Postpartum – The Fourth Trimester

June 20, 2017

by Amy Schief, MSW, RM

Postpartum - the fourth trimester“If you “google” postpartum the only links you will find are for postpartum depression.

However being postpartum does not mean you have postpartum depression. If you want to prepare yourself for the Fourth Trimester you have to learn about this the old-fashioned way…books and listening to other moms’ experience.”

This amazing article from Thriving Home talks about the postpartum period -or as it is sometimes called “the fourth trimester”- and the simple yet immense importance of staying home, listening to your body, and listening to your baby.

I encourage you to read it in it’s entirety, but if you just have a few minutes, here’s are a few highlights:

What is The Fourth Trimester?

The three months after baby is born when the mother is healing, the baby is adjusting to life outside the uterus and the family unit changes shape. This time after birth is a continual state of flux for the mother and baby. Most importantly this is the stage of bonding (I also call this the stage of “falling in love”).

The Rules of The Fourth Trimester

  1. Be home
  2. Listen to your body and your baby

What that means for your newborn….

Our culture does not take seriously slowing down, taking time to be home to learn about your new baby. This is why there are inventions for things like, a baby monitor that tells the mother what kind of cry the baby has; hungry, sad, tired… Don’t get me wrong, some of these machines are nice, and moms do need a break once in a while. But bonding with your new little human and learning who they are takes a lot of time that no expensive monitor can do for you.

Even if you have to return to work a short time after baby is born, take time laying in bed with baby, listening to his little noises, watching his little reflex movements, and breathing in his new human smell. This “laying-in” time is also called “falling in love” or “bonding” and it is vital to the healthy development of the mother/father relationship with their new family member.

Back in the uterus, baby was tucked into a utopia habitat for almost 10 months. Baby and mother are one biological unit. Being born is a huge shock to the new baby’s systems and thus they need to be as close as possible to their habitat, the mothers’ body, to feel safe. Like all mammals, we humans too have a habitat: it’s our home, or nest and our family unit. For a newborn human mammal the sense of security comes from skin to skin as with its mother

What that means for you as the mama….

Many cultures around the world take seriously something called “laying-in.” Alice B. Stockham M.D. wrote in 1883: The old tradition used to be that a woman, on no account, must leave her bed before the ninth day…

“Laying-in” or “Be Home” is a period of time that the mother withdraws from normal activity to protect herself from sleep deprivation, to heal from birth, stop her bleeding (lochia) and protect her newborn from overstimulation and infectious diseases. “The attitude towards rapid recovery has combined with the new economics of medical care to put lots of pressure, especially on mothers, to rebound quickly from childbirth rather than to stay attuned to the psychological events and to let them take their course gradually.” Elizabeth Bing (101)

I am not going to tell you you must lie in bed for nine days, but I am going to tell you that if you just pushed a baby out of your “front bottom” as my daughter says (or are recovering from a caesarian) it is vital you are on Bed Rest for FIVE DAYS. Listen up dad, you are to make sure that your wife does nothing more than move from the bed to the couch, to the toilet, to the bed, to the shower, to the couch, to the bed… you get the picture. When she is moving from one place to another, in those five days, she is not to carry anything, someone needs to bring her all her things; water, food, pillows, blankets, the remote control, diapers for the baby, the baby (don’t forget that one). For FIVE whole days the healing mother is not to do anything but be on strict bed rest.

Here’s why FIVE DAYS matters: the mother is healing from 9 months of pregnancy (the job of the pregnant body is the survival of the baby, the post pregnant body has to heal from getting little attention), labor and birth (after birth there is an open wound on the wall of her uterus that must stop bleeding for the first phase of healing to take place). The main goal of this FIVE day’s bed rest is that she slows down her bleeding as much as possible so that she does not stay in a continued state of blood loss, which equals dehydration, physical exhaustion, it can lead to anemia, and dramatic hormonal swings and postpartum depression. Also the quicker her bleeding slows down, the quicker her milk can come in in copious amounts. Being on bed rest will also keep yeast infections and mastitis at bay.