The 4th Trimester: What It Is, Plus 17 Tips For Surviving It
Medically reviewed by Robyn Rosenblum, MD, FAAP
You made it through all the ups and downs of three trimesters of pregnancy as well as the crazy, amazing experience of childbirth. If it seems like this postpartum stage is just an extension of the tiring, emotional rollercoaster of pregnancy, you’re not alone. Welcome to the 4th trimester.
These months after your baby’s birth can be a wild ride, with many changes and challenges. We at Newton Baby think it’s absolutely essential that moms take care of themselves during this time, and we want to help you figure out how to do just that!
We’ll explain what the 4th trimester is and give you several tips to not only survive but thrive.
What Is The 4th Trimester?
It makes sense that everyone talks so much about the three trimesters of pregnancy, the changes in your body, and how your baby grows in the womb.
After all, pregnancy is a big deal, and keeping a close eye on your and your baby’s health is vital!
But as much as pregnancy can turn your life upside down, having your baby in your arms is perhaps an even more significant change to your life. It’s a huge transition for you and should be taken as seriously as your three trimesters of pregnancy.
These first few months of postpartum motherhood are called the 4th trimester. Both you and your baby are getting used to new situations.
Your baby has to adjust to being out of the cozy womb and in the big, wide world. And you have to let your body heal, deal with sleep deprivation, and adapt to being responsible for a newborn.
Let’s take a look at some of the physical, mental, and emotional changes and challenges new moms face in the 4th trimester.
First of all, your body is recovering from childbirth, which is no small feat! Whether you had a vaginal delivery or a C-section, your body needs time to heal. Don’t underestimate the toll this can take!
You might also be in some pain, whether it’s due to hemorrhoids, tearing, afterpains, or sore nipples from breastfeeding. There’s no doubt about it — the postpartum period can be physically uncomfortable.
Your uterus now has a wound that’s the size of a dinner plate. It not only needs to heal, but it also has to shrink down to its pre-pregnancy size. This takes time, so take it easy as your body recovers.
Another challenge you’ll face? Sheer exhaustion. You’re probably tired from childbirth anyway, and with a newborn in the house now, you’re not getting tons of quality sleep.
Lastly, during the postpartum stage, your hormone levels will change...again.
This is normal but can have some profound effects on your body as well as your mental and emotional state, which brings us to the next point.
Mental And Emotional Challenges
Your fluctuating hormone levels contribute to what is known as “baby blues,” which the American Physiological Association describes as “feeling stressed, sad, anxious, lonely, tired, or weepy.”
They go on to say that “some women, up to 1 in 7, experience a much more serious mood disorder — postpartum depression,” which doesn’t go away by itself.
During your 4th trimester, you’ll likely feel the lows of baby blues one minute and the highs of finally having your baby in your arms the next!
Don’t be surprised if you also feel stressed about learning how to care for a newborn, anxiety over whether or not you’re doing it “right,” and confusion over your new identity as a mother and who you “used to be.”
The stress of adapting to motherhood is real, and the rollercoaster of emotions you’re experiencing is normal.
Tips For Surviving And Thriving During Your 4th Trimester
As challenging as it can be, your 4th trimester can also be a time of joy and health. Remember that no one is a perfect parent from day one!
Laugh, give yourself lots of grace, and follow these tips to take care of yourself.
1) Make A Plan
Whether you’re still pregnant or already in the postpartum stage, now is the right time to make a game plan!
Think ahead about ways you can practice self-care, and jot down specific people who are willing to lend a hand. Here are a few examples to get you started:
- Make a list of people who are willing to cook meals or go grocery shopping
- Stock up on postpartum essentials, like pads, witch hazel pads, and nursing pads
- Create a generic grocery list that you can give to folks who offer to do your shopping
- Write down the people who are available to come over and help with the baby or pick up your older kids from school
- Pre-schedule house cleaning services
- Schedule time for enjoyable, simple self-care activities for both you and your partner
2) Give Friends Specific Jobs
When friends and family say, “Let me know how I can help,” you should do just that!
Don’t necessarily wait for them to suggest a way to pitch in. Your loved ones want to help, but they might not be aware of the specific things you need help with. So, let them know!
Offer friends and family concrete ways they can give you a break by saying, “Hey, it would be really helpful if you could come over and do my laundry,” or, “Do you have time to swing by the store and pick up some groceries?”
If you have other kids, ask if they could take them for a special playtime at a park or out for a quick ice cream cone. Sometimes, siblings feel left out when a new baby joins the family, so having someone spend dedicated time with them can be a huge help.
3) Put Your Mind At Ease
Part of what makes the 4th trimester challenging is that you may be feeling a lot of anxiety about your baby’s safety.
When your little one goes down for a nap or to bed at night, your anxiety can kick in extra hard, especially if they’re sleeping in their own room. Not having eyes on your baby can make you nervous!
Take a deep breath and do what you can to put your mind at ease. Following safe sleep guidelines will help you rest easy knowing that your baby is sleeping as safely as possible!
