What is the Fourth Trimester?
Before you freak out, no, you won’t be pregnant for another three months (whew!). The twelve weeks after birth are often referred to as the fourth trimester. During this time, you will be recovering from pregnancy and childbirth while you adjust to life with a baby. Your baby is also adjusting to life outside the womb and continuing to grow in leaps and bounds.
Staying healthy will be key for your and baby’s health. Your body goes through a lot during pregnancy. It is only going to go through much more during birth and your fourth trimester as your body and mind recover from pregnancy and delivery.
Postpartum recovery is so important for women that in some cultures, women are forbidden from moving around for forty days while their female relatives help take care of them and their household. That may be a bit extreme as a nice walk can do wonders if you are up to it.
On the flip side, though, the lack of decent maternity and paternity leave policies in the US often have pregnant women working till the day they deliver their babies and leave recovering mothers alone at home all day without the support of their child’s father soon after birth.
Working moms more often than not have to go back to work a mere six weeks after having a baby. No wonder the pressure to “snap back” is so overwhelming. In reality, the easier you take it during those first few months after birth, the better your recovery will be for the long term.
Setting up your home so that you or anyone who is there to help can easily find and access the things you need for yourself or your baby can make your fourth trimester easier. Mommy and baby care stations can help keep the many things you need for each specific care task together.
Stations, Stations, Stations
Imagine moving around in pain trying to find your baby’s wipes on one side of the room and diapers on the other side while said baby is crying because they’re wet. Creating mommy and baby care stations for your most frequent tasks and stocking them up with the essentials can help avoid this mental and physical stress.
When creating stations, keep in mind they don’t need to be anything fancy. For example, if you don’t have space for a changing table, a basket, caddy, or bag that contains what you need for a diaper change works as well. The main idea is to keep things together, accessible and easy to find and use.
Try to keep stations with things that you would need regularly, such as clothing for yourself and baby, self care items, and baby care items between waist and eye height to avoid bending or reaching high up while your body is still tender. Some stations that could make meeting your fourth trimester needs a lot easier include:
Postpartum Self Care Station
This station contains some of your most immediate fourth trimester needs after birth. It will most likely go in your bathroom and will be a bin or basket with everything you need to take care of your tender lady parts or C-section incision site and postpartum bleeding. This can include:
- peri bottles to clean up;
- Pads and underwear at least a size bigger than your pre pregnancy size;
- Ice packs for your vulva and perianal area; you can make your own using menstrual pads or buy them here;
- Gauze and medical tape or extra large bandages and antibacterial ointments;
- Witch hazel pads like Tucks to help with irritated skin;
- anything else you would need when using the toilet.
If you don’t have counter space, this station can go in a slim bin like this one right on the toilet tank or on a small stool next to the toilet. To make things even easier, the Frida Baby’s postpartum essentials kit is a good roundup of the things you will need for yourself.
If you have a diaper changing table, it will have the space to store what you need for a diaper change. If you don’t have one, set up a small caddy, basket or bag. You will need:
- a pad or easy to clean blanket to protect whatever surface you are changing the baby on;
- Diapers, wipes, and clean washcloths;
- diaper cream;
- clothing in the case of a diaper explosion or an accident during the change;
- You can also include any other baby toiletry items like a nail file and clippers and baby lotion if you use it.
If you don’t have a diaper changing table, make sure these supplies are set up near an elevated spot where you can change your baby without having to bend too much or get down on the ground. This surface can be a bed, a sofa that you can sit on while changing your baby, etc.
Baby Play and Safe Stations
Your baby needs to be given the opportunity to explore in a safe and age appropriate way. The hope is to keep them happy for a few minutes at a time as they explore in an age appropriate way. A play mat or gym can be a great way to stimulate your baby’s senses and support their development from early on. Hang age appropriate toys and images on the play gym or their crib mobile, with a focus on faces, black, white and red images in those first few months.
Safe stations for your baby can be used when you need to put down your baby and step away for a moment. Some places where you can create safe spaces for you baby include:
- crib or bassinet;
- bouncer with straps secured;
- a floor mat where no one can step on them;
- Make sure there are no loose fabrics like blankets, bibs, etc. nearby that baby can grab hold of. When putting your baby on a cloth mat on the floor, be sure it’s big enough that they cannot accidently grab the edge and pull it over themselves;
- Never leave your baby unattended on a high surface like a bed or sofa or unsecured in a swing or bouncer.
