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Fourth Trimester Care For Moms: A Comprehensive Guide
  • Congratulations, mama! You’ve made it through the seemingly endless series of heartburn, puffy ankles, and having to pee every two hours. Just when you thought the long wait was over now that your bundle of joy is finally in your arms, we’re interrupting your D-day celebration with the phenomenon known as the fourth trimester. But alas, this adjustment phase doesn’t have to be a new mom’s party pooper.

    Find out what this period is exactly and why it’s just as important for your health as the first three trimesters that came before. 

    Understanding the fourth trimester 

    First coined in 2002 by pediatrician and author Harvey Karp MD, the fourth trimester is a term that describes the 12-week period immediately after you have had your baby. The idea that the first three months of a baby’s life is like another “trimester” is because your newborn is still getting acclimated to their new environment outside of the womb.  

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    In Karp’s book The Happiest Baby on the Block, the theory is that unlike other mammals, human babies are born helpless. Humans are born earlier because if they spent more time gestating, their heads would be too large to pass through the birth canal. It’s normal for newborns to miss the feeling of being inside the womb and most of their fussiness can be a result of disorientation from this sudden change of scenery. 

    But it’s not just your pea outside of the pod that needs extra TLC. A new mother recovering from childbirth goes through a whirlwind of changes as well. If you’re reading this and find yourself on the verge of a mini breakdown, relax. Take a deep breath, give yourself a pat on your postpartum back. All it takes is a little research and a whole lot of patience to get you through this rollercoaster ride that is the fourth trimester. 

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    Emotional and mental health care 

    It’s easy to focus all your attention on your new bub, but it might put your ability to care for your newborn at risk if you fail to meet your own needs first. With your hormones all over the place, you’re more likely to experience mood swings more erratic than your first trimester food cravings. Although it’s normal to feel overwhelmed during the first few days of your new mom life, postpartum depression, or postpartum anxiety can get in the way of functioning normally if not addressed. 

    Symptoms of Postpartum Depression or PPD may include: 

    • Drastic weight changes 
    • Crying 
    • Depressed mood 
    • Loss of interest in activities/things that used to be a source of enjoyment 
    • Inability to make decisions 
    • Insomnia 
    • Oversleeping 
    • Fatigue 
    • Loss of concentration 
    • Restlessness 

    Self-Care strategies for emotional wellness  

    Research shows that 80% of mothers experience “The Baby Blues” in the first 14 days after delivery. While it’s okay to give yourself the luxury of getting a little cranky sometimes, if your mood swings and irritability become uncontrollable, it could lead to something worse. Like having thoughts of harming your husband in the wee hours of the night because the sound of his snoring while you were rocking baby to sleep at 3 AM set you off. Kidding aside, there are things you can do to thrive as you make your way through the fourth trimester, instead of simply surviving it. 


    Spend time outdoors.  

    When caring for a newborn, life can get a little blurry. It’s a seemingly endless loop of diaper changes, nursing, burping, and having to decide whether to take a shower or finally do the laundry while baby naps. The easiest thing you can do to break the vicious fourth trimester cycle is to simply step outside. Go for a nice walk with baby, buy bread at your favorite bakery or a drink at a nearby cafe. You’ll be surprised what a few minutes of outdoor time can do to lift your spirits and brighten your day, literally. 

    Get some sleep during your baby’s nap time. 

    One of the most valuable pearls of new mom wisdom you will ever come across (and quite often given) is this: when the baby sleeps, you sleep. The good news is that newborns can’t stay awake for longer than 45 minutes at a time, so you’ll have plenty pockets of peace during the day to sneak in a power nap, or even an episode of your favorite K-drama series. In any case, take this golden opportunity when your baby is sleeping to get some down time for yourself, so you avoid burnout. 


    Stay hydrated. 

    As a new mom, your main focus is the health and wellbeing of your newborn. Keeping track of feeding and sleep schedules are top on your priority list. But making sure you eat right and get an adequate amount of water intake is just as important. Keep a bottle of water nearby so you don’t forget to drink up. Breastmilk is composed of 90% water, so staying hydrated isn’t only good for you, your baby will also reap the benefits of getting some extra H2O. Studies recommend drinking about 128 ounces (or 16 cups) of water per day if you are breastfeeding. 

    Ask for help.  

    They say it takes a village to raise a child. When you enter the fourth trimester, you’ll learn the true meaning of this old adage. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Make a list of people you can trust to take over, not only in emergency cases, but also when you need a quick break. Delegating tasks to your partner, mom, or MIL will not only give you an extra hand, they might even appreciate getting involved. Find a group for new moms and compare notes. In any case, when the going gets tough (and it will), wave that SOS flag like you mean it. 


    RELATED: 12 Essential Tips for Taking Care of Yourself After Childbirth

    Physical health care during the fourth trimester 

    During the fourth trimester, your body undergoes a recovery period to heal from the physical beating it took from pregnancy and childbirth. Soreness, cramps, healing of wounds, and postpartum bleeding are just some changes your body go through during this period. Even if you breezed through your pregnancy and seemed to have just popped your peanut with as much ease as a nice quiet morning while the kids sleep in, your body has been stretched to its maximum and needs a chance to regroup. 

    Gentle exercises suitable for postpartum recovery  

    Every mom is different, as is every delivery, so your body will recover at its own perfect pace. If you’ve had a vaginal birth, recovery can take anywhere from six weeks or more. If you delivered by C-section, it may take anywhere between 4-6 weeks to return to normal activity. To help ease your body back into shape, practice gentle exercises to help you get through the pains during the fourth trimester. 



    A simple stroll is an excellent way to give your body an amazing workout. If the weather is nice, take your baby in tow to test out that new stroller. Pushing and walking is a great and easy way to get moving and jump start a movement routine postpartum. A sling works, too!

    Cat-cow stretch 

    Consider the Cat-cow stretch, which is a beginner yoga movement that will help support back muscles, strengthen your core, and promote mobility in your spine. Incorporating this exercise in your postpartum routine will help ease back pain, promote relaxation, and improve circulation. 

    Swiss ball glute bridge 

    Lying flat on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on a Swiss or stability ball. Press through your heels and raise your hips into the air. Make sure your shoulders and upper back remain in contact with the floor, and that your body is in a straight line. This is a great postpartum exercise as it works the abdominal muscles, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. 


    Other exercises that are great for recovery are pelvic floor exercises or Kegels, planks, and deep breathing exercises. Pro tip: if you’re breastfeeding, it might be a good idea to pump or nurse before working out and wear breast pads under your sports bra to avoid the embarrassment of leaking at the gym. 

    For some, the fourth trimester may sound like a myth. It’s a hazy time where you’re trying to juggle acts between learning how to be a new mother all the while helping your newborn adjust to life outside of the womb. If you’re already knee deep in, you know all too well that this extended gestation period is very real. But all things must come to an end.  

    The fourth trimester typically ends around three months after delivery. Does that mean caring for your baby will get easier? Probably not. But you can look forward to your growing one’s development and learning alongside as you build the confidence and experience necessary to carry you through this crazy and wonderful journey called motherhood. 

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