3 ways you can prepare for the 4th Trimester

3 ways you can prepare for the 4th Trimester

A pregnant woman's journey does not end with the birth of her baby - I’d argue that it’s in that moment that it all begins. We know a lot about the three trimesters of pregnancy but an alarmingly large portion of women know very little about a critical time in their lives that desperately requires our attention; the fourth trimester. The newly touted “fourth trimester” is the first 12 weeks of life on the other side of pregnancy and modern motherhood has begun to shine a floodlight on it, three cheers for that! It can be a whirlwind as you and your baby navigate this uncharted territory together, the transition to motherhood is the most wild but also the most wonderful adventure of all time.

In 2010 I was a young nurse working in paediatrics and a second year midwifery student, I was also a brand new mum. Eli was born at 12.10pm on the 12th of January, he was placed on my chest, I cradled him with my one free arm while I lay on the operating table, I gave him a sniff and then I looked over at my husband Jeremy with great big eyes and said “what on earth do we do now?” Naively, I thought that I was prepared for motherhood, I thought that because of my professional experience I was a step ahead - turns out I was about 3 steps behind, I was unprepared. I acknowledge that every woman's journey to motherhood is unique, the same can be said for her postpartum experience but there is a commonality that lies within pregnancy, labour and birth - they are all temporary moments and so too are the moments that come next. Despite these moments being temporary you can make the experience, however brief it may be, that much easier to navigate if you just prepare. My challenge to all expectant mothers is to spend an equal amount of time investing in the fourth trimester as you do preparing for pregnancy and birth.

Three ways to prepare for the transition

It’s impossible to sum it all up here but I’d like to offer 3 ways you can prepare for the fourth trimester, three things that will help you better find your footing as you transition from woman to mother; 

  1. Read widely - become a sponge! 
  2. Prioritise your health - do you know how important sleep, food, water and exercise are?
  3. Have a safety plan - for your pelvic floor, your mental health and your fridge

    1. Read widely 

    The process of making a decision requires talking, reading and asking enough questions until you have the information you need to make a decision - I can see how that could be overwhelming but look at it from this point of view, preparedness. We spend hours and hours learning about pregnancy and birth, we owe it to ourselves to learn about caring for ourselves and our baby too. Read from credible sources - people who are experts in their field. Follow inspiring and factual accounts and be sure to unfollow the ones that don’t leave you feeling good - pregnancy, birth and motherhood are not competitive sports. Talk to like minded people and take time to ponder the information you’re absorbing. 

    2. Prioritise your health

    The advice “sleep when your baby sleeps” is worn out but for good reason, I don’t know that there is anything more true. Sleep assists your physical recovery as well as your mental and emotional state, so sleep when your baby sleeps. You need to focus on the basics; sleeping, eating and feeding your baby {then repeat, over and over again}.

    Entertaining, laundry and housekeeping will have to wait - you have your entire life to keep up with those menial tasks, better yet ask your girlfriends to chip in for a cleaner for your baby shower - that’ll be 10,000 times more useful than another muslin swaddle.

    Don’t skip meals - breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks are crucial for your recovery.  Toast for breakfast and lunch isn’t going to fuel you, overnight oats and soup from the freezer are much better alternatives, before your baby is born spend some time filling the freezer. Drinking to thirst is acceptable but if you need a target, 3L of water daily is a good place to start and even more if you’re exercising.

    Once given the all clear, preferably from a Women's Health Physiotherapist {who will internally check your pelvic floor function and ask key pelvic health questions} and you feel ready to get your body moving aim for 3-5 sessions each week with an activity that gets your heart rate up, something like a brisk walk or some other form of exercise you enjoy. In addition to this I do believe there is magic in some daily fresh air, particularly if you’re having a rough day, don’t let a bit of rain stop you.

    Lastly, plan time to do something you enjoy - a hot bath, reading your book, an episode of your favourite show, lunch with a friend. You choose! Why? Because self care boosts confidence and self-worth and both are essential to your postpartum recovery. 

    3. Have a safety plan

    Our current health system does its best but falls slightly short of supporting women postnatally - because of this I urge you to create a safety plan for your pelvic floor, your mental health and your fridge.

    • Right now only women with 3rd or 4th degree tears are referred for an assessment by a physiotherapist, there is no acknowledgement of the trauma attained by childbirth of any other kind. You’re gonna want to be able to jump on the trampoline with your child someday without any consequences so I encourage you to do your pelvic floor exercises and put aside money to see a physiotherapist who specialises in pelvic health just like you put aside money for a cot, pram and carseat.You shouldn’t have to, it should not be a privilege, it should be a right that all women have access to but right now this is the system we have and one that is being asked to change.
    • Stigma is the number one reason women don’t seek help for postnatal depression, let's squash that right here, right now! There is no room for shame, I’m sending you a giant ball of love and courage for wanting to be the best version of you, for yourself and for the people you love. Knowing the signs and symptoms of PND will empower you - feelings of worthlessness & hopelessness, feeling so unhappy that eating & sleeping routines change, feeling anxious, panicky or overwhelmed, feeling detached from your baby & other family members, thoughts of suicide are what you’re looking for. If you can recognise these in your life then please know that there is help and treatment available for you, start by talking - tell someone you trust how you’re feeling and engage your GP or a psychiatrist. PND is often a two-pronged approach made up of medication and therapy - your doctor or psychiatrist will work with you to formulate a treatment plan just for you. There are also things that you can do to help deal with your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. We know that looking after your body with physical activity, good food and sleep will also help you to look after your brain. Removing stressors from your life can assist you to deal with everyday situations and connecting friends and family can help you feel better faster and stay well longer. Depression.org has a list full of inspiration for you to explore
    • One of the fondest memories I have after having my babies was the food, it's as if people cook their best dish or bring you something from their favourite cafe {nom nom} so make a rule, no visits unless you bring food. It’s very easy for hours to pass, heck - even the entire day to pass and you realise you’ve barely eaten anything nutritious so, the postpartum you will thank the pregnant you if you spend some time preparing some frozen meals. Creating a Meal Train is another fabulous idea, don’t be proud - start one yourself or ask a friend to set one up on your behalf. Bellyful know how hard those first few weeks and months can be as a new parent and have created a service offering free meals to families with new babies who are in need of some support. They don’t want to take away from all of the wonderful support forms available to families instead stepping in when none of those exist. There is no catch to accessing their service - if you need a meal then click HERE

    Generally speaking birth is only ONE day, yet we spend our entire pregnancies preparing for it. I hope this has inspired you to prepare yourself for the fourth trimester too, a crucial part of the journey that too often we deeply under-prepare for - I wish you well in preparing for one of the most magical moments life has to offer.

    Ren. X


    Image by Tash Stokes of Black Robin Photography