The Fourth TrimesterWritten by Mandy Haynes December 1, 2019
The fourth trimester starts from the moment your baby is born and lasts until they are three months old. The term is used to describe the period of time after birth when both parents and baby are adjusting to their new lives.
It is often considered the hardest trimester - the first three may certainly have their challenges but with regular midwife appointments and apps that show the development of your baby, there is a lot of support and knowledge about what is happening to your body and your baby during those 9 months. The fourth trimester, in comparison, can feel like an absolute minefield - whether it’s your first baby or your fifth! People often assume it is a time of nothing but love, joy and newborn cuddles and it may lead a new mother to think that there is something wrong if it doesn’t feel exactly like that. For me personally, having just given birth to my second child (my lovely little boy, River) my experience of the fourth trimester so far is very different to when I had my daughter (Hope, 2 and a half years old) and I felt compelled to write about it.
I was looking forward to the birth - I’d read a really helpful Hypnobirthing book, had my Liquid Yoga room spray at the ready and my playlists downloaded (Ed Sheeran for the early stages followed by the yoga and meditation tracks I use in my yoga classes for the later stages). When it came to it, however, River gave me quite a hard time and, without going into detail, I was left quite traumatised by the experience as well as physically exhausted and emotionally drained. As well as it being quite a tricky birth, sadly my lovely Dad passed away a couple of months beforehand after a short battle with cancer and the emotions and feelings of grief chose that moment to come flooding out.
I was fortunate enough to be able to stay at WJC Birthing Unit for a couple of nights after the birth - I can’t recommend this highly enough! Having midwives on hand to ask all manner of questions (particularly at 3 in the morning - “Why is he still feeding? It’s been 5 hours!”) and to have nothing to do but rest was invaluable. Despite this however, I found the first 5 days of River particularly hard. My body felt like it had been hit by a train, I was incredibly sleep deprived, but more than that was the emotional upheaval. I felt like I had failed (at what or who I’m not entirely sure) with the kind of birth I had, I missed my Dad terribly and I found it hard to bond with River. It took me a few days to admit this last point - to myself and to my husband. It is hard to write that here as well but I think it’s important for other new mums to know that, if they have felt or feel the same, that they are not alone. Once I was able to talk about it, my feelings changed and I was able to start again with my beautiful boy.
One of the biggest struggles I found personally, with both of my babies, was breastfeeding. This was one of the reasons the stay at WJC was particularly useful was that I was able to get support with every feed so that by the time I was discharged, I felt confident that both River and I had the hang of it. “It’s the most natural thing in the world” people say - that doesn’t mean that is easy however!! It can be time and energy consuming, occasionally painful and very tiring! Of course it is lovely too - you are forced to sit down (and therefore rest) for a while as well as have a cuddle.
The other thing that has been different this time around is not being able to give 100% of my attention to River, being the second child. It has been an adjustment, not only for us as parents, but for Hope as well. She is a very proud and helpful big sister, but she is also now having to share our attention and that is something we have all found quite hard. Guilt is an emotion that is now added to the mix of tiredness and hormones! Guilt that I can’t do a puzzle or colouring with Hope as often as I would have done previously, and guilt about the thoughts like “things will get easier when River is a bit older and in more of a routine” and I feel like I’m wishing these newborn days away!
As I write this, we are four weeks into this stage, and with lots of support from my amazing husband, Toby, and my family as well as the postnatal care from the midwives and health visitors, things are gradually getting easier as we all settle into our new way of life.
Here are my main tips for surviving this stage - rest as much as you can (daytime naps and early nights), eat and drink well and regularly, ask for help and most importantly - be kind to yourself (this is something I’ve never been very good at but I’m learning!)
Writing this made me think of that recent interview with Meghan Markle where amongst the usual questions of “is he a good baby?” and “does he sleep well?”, journalist Tom Bradby asks how she is doing and she replies “...And, also thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I’m OK.”
So if you’re reading this and you know someone who is pregnant or has a new baby - remember to ask how they are. And if you’re a mum reading this, please know that whatever and however you are feeling is normal and that there is plenty of support available, you only need to ask. It’s OK not to be OK!
And finally, I would like to thank the lovely Vanessa Lee for covering my yoga classes at Hummingbird Pilates & Yoga whilst I take a few months off! I’m looking forward to returning to class in January. To see a full schedule, head to www.hummingbirdpilates.co.uk