeeding and can’t split up nighttime feedings with a partner. You can soak in those sweet baby snuggles and ask loved ones for help around the house, with cooking, or to step in when you need to shower or sleep, but there’s no substitute for you for those every-three-hours (or more frequent) nursing sessions. The best you can do is make the process as comfortable for yourself as possible.
The last thing you want to worry about is leaking through your bra or fussing with an uncomfortable bra to begin with.
- Washable nursing pads: Nursing pads can help keep you dry and comfortable (essential for getting any sleep at night!), and they’re easier to switch out than your whole bra when you do leak. For the softest option, we recommend our washable nursing pads, made with velvety velour fabric.
- Yoga nursing bra: The bra you wear matters, especially when you’re breastfeeding. The yoga nursing bra allows you ease of nursing, but in a comfortable, soft, and supportive design.
- Seamless nursing tank: One of the easiest ways to stay comfortable and make breastfeeding easy anywhere is to stock your wardrobe with layer-friendly nursing tank tops. The seamless nursing tank is the perfect staple – soft, wireless, stretchy, and durable. Make sure to grab a couple in case of spit-up!
What you wear is only part of the comfort equation. There’s no way around it – breastfeeding and pregnancy can be hard on your body. It can ache or even hurt, and it can leave a mark. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it.
- Therapy pillows: When you’re engorged, have a plugged duct, or just feel achy or chafed from pumping or nursing so frequently (cluster feedings, anyone?), you might feel desperate for relief. Bamboobies soothing therapy pillows offer the softness of a washable nursing pad with the option for warming or cooling relief.
- Organic nipple balm: Another must-have for early in the breastfeeding journey, cluster feedings, when baby starts teething, or any other nipple pain is Bamboobies organic nipple balm. It’s so safe that you don’t even have to wipe it off before nursing! Pro tip: get the two-pack so you can keep one where you do most of your nursing and one in the diaper bag.
- All-purpose balm: Let’s be honest, new motherhood can come with more aches and pains than just sore nipples. There might be stretch marks, scratches from teeny tiny baby fingernails (on you and your baby), and those mystery cuts you find after spending half the night half-asleep. The all-purpose balm can help with any of these, as well as insect bites, rashes, and more. It’s safe enough for your baby and is bound to be a staple in your cabinet for years to come.
- Organic pumping lubricant: Breastfeeding isn’t always comfortable – especially when your baby gets a shallow latch or starts teething – but pumping can have its uncomfortable moments too. A pumping lubricant can help reduce friction between your breast and the pump flange for an easier experience.
Breastfeeding can be a beautiful, powerful way to bond with your baby, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Do what you can to help keep you as relaxed (and dry!) as possible. Controlling what you can is the first step and helps you focus on where you might need some extra, outside help.
What you need to know about postpartum depression
As we hinted above, it’s normal for new moms to have a case of the “baby blues,” characterized by mood swings, crying, mild anxiety, and trouble sleeping. This can continue for a couple of weeks after your baby is born as your hormones settle and you adjust to less sleep and the major change that is parenthood.
When these symptoms continue beyond the first couple of weeks or are noticeably more intense, it might be time to talk to your healthcare provider about the possibility that you’re experiencing postpartum depression.
Symptoms to keep an eye out for include:
- Severe mood swings
- Excessive crying (beyond feeling “weepy”)
- Intense or excessive irritability
- Major change in appetite – either eating much more or less than usual
- Trouble bonding with your baby
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and activities you enjoy
- Trouble sleeping or overwhelming fatigue
- Feeling hopeless and an extreme feeling that you’re a bad mother
- Inability to focus
- In more severe cases, thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
There is no shame in experiencing these symptoms. One in nine new mothers experiences postpartum depression. The important thing to know is that your healthcare provider can help you. Getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby.
The first few months of your baby’s life are an exciting time, but they’re not without their challenges. Take care of yourself so you can fully enjoy all of the snuggles and baby coos before that little one grows up. It happens fast, so soak it in!
Columbia University Irving Medical Center: A Mother’s Guide to the Fourth Trimester
Harvard Medical School: The fourth trimester: What you should know
American Pregnancy Association: Baby Blues
U.S. Department of Agriculture WIC Breastfeeding Support: Engorgement
Cincinnati Children's Hospital: Plugged Ducts
Healthline: How to Identify and Manager Cluster Feeding
Mayo Clinic: Postpartum depression
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office on Women’s Health: Postpartum depression