By Rebecca Eadie
Preparing for the fourth trimester should be an essential part of birth education. While the three trimesters of pregnancy and birth are well covered, there is often less time dedicated to the potentially less exciting topic of postpartum. However, the fourth trimester is experienced as a hard and challenging time for many. It is an intense period of change where the whole family begins to adjust and make the transition into life as a unit. Understanding what is happening in the fourth trimester, and how to seek support and prepare ahead, can be useful and help families feel less overwhelmed and more in control.
Preparing for the fourth trimester should be an essential part of birth education.
A famous child psychologist once said, “There is no such thing as a baby. There is a baby and someone” (Donald Woods Winnicott). In other words, a baby cannot exist alone, but is part of a relationship, and both halves of the relationship matter if the family is to thrive. A baby who is safe and secure, warm and well fed can use their energy for growth and learning, rather than for survival. Parents were never supposed to navigate this period in isolation. Primary caregivers need the support of those around them to be able to provide the near constant nurture, warmth, food and love required of them by their babies.
In my birth education classes I focus the fourth trimester discussion around four main priorities:
- Support (emotional and social)
Experienced parents generally encourage others to get comfortable asking for and accepting help – something which is a foreign concept in modern society.
The idea is that parents and caregivers can set aside some time to discuss how they will navigate the fourth trimester with these priorities in mind, naming specific people and support agencies and actionable plans. Each family will have their own unique set of circumstances, so group discussion is also useful to share ideas. Experienced parents generally encourage others to get comfortable asking for and accepting help – something which is a foreign concept in modern society. And it is a good opportunity to talk about community supports such as perinatal mental health supports, GPs, lactation consultants, child health nurses, parent groups, not for profit organisations, books, websites, podcasts and social media platforms.
Discussing the normal trials of the fourth trimester in pregnancy helps to set realistic expectations for the parents, of each other and their baby, and crucially reminds them that it is a stage and it will not always be like this. Knowing where to seek support and feeling confident in asking for it is also a skill that continues to be useful for parents at all stages of their parenting journey.
Bec Eadie is a Midwife, Calmbirth Educator and Prenatal Yoga Instructor. For more parenting, pregnancy and birth-related articles, see her Birthing Energy website blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.