We spend so much time during pregnancy focusing on each trimester, counting the weeks as they go by, taking the photos of the growing belly and comparing your baby to what size fruit or vegetable they best represent. Then we spend time preparing for labour and birth… but what about after that? What about those first few hours, days, weeks and months after your baby is born.
What about the fourth trimester?
Here are some ways you can prepare for the fourth trimester while you’re pregnant, so when your babe arrives you’re in a great position to have a positive and enjoyable time with as little stress and overwhelm as possible:
1 – Understand What The Fourth Trimester Is (And Why You Need To Know)
I have to admit, if you had mentioned ‘fourth trimester’ to me after the birth of my son, I wouldn’t have had the foggiest idea of what you meant. I was the classic ‘go with the flow’ kind of person and I look back and realise now how much I missed because I had no idea.
Here’s how Caitlin explains the fourth trimester in her article about strategies for a positive fourth trimester:
“The first three months of a baby’s life are termed ‘the Fourth Trimester’ as a concept of extending the safe environment of the third-trimester into life outside the womb. The concept is based upon recognising an infant’s need to thrive emotionally, as well as physically, through nurturing response of caregivers and development of secure attachment.”
Knowing what the fourth trimester is and why it is so important can help you cope with the first few months after your baby is born and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Plus it’s nice to know that it is completely normal, and good for your baby, to cuddle them all day. They’re so darn cute. And you can’t spoil a baby.
Also, be sure to check out our free Motherhood Coffee Chat, where we talk about finding your feet in motherhood. We talk about adjusting to your new life in the fourth trimester, right through to finding your feet as a mother to a toddler and beyond. You can sign up here:
2 – Create a Game Plan
How to do you plan to get through your fourth trimester? Creating a plan can help you feel a little more in control, and can help you make decisions or delegate tasks (see #5). When you’re deep in the fourth trimester and you’re tired, leaking and hormonal, having a game plan to refer to can be so helpful.
Having things prepared like a diaper bag (nappy bag) ready to go so you can get out of the house easier if you want, getting bills paid in advance so you don’t have to think about them, or organising a cleaner to come in and do basics, like mopping the floors and cleaning the bathrooms, can be a massive help.
You can also include tasks you need to hand over to someone else, like your husband or family members, so there’s one less thing you need to think about.
Other things you can include are details about when your husband/partner is going back to work, what support people you can call, lists of professional support around your area (such as Lactation Consultants, or postnatal counsellors), and anything else that will help you feel a little more organised.
3 – Have a Visitor Policy Decided Early
There’s something that just clicks after a baby is born and all of these people start coming out and wanting to see your baby. Well, that’s what it felt like for me anyway, and it was overwhelming. As someone who doesn’t like to feel like I’m disappointing anyone, I found saying no to visitors to be very difficult.
Which is why you should have a visitor policy in place early.
You can delegate the gatekeeper task to someone else (like your husband/partner, or an assertive family member), and any visitor requests need to go through them.
It’s also good to have a few rules in place, my favourite is ‘Be on time, bring something, do something, leave.’ And the ‘leave’ part isn’t about being rude or rushing people out, it’s because when you’re in the fourth trimester, you get tired so quickly, and it’s easy for babies to become overstimulated too.
4 – Rally Your Support Team
Who do you have in your corner who is willing to help you during the fourth trimester? I’m not talking people who say ‘if there’s anything you need let me know’ (I mean, they’re good too, but this isn’t for them).
Your support team are the ones you can call at any time and they will be there for you, they are the ones who bring donuts without asking, who don’t try and take the baby when they visit you, but wash dishes and cook food instead.
They are also the people who you trust, and they may extend out to include professionals who help you through.
People like your Midwife, a doula, your Lactation Consultant and a women’s physiotherapist are all examples of professionals you may need or want as part of your support team, and often these professionals will support each other in caring for you too. While your physio may not bring you donuts, they will be supportive and therefore form part of your support team.
5 – Delegate Tasks
When you’ve got a new babe and your world has shifted and your days don’t flow like they did before, it can be easy to see all the things that need to be done start to pile up. Then it becomes overwhelming and you feel like you need to be doing all the things… but you don’t.
Prepare for your fourth trimester by delegating tasks before your baby arrives.