These guidelines include:
- Putting your baby to sleep on a firm crib mattress that fits correctly
- Removing pillows, crib bumpers, blankets, and toys from the crib
- Sharing your room but not your bed with a bedside sleeper
- Putting your baby to sleep on their back
- Giving your baby a pacifier at bedtime
It’s also a good idea to put your baby to sleep on a breathable mattress, like Newton Baby’s Crib Mattress. That way, once your little one starts rolling over in the middle of the night, you know they’ll be able to breathe straight through the mattress!
4) Take Naps
Your baby isn’t the only one who should be taking naps!
While it’s tempting to use this time to catch up on housework or tackle the never-ending laundry pile, that’s a mistake in these early days. You need to sleep more than you need a spotless house. But even if you can’t sleep, putting your feet up on the couch will give your body a welcome rest.
So put down the broom and walk away from the washer and dryer. Instead, head to your bed or another cozy spot where you can take a break for a little while.
If you’re having trouble sleeping during the day, try these tricks:
- Hang blackout curtains to make it darker
- Keep your phone in the other room
- Try listening to music or a radio broadcast to enjoy background noise without the blue light
- Limit your caffeine consumption
- Keep your room around 65 degrees
- Wear an eye mask
- Ask your partner or a friend to wake you if there’s a problem — sometimes knowing someone else is in charge can help your mind relax enough to fall asleep
5) Talk To Your Doctor
If you’re still pregnant, talk to your doctor now about the 4th trimester: what resources they provide, when your postpartum visit will be, if you’ll need to adjust any medications during that period, and what you can expect in the weeks following your baby’s birth.
You should also ask about things to watch for that’d indicate a problem. For instance, postpartum hypertension can leave you seeing spots or sparkles. You may also experience a severe headache. And a high fever or red streaks can indicate an infection.
Knowing these warning signs can help you get the medical help you need.
In addition, if you are already in the thick of your 4th trimester, it’s important to talk to your doctor about how you’re doing, especially if you can’t seem to kick the baby blues.
Most women have a postpartum doctor visit around six weeks after birth. However, don’t hesitate to give your doctor a call if you have concerns before this visit.
6) Watch For Signs Of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression (PPD) is more than a few bad days. It’s a serious mood disorder that affects one in seven women following birth and can lead to long-term issues down the road if not dealt with.
Watch for warning signs, including:
- Constant anxiety
- Eating more or less than usual
- Disinterest in your baby, family, and friends
- Sudden, irrational anger
We won’t go into all of the signs to look for, but please click here for the American Psychological Association’s list. Once again, call your doctor if you have questions or feel lost.
7) Eat Well And Move Your Body
Your body is connected to your mind and vice versa. Eating well and getting active will not only help your body stay healthy and heal, but it will also help get you in the right frame of mind.
When it comes to moving your body, start with short and easy exercises and be sure to ask your doctor what physical activity is OK to do postpartum (this is extra important if you had a C-section!).
However, even though you’re eager to get moving again, you don’t want to rush things. Pushing yourself too soon can cause pelvic pain, urine leakage, and other problems.
Take it slow and listen to your body. If you start bleeding heavily again, it’s a sign that you’re doing too much.
8) Help Your Baby Adjust
Remember that your newborn is going through a big transition, too! You’re both in this together, so do everything you can to help your baby adjust to life outside of the womb.
Hold them close, bounce and rock, give them plenty of skin-to-skin contact, and wrap them snugly in a swaddle.
Choose a breathable, 100% organic muslin cotton blanket to keep your sweet one safe, comfy, and cozy!
Once you find one you like, here’s a tip: Keep several of these swaddle blankets on hand. They can double as a stroller cover, blanket, burp cloth, or nursing cover!
9) Try Skin-To-Skin Contact
You and your baby can benefit from skin-to-skin contact. So strip your baby down to their diaper and place them onto your bare chest. Then, cover their back with a lightweight blanket and snuggle in bed together.
Time spent skin-to-skin can improve the bond between you and your newborn. Studies have also shown other benefits. For your baby, these include:
- Regulating their temperature
- Increasing the oxygen in the blood
- Improving brain development
- Developing a strong immune system
- Reducing the amount of crying
You benefit in many ways as well, including:
- Making more milk
- Lowering your risk of postpartum depression
- Reducing postpartum bleeding
- Focusing on resting so you can heal
It’s a simple practice with lots of rewards, so give your baby some skin-to-skin time if you feel up to it.
10) Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough water is always crucial, but during your 4th trimester, you really need to stay hydrated. Not only will this help you heal faster, but it will also ensure you can make the milk your baby needs if you’re breastfeeding.
11) Eat Enough Food
Your body just went through the wringer and needs some nourishment. Your 4th trimester isn’t the time for strict diets or counting calories.
