The fourth trimester is the first three months after having a baby. In many cultures, it’s a time of resting, healing, and bonding. This is an essential time for parents to get support. This article will explain why honoring the fourth trimester is so important and what you can expect to occur during this time.
Growing and birthing a baby takes a huge toll on a parent. Unfortunately, many of us are pushed to “bounce back” too quickly, which stops us from properly healing. Whether you’re racing to get back to the gym or feeling pressured to return to work, the fourth trimester should be a time of recovery.
Other cultures honor the fourth trimester (aka the first forty days or la cuarentena,) and recognize that birth parents should stay in (or at least near) their bed for as long as possible. That time of not doing the dishes, not cleaning up toys, not entertaining guests, allows for true physical and mental recovery.
When parents aren’t expected to do anything for the early days with a newborn, there is more time for snuggling, for skin-to-skin, for bonding. Holding a newborn gives them comfort, showing them that you’re a safe place.
Did you know that a newborn can recognize their birth parent by smell? They smell their parents, and it smells like home. So, holding a newborn skin-to-skin is incredibly soothing.
Here are some other benefits of skin-to-skin:
- Faster healing for the birth parent.
- It regulates a baby’s and parent’s heart rate as well.
- If you’re nursing, holding your baby releases hormones that create milk, so it affects your milk supply.
So, instead of saying you’re “just” holding your baby, you can think of the multiple benefits of those cuddles.
When there aren’t many expectations of you in the early days, you can spend that time learning. As a first-time parent, you’ve probably never cared for a newborn, so give yourself the time to do that. Learn how to best change a diaper, learn how to soothe your baby, learn how to give a bath. (It’s a lot of work!)
You can also learn your baby and their cues. What do they do when they’re hungry or tired or overstimulated? These cues are how babies communicate, so by recognizing them, you’ll be able to better communicate with your little one.
Becoming a parent is a tumultuous transition. You’re letting go of a large part of yourself – maybe the part of yourself that was able to go to dinner with a friend with no notice or run to Target without needing an hour to get ready. You might let go of your work identity or need to shift as a working-parent.
All of these transitions affect your identity. The fourth trimester begins this transition. Give yourself this time to sit with the feelings those changes illicit. And, share these feelings. I promise you that other parents will be feeling what you’re feeling.
Ask other stay-at-home-parents or other working parents how they navigate being a parent AND having a career. Ask friends who seem like they balance friendships and children for tips. And let yourself transition.