Everyone knows a pregnancy has three trimesters, so what is the fourth trimester? Somewhere along the line, we have been misinformed. One of the most critical stages of having a baby and becoming a new Mother is overlooked. In this article, we explain the fourth trimester – what it is, why it is so important, and what it means for you and your baby. 

 

First, lets recap the trimesters and their length of duration.

What are the four trimesters?

First Trimester – Week 0-12

What to expect in the first trimester

Pregnancy symptoms. Some women report sore breasts, nausea, fatigue, heightened emotions, low energy, and more. This is due to the hormonal changes and the beginning of your baby being created and starting to grow.

Daily prenatal vitamins. These are incredibly important at this stage, to protect the health of your baby and to make sure these early stages of your pregnancy continue to progress.

Needing support. Some pregnancies are planned, others are not – even for those who have been trying for a baby for a long time, finding out that you are pregnant can come as a shock.

In the first trimester, you will likely need some support. Whether that is a trusted person to share the news with, ask questions about your symptoms or what to expect next, and don’t forget that you need to have your first appointment with your Doctor or Midwife after the 6-week mark.

Many women decide to keep the news of their pregnancy to only a few trusted people in the first trimester. This is because the risk of miscarriage is highest during this trimester, out of them all. 

 

Second Trimester – Weeks 13-28

What to expect in the first trimester

Bodily changes. During the second trimester, your body will begin to change. 

Your breasts may get bigger, your bump will be growing and you may even notice some different pregnancy symptoms. 

Pregnancy symptoms ease up. A lot of women experience a dip in pregnancy symptoms like nausea and morning sickness. They feel less tired and more like themselves again.

Daily prenatal vitamins. These are still important, and must be taken throughout your whole pregnancy!

Sharing your news. You’ve made it out of the first trimester and now you can share your news with the world!

Third Trimester – Weeks 29-40

What to expect in the third trimester

Your bump gets even bigger! Your baby is growing rapidly during the third trimester, so you can expect your bump to be growing fast too! 

Because your baby is getting bigger and beginning to engage into the right position for birth, you may find that you need to go to the toilet more often too. 

Nesting. Nesting is a phenomenon where in the last weeks of pregnancy, you may get a sudden burst of energy and want to make sure your home is organised and perfect for when your baby arrives. 

Lower energy levels. With your baby rapidly growing and the preparation for their arrival, you can expect a similar fatigue to the first trimester.

You need to eat 200 more calories a day to support your body in growing your baby in the third trimester.

Braxton Hicks. These mild and irregular contractions can occur the closer you get to your due date.

Fourth Trimester: The Forgotten Trimester

What is the fourth trimester?

The fourth trimester is the 12 weeks after you have given birth, and is a period of significant physical, emotional, and physiological changes for you.

Sadly, the fourth trimester isn’t spoken about often, and we bet you didn’t learn about it in your pregnancy classes either.

What happens during the fourth trimester?

The fourth trimester is a time of huge adjustment. 

Not only for your new life, navigating having your baby, but it is also a time when your body is going through massive changes. 

Think of it like this: Your body has had to facilitate another 50% of blood throughout pregnancy, your uterus more than quadruples in size, and so much more. Your body is doing so much more than healing from the birth. 

The fourth trimester is when all of these changes begin to reverse. 

Why is the fourth trimester important?

The fourth trimester is important because it is when there are so many changes and challenges for a Mother, but the understanding and support that she has during this time is often not what she needs. 

We’re going to share a fact that could be distressing.  

TRIGGER WARNING!

The statistics show that you are more likely to die during the fourth trimester compared to the other trimesters.

The chances of this happening are very low, but it is a fact we have to face. 

Suicide is the leading direct cause of death between 6 weeks and 12 months after the end of pregnancy. In the UK we are facing a mental health crisis, especially when it comes to Mothers in the postpartum period.

An online survey of 1072 postpartum women found that women struggled with a variety of health problems in the first two months after birth, related to adjusting to the demands of motherhood.

58% of women found sleep deprivation to be an issue during the fourth trimester

51% of women said physical exhaustion was an issue during the fourth trimester

37% of women said their emotional well-being interfered with their ability to care for their baby in the fourth trimester

We don’t want to hide from the truth, the fourth trimester is tough. A Mum’s well-being tends to be lower, and she may feel as though she is losing her identity. 

You must be aware of the fourth trimester. For yourself, your friends, and all of the women in your life who may be having a baby. Start the conversation!

Tips for the Fourth Trimester: Focusing on Mum

    • Rest as much as possible. Sleep when the baby sleeps to minimise the effects of sleep deprivation and allow your body to heal, also to allow time for your brain to rest.
    • Ask for help. We cannot stress this enough, accept as much help as you are comfortable. If people aren’t offering, ask. You need just as much care as your baby does during this time. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals either; they are there to help you.
    • Normalise the fourth trimester. If you are in the fourth trimester, pregnant, or know someone who is, have a conversation about this time. Express your feelings, and needs, and let the people around you know how you would like support. Educate them on what you need, but also the topic.
    • Look after yourself. Make sure that you are eating well with a well-balanced diet, get some movement in where possible, and be patient with yourself during this time.

Why didn’t they tell us about the fourth trimester?

Historically, the fourth trimester receives significantly less attention than the pregnancy itself. 

We’re not entirely sure why. 

But we think it could be because of the lack of education on the postnatal period, as well as  the focus shifting to the baby after birth. 

Having a new baby is very exciting. After all, you have waited nine months to meet them!

However, we do feel as though Mum gets lost in all of the excitement and as a result, the fourth trimester is neglected. 

This isn’t acceptable…and it is only getting worse.

In the UK, a 6-week check with a Doctor is required to ensure that postpartum recovery is on track and that you and your baby are doing well. In recent years these checks are often later than 6 weeks and completed by a nurse, highlighting that the fourth trimester is becoming even less important. 

Fourth Trimester Support

UK only

Anxiety UK

Call Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774 or text 07537 416 905.

Birth Trauma Association

Visit the Birth Trauma Association website for support if you, or someone you know are struggling with, or being affected by a traumatic birth.

Cry-sis

Call Cry-sis on 0800 448 0737 for information and support, helping you with a baby that is crying a lot and will not sleep.

PANDAS Foundation

Call PANDAS Foundation on 0808 1961 776 for information and support for parents and families experiencing a mental health problem during or after pregnancy.

Pink Parents

Visit Pink Parents for information specific to gay and lesbian parents.

Start4Life

Visit the Start4Life website for information on pregnancy, breastfeeding and parenting from the NHS.

*this is for information purposes only

References

Where we got some of our information for this article from

References
Declercq, E. R., Sakala, C., Corry, M. P., Applebaum, S., & Herrlich, A. (2013). Listening to mothersSM III. New Mothers Speak Out, 2013.

Tully, K. P., Stuebe, A. M., & Verbiest, S. B. (2017). The fourth trimester: a critical transition period with unmet maternal health needs. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 217(1), 37-41.

https://www.babycenter.com/pregnancy/preparing-for-baby/nesting-instinct-during-pregnancy_10414285

https://www.tommys.org/

https://www.tommys.org/about-us/news-views/death-rate-mothers-rising-government-must-act-now-maternity-safety

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