If you’re feeling ravenous, it’s for a good reason. So eat plenty of nourishing foods. Here are a few tips for managing your hunger during the 4th trimester:
- Eat several smaller meals instead of three larger ones
- Keep healthy snacks in convenient locations (we’ll dive deeper into this one below!)
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to keep things moving through your system (you don’t want to deal with constipation on top of everything else)
- Try integrating oats and other whole grains to boost milk production
- Avoid overeating sugar
- Keep track of any foods that seem to cause your little one discomfort (you may need to modify your diet if they have allergies or food sensitivities)
- Eat protein with each meal to promote healing
- Listen to your body. If you’re craving something, there could be a reason
And while feeling hungry is normal after childbirth, not every new mom will feel that way. Some have little to no appetite. If that’s you, you’ll have to make every bite count.
12) Snack Wisely
Snacks can be essential to your 4th-trimester recovery. They can give you an energy boost to help you keep going when you’re feeling a little blah. Snacks also allow you to consume more nutrients.
But just because you’re hungry doesn’t mean you must finish an entire pack of cookies or chips. Instead, you need to snack wisely.
Use these tips to accomplish that goal:
- Keep snacks near where you feed your baby (so you can reach them easily)
- Have a few different snacks around so you have options
- Choose pre-packed snacks that are easy to eat
- Keep baby wipes or a towel nearby; you’ll likely drop at least a few crumbs on your baby’s head
If you’re wondering what to eat, don’t worry. Here are plenty of ideas:
- Lactation cookies
- Granola bars
- Mandarin oranges or other fruits
- Almonds and dried fruit
- Cheese sticks
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Yogurt or kefir
- Hummus and cucumber slices
- Carrots and peanut butter
- Ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisins)
- Trail mix
- Energy balls
- Bell pepper slices
- Toast with cheese
- Dark chocolate
13) Be Prepared For Weird Symptoms
While you can find tons of information online about pregnancy symptoms, not as many people discuss what can happen to your body as you recover from childbirth. Here are a few things you could experience:
- Losing some hair (especially if you experienced lovely, full locks during pregnancy)
- Hormonal acne outbreaks
- Sore, cracked nipples if you’re breastfeeding
- Bloodshot eyes
- Aches throughout your body as your ligaments readjust
- Numbness around your scar if you had a C-section
- Chills or hot flashes
- Odd-smelling discharge — but talk to your doctor if it’s especially foul
- Severe gas pain that can feel like phantom baby kicks
- Crying over seemingly small things
If you’re ever concerned about something you’re experiencing, reach out to your doctor for advice.
14) Keep Your Mind Engaged
One of the worst things you can do when recovering from childbirth is sit and dwell on everything that could be going wrong. Your imagination can run wild if you let it, especially when dealing with hormonal changes.
To help keep this from happening, find ways to keep your brain busy. You could:
- Read a book or magazine
- Listen to a podcast or audiobook
- Do a word search or crossword puzzle
- Fill in details in the baby book
- Write out your birth story
- Learn a new hobby, such as knitting or scrapbooking
These focused tasks can also help keep your mind sharp. This is especially important if you’re dealing with “mom brain” or feeling a little fuzzy-headed.
15) Embrace Survival Mode
No matter how many babies you’ve had, the 4th trimester is always challenging. Recognize that you’re going to enter survival mode for a time. And be OK with that.
During this time, you want to keep things as simple as possible. You can:
- Use paper plates and disposable cups
- Keep meals simple
- Let most of the housework go undone
- Watch more tv than usual
- Prioritize rest and your mental health
- Snuggle your baby
- Remind yourself that this period doesn’t last forever
16) Talk To Your Partner
Having a baby is a life-changing experience for everyone in the home. Despite all the changes, your partner is still not a mind-reader.
That’s why you must communicate your needs and desires clearly. If you need help, ask for it. Teach your partner what it looks like to be supportive during this time. Because chances are, they’re floundering a bit and could use some guidance.
If they’re unsure what to do, these tips from Postpartum Support International can help. This resource has several practical examples of showing up for your partner after childbirth, so send it to your partner to review.
17) Know That It Doesn’t Last Forever
Right now, your world seems upside down. Everything’s changed. And you’re struggling to make sense of it all.
The good news is that you will find a new normal. By the time your baby is two or three months old, things won’t feel quite as chaotic. You’ll be more confident as a mother. And your body will be well on its way to recovering.
So when you’re in the trenches during those early days, know that you won’t stay there forever.
Life will never return to how it was before you gave birth, but brighter days are in your future. You will get through this.
Make Your 4th Trimester The Best One Yet
With all of the physical, emotional, and mental changes and challenges that the postpartum period presents, it’s no surprise that the 4th trimester can be difficult!
To thrive during your 4th trimester, follow the tips we listed above: make a plan, give friends specific jobs, take naps, talk to your doctor, help your baby adjust, and set your mind at ease by putting your little one to sleep on a Newton Baby Crib Mattress.
With the right care and attention, you can make your 4th trimester the best one yet. After all, the little one you’ve been waiting so long to meet is finally here!