If you have multiple floors, make sure to have at least one baby safe spot on each floor because you don’t want to have to run up and down the stairs if you need a safe place to put your baby down.
Much of your fourth trimester will be spent feeding your baby, so a baby feeding station is one of the most useful stations to make your fourth trimester easier. This station will be where you will sit to feed your baby, whether nursing or bottle feeding.
Create a supportive and comfortable spot to sit for potentially long periods of time while holding your baby. This can be an armchair, rocking chair, end of the sofa, your bed, etc. preferably near an electrical outlet (more on that later). A nursing pillow can help keep you comfortable while holding your baby.
Have an easy to reach surface nearby where you can keep things you will need or want while feeding or holding your baby in said spot. Some things to keep on hand are:
- Water and snacks for you;
- Remember that electrical outlet nearby? Get a loooong charger for whatever handheld device you prefer to use if you need help staying awake;
- Plenty of washcloths, burp cloths, or small baby blankets to help contain messes;
- Breast pads and nipple balm for those leaky and often painful first few weeks;
- Your breast pump and accessories if you are pumping;
- Formula, water, bottles and a bottle warmer if you are using formula.
If you are using bottles for pumped milk or formula, set up another little station near a sink with bottle wash and brush, a bin for dirty bottles and pump parts, a drying rack for clean bottles and parts, and/or your formula and water.
Your body will need a lot of nourishment during your fourth trimester to help you recover from your pregnancy and delivery. If you are breastfeeding, your body will also need help to keep up a healthy supply of breastmilk. Being well nourished will also help regulate hormones and your mental state during a time that is high stress for your mind and body.
Your nutritional needs during your fourth trimester are very similar to your needs during pregnancy. In fact, your health during pregnancy can greatly affect your postpartum recovery. For tips on how to stay healthy during pregnancy, check out this article. Much of the nutritional information in the article also applies after birth.
- If you are breastfeeding, you should keep taking your prenatal vitamins. Keep them bedside or with your snacks so you can remember to take them.
- Your food stations will be a bit more spread out and multi-faceted. A basket of your favorite easy to grab snacks in the areas you spend the most time in is good for munching on in between meals.
- Also, stock those areas with water bottles, and if you are using reusable water bottles, have a spot where you wash and fill them to store a few empty bottles.
- A stash of well labeled frozen pre-made meals can be a lifesaver when you need actual food. A good way to create this stash is to cook extra servings of anything you make during the second half of your pregnancy and stash it in the freezer. Also, ask anyone who offers help to make a freezable meal.
- Keep takeout menus to your favorite places in an easy to find spot, and circle things you like off the menus. If it’s all online, save links and make a list of what you like at each place. This makes it so you don’t have to think too much when you just want food.
Dealing With Multiple Floors
During the first few postpartum weeks, you probably won’t be able to handle stairs too well. Your medical provider might recommend you avoid stairs for multiple reasons. While it would be convenient to have complete, dedicated stations on every floor you frequent, it may not always be practical. In this case, you should set up your main care stations on the floor you plan on spending the most time on. Keep smaller stations on other floors using space saving bins, baskets or totes. When moving between floors, you can also keep a bag that you can toss things you may need based on how long you plan to spend there.
Keeping a diaper bag stocked similarly to what you would pack to go out with your baby works well. Use something you can sling over a shoulder so it’s easier to carry your baby and what you need. If you have help around, your main stations will come in handy when you need them to grab you something because you know exactly where it is.
The Beginning of a New You
Your physical and mental health during your fourth trimester may be very different from what it was pre-pregnancy. Depending on how your pregnancy and delivery went as well as your baby’s health and temperament, you may feel physically and mentally drained. This can be disconcerting at the very least when you have even more responsibilities with a newborn.
However, by taking care of your fourth trimester needs and focusing on your healing, you will hopefully begin to feel more at equilibrium. Your body will begin to heal and you, your baby, and your family will begin to adjust to the new normal.
For more recommendations on helpful items for moms and newborns, check out the blog post on Products Every Mom Needs.
If you recently gave birth, what are some things that made your fourth trimester easier for you? What are some things you wish you had planned for? Comment Below!