The fourth trimester. Three little words. But behind them is a huge transition to a completely new phase of life with your baby. It’s the first 12 weeks of a baby’s life outside of the womb.
Imagine what it must be like for a newborn, to have been in a dark, warm and cosy space for the last nine months. You’ve had your every need catered for. You’ve been warm and cosy. You’ve been soothed by the rhythmical heartbeat of your mama and the sound of blood rushing through your body and hers. (You’ve also wriggled around a lot, kicked her in the ribs and made her need to pee a hundred times a day!)
Then one day, all of that changes. You’re born into a world that is bright and noisy. You learn what it feels like to be hungry. You’re no longer constantly being held, or suspended in that warm amniotic fluid. You can’t regulate your own temperature. You can detect light and motion when you’re first born, but no detail. Sounds daunting, right?
If we think of the huge changes that a newborn goes through from womb to world, then no wonder why they need this period of transition. Just like a baby, I believe that a woman has a period of transition after the birth in which she needs to reflect on what’s happened and think about what is to come.
As this blog is about women and their experiences of Motherhood, I’m going to focus on the experience of the Mother in the fourth trimester. If you’d like to read more about the fourth trimester for babies I recommend this article, by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, this one by BellyBelly or if podcasts are your thing, then try the Fourth Trimester Podcast.
I’ve said this before, but when pregnant, so many of us think about what the labour is going to be like and what kind of birth we hope for. Think about your own pregnancy — how often did you think about life after the birth and what you’d need to do to look after yourself? If you’re like me, then not very often!
In the fourth trimester, I would encourage women to live ‘slowly’ as much as possible, especially in those first days. I want women to take things easy. Here are a few things I think are really important for Motherhood in the fourth trimester:
Stay at home. Don’t think you have to be out and about days after you’ve had your baby because you want to be seen as though you’re coping or you think it’s what expected of you. Savour those slow mornings of lying in bed cuddling your baby. If you can, get your partner to make you tea in bed and bring up some delicious breakfast for you.
Hold off on accepting visitors until you feel ready. Not only will you be healing physically and emotionally processing the birth, you’ve also got a new member of the family that you need to get to know! That quiet, slow time after birth can be a great opportunity for you to get to know one another and establish feeding (breast or bottle).
Allow time to process the labour and birth. If you’re a talker, like me, then talk about the birth with your friends or other mothers. I find sharing my thoughts with someone else a key way for me to process everything that’s happened and make sense of it. It’s also a lovely way of knowing that you’re not alone, if you’re sharing with someone who can relate to your experiences. If you’re more of an internal thinker, then try and carve out time for you to have that space you need. Can someone cuddle your baby whilst you take time out in the bath, or in bed, to recoup and reflect on what’s happened.
If you have had a traumatic experience giving birth, organisations such as the Birth Trauma Association are there to help you, alongside other services like your GP and local hospital.
If you’re breastfeeding and you need help working on positioning or your baby’s latch, you can call on your local midwifery team to come out for a home visit and provide you with breastfeeding support.
Accept help. Any offer of a cup of tea, home cooked meals, washing up, laundry, housework, walking the dog, amusing your older children — take it! It allows you more time to be ‘slow’ and to not have to worry about who is going to take the pooch for her daily walk or when those milk-sodden muslins are going to be cleaned!
These are just some of the ways I think women can ease themselves into the transition to Motherhood. Do you think anything is missing? What else would you add to the list?