As mentioned earlier, book in a cleaner (honestly, they aren’t as expensive as you might think and may only need to come for an hour or two but will make you feel so much better), ask friends to cook meals for you, have older kids picked up by other parents and carpool for school. There are so many things you can delegate and ask for help.
To find what you can delegate, start making notes of all the things you do each day before your baby arrives, then consider delegating the tasks that will be most difficult when your babe is here.
6 – Prepare Meals In Advance
Oh, I wish I had done this! In the weeks leading up to your new babe’s arrival, start making double batches of your meals and freeze the second batch. Without too much effort, you’ll have a nice freezer stash of meals you can grab and use when you’re too tired, sore or just couldn’t be bothered cooking in the fourth trimester.
Store as much as you can, because you’ll never be annoyed that you have too many meals prepared.
7 – And Snacks
And don’t forget to make snacks in advance too. Breastfeeding and healing from birth can leave you so hungry!! Protein is great for healing so keep some high protein snacks on hand (bliss balls, trail mix, mini quiches) that are easy to store or easy to freeze.
Most importantly, try and keep your snacks to ones that can be eaten with one hand. I know it seems trivial now but trust me, when you’re snacky, it’s very difficult to eat when you have to use both hands.
8 – Get Educated About Postnatal Mental Health
“You’re just hormonal” is probably one of the most dismissive statements that is made towards postnatal (and antenatal) women and completely throws us off when we are wondering if what we are feeling is normal or not.
Yes, your hormones are all over the place, you just gave birth and you’re learning how to do this Mama thing, whether it’s the first time or the fourth time, it’s always new. But postnatal mental health is so much more than ‘just hormones’.
Learn what you can about postnatal mental health, learn the warning signs, what is considered ‘normal’ and what would warrant further investigation, keep a list of people you can call, friends and family, but also professionals who can help. Organisations like PANDA have tons of great information you can read through before birth to help you prepare for the fourth trimester as well as helplines you can call.
9 – Stock Up On Basics
Your fourth trimester is not a time to try and squeeze back into your pre-pregnancy jeans. You may be swollen from fluid retention, your uterus is still shrinking back down, everything is a little stretched, your boobs feel like they’re about to choke you some days… it can be rough.
Which means you need to be comfortable.
Stretchy pants (yes, yoga pants count), things that aren’t too tight across your waist and stomach, tops that can be pulled down easily for breastfeeding access, soft and stretchy breastfeeding-friendly crops, and a whole heap of black underwear are all great basics to have on hand for comfy clothes.
Also, things like maternity pads are great to have on hand, but don’t stress about stocking up too much as these are things you can ask someone to pick up for you if you need more.
10 – Start a Netflix Watch List
I was not prepared for the amount of time I would spend sitting with a newborn. My firstborn was a NICU baby, so I sat a lot in there, but I read books to him and Netflix wasn’t even a thing back then. But with my daughter, oh my gosh I sat so much and was just feeding and cuddling and feeding and cuddling.
I quickly binged all the shows I had been planning to watch on Netflix and found myself watching them all on repeat because I couldn’t think of anything else to watch.
I know it seems really silly, creating that playlist can make life in the fourth trimester just that little bit easier (and every bit counts).
11 – Talk To Your Midwife About Realistic Expectations
This one is important and if you were to do only one thing from this list, make it this one: talk to your Midwife (or chosen care provider) about realistic expectations. I’m not talking about the whole ‘you’re cleared for exercise and sex after 6 weeks’ vague response. I’m talking real, day by day, week by week, what to expect.
Thinking back to young naive first time Mama me, I had no idea I’d look pregnant for so long after giving birth, I had no idea about after birth pains, or cracked nipples, or that it was normal to bleed for weeks after birth (both caesarean and vaginal delivery). I totally expected to be back to ‘me’ fitting in my skinny jeans and… well really, I don’t know what I thought. But it was not what was realistic, that’s for sure.
Your Midwife is your best guide for conversations about what is realistic for you. If you don’t get to have a good conversation about this from your care provider, then keep talking to people you know.
Talk to friends who you trust to tell you the real ‘behind the scenes’ kind of look, and keep researching what is normal (and what isn’t). Revert back to the first point of this article, become educated about the fourth trimester.
Whether you do one thing from this list or all of the things, each will help you in some way prepare for your fourth trimester and help you ease into that transition in the least stressful and overwhelming way as possible.