There’s no doubt, mama. You are strong! You’ve just gone through quite the ordeal–labor and delivery, or cesarean section, which is major surgery. Any other patient would be able to go home and rest, but not you. You must balance recovery, figure out what it means to be a mom and raise a baby.
First of all, you can do this. Call on your network of family or friends to support you during this time–they’ll want to help you. Next, equip yourself with knowledge about the Fourth Trimester and prepare yourself on what to expect for your baby and yourself!
The Fourth Trimester
Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician, and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, is credited for coining the Fourth Trimester. Unlike other mammals, human babies are born helpless, utterly dependent upon their mothers. A human infant can’t learn to walk for over a year, while many mammals acquire the ability soon after birth.
Dr. Karp believes that humans are born “early” to ensure that our heads can fit through our mothers’ birth canals. If we gestated any longer, it would be impossible to do so. Because human babies are essentially born too soon, they require more care than other mammalian infants. They fuss and cry because they miss the womb. A baby’s near-constant need to be held and comforted stems from the fact they’re trying to adjust to life outside of the womb.
What’s Happening with Baby
The Fourth Trimester encompasses the first three months of your baby’s life. During that time, your baby will go from a fragile newborn to a smiling, cooing infant. Get excited, mama!
The Newborn Stage
As a newborn, your baby will only be able to see eight to 12 inches away–gazing right up into their mother or father’s eyes. If they appear cross-eyed at times, don’t worry, this is entirely normal–their eye muscles need to strengthen. At this point, your baby can only see clearly in black and white, but they’ll be able to see in color clearly in time.
Your newborn will come preprogrammed with several reflexes. These include the startle, grasp, rooting, sucking, stepping and fencing reflexes. Reflexes are crucial to your child’s development and you’ll frequently see them on display as a newborn and as they continue to grow.
When your baby is firstborn, they’ll be sleeping 16-18 hours a day, however not for long stretches and not throughout the night because they wake to feed. But by the end of the Fourth Trimester, your baby grows larger and can go longer without feeding, sleeping more regular hours through the night–which means more sleep for you. You might even be one of those lucky moms who have an infant who sleeps the entire night through!
What’s Happening with Mom
Of course, you’re going to be concerned about caring for your baby–that’s what it means to be a mother. However, make sure you take care of yourself too! Ask your network to help–friends, family, and co-workers can watch your baby, bring your meals, or even do laundry. People will want to help you. All you need to do is ask.
During the Fourth Trimester, you’ll be recovering from the pains of childbirth. Depending on how you delivered, vaginally or via c-section, your doctor will advise on how long it will take for you to recover. You can expect soreness, cramping and weeks of postpartum bleeding.
Postpartum bleeding is typical for all women, so you’ll want to stock up on heavy-duty pads. However, if you pass several blood clots, this could cause concern, as it could indicate hemorrhage. Contact your doctor immediately if you notice you pass large blood clots or more than a pint of blood.
Belly Binding as an Option
As you recover, your body will likely feel bloated and not look like it did before your pregnancy for some months. Try not to discourage yourself with unrealistic body expectations as you go about healing. One gentle option you could consider to speed up recovery is belly binding.
Bengkung belly binding is a technique from Malaysian culture that gently wraps a woman’s postpartum body, from rib cage to hips, to encourage healing. The binding supports the spine, alleviates lower back pain and assists in healing diastasis recti. Depending on how they delivered, women are encouraged to begin wrapping 2-5 days postpartum. They can wear the binding up to ten hours a day for up to 30 days.
Expect your hormones to go a little crazy in the initial weeks of the Fourth Trimester, as your pregnancy hormones are shifting to your regular hormonal makeup. You may find yourself crying at just about anything. Believe it or not, this is normal. People call this the Baby Blues, and they last for around ten days.
If you find yourself experiencing mood swings lasting beyond ten days postpartum, you might be experiencing postpartum depression. This can also be common for many mothers. Reach out to your doctor right away for support. They can help you form a postpartum plan for additional care and get you the resources you need.
The Fourth Trimester and You
The Fourth Trimester can be overwhelming to any new mom, but it doesn’t need to be. If possible, call upon your network of friends and family to lend support. Do your best to take it one day at a time, meeting your baby’s needs and taking care of yourself too.
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