The Fourth Trimester: The Honest Truth
The official definition of the fourth trimester is the first twelve weeks postpartum. You and your new-born are learning about each other and your body is healing from birth. It’s a crucial time!
There are a lot of changes for you both, human infants are not so well prepared for the outside world in comparison to other mammals so they need our compassion and help adjusting to this new life. Mums, your body may or may not have changed into what seems like someone else’s skin, and your body may feel completely out of control but don’t worry there are ways to prepare if you’re concerned about these postnatal happenings. So today, I aim to shed some light on the mysterious fourth trimester and my experience of it, to hopefully provide some comfort and guidance to those facing it themselves.
This post isn’t meant to scare you, it’s just an honest account of what to expect and how I experienced postpartum changes. Every woman is different and each has their own story!
Congratulations Mum! Your body has not only just spent the last nine months producing a human being from scratch, but it also endured the trials of child birth! So it should all be happiness and rainbows now right? Wrong. The physical trials aren’t over yet. But that doesn’t mean you can’t welcome them! It also must be mentioned that every single woman experiences the postnatal period differently and this is only a brief guide as to what you may expect.
Say Hello To Your Old Friend Aunt Flo!
Lochia – no it isn’t a newly discovered alien. After delivering your beautiful baby, your body needs to do some spring cleaning. Starting immediately after delivery (thanks for the break nature!) you will experience bleeding somewhat similar to a heavy period. The time it lasts varies from 10 days to 4 weeks, just make sure you keep your health visitor informed of any changes. During this time, sanitary pads are recommended over tampons to prevent infection and aid healing. I found that maternity pads were ample during the first week, and then heavy duty Always Night Protection pads worked for the next week, until things cleared up. Just make sure you get the pads with wings! It saves a whole lot of hassle!
Need The Bathroom? Brace Yourself!
So, people told me there would be pain visiting the bathroom post-labour. Nobody said it would be as bad as labour! If not worse in my opinion. It has to be said, I did have an episiotomy and a very fast delivery so some mothers may not find any discomfort. However, due to the amount of ‘padsicle’ DIY tutorials online (essentially putting a sanitary pad in the freezer), I’m going to go with that everyone feels this way! I can’t remember how many times I felt like I may actually die from pain sitting in the bathroom. Or that I may tear front to back at a moments notice. Experts assure you that this won’t happen, but it doesn’t stop you feeling like you just may be the exception!! My answer to this is lots of water, some people recommend a form of stool softener, and haemorrhoid cream. Luckily, I never experienced the dreaded haemorrhoid but the cream has a mild numbing effect, that can save you from feeling like your lower half is being torn apart by tigers! Ask your health practitioner what they would recommend but personally, Anusol was my saving grace. That, patience and praying to the universe that I made it through each ordeal!
Baths Are Your New Best Friend!
Having had an episiotomy, meant keeping stitches clean was paramount. I didn’t exactly feel like performing gymnastics to keep them clean using a peri-bottle. So baths it was. They helped tremendously! It was a bit of me time. Some peace and quiet where I could focus on making myself feel a bit more human. The warm soothed the stitches and bruising as well as keeping the area clean. Just take care not to add any perfumed bath creams to prevent irritation.
You Will Want A Portable Cushion!
Delivering even my tiny 5lb baby left me feeling rather bruised and tender. Car journeys were not the most pleasant, especially with the pothole ridden British roads. Cushions helped so much! Especially when we went out for restaurants and I was greeted with awfully hard wooden chairs. I’m not talking about those hideous medical cushions you can get that look like a doughnut. A regular soft, plump cushion will suffice and not leave you feeling self-conscious. Together you and that cushion can ride out the tender first few weeks and give your lower half the gentle treatment it deserves.
Post delivery I felt amazing. I hopped out of bed, had a shower, walked around the ward, I felt great! Everyone said to take it easy when I got home, but I was excited to show little Aria her new home so instead of sitting and relaxing, I was up and about trying to introduce her to everything. Then the second day hit me. Like a truck. Your whole body aches. For those that have experienced contractions you will be familiar with the entire body crushing sensation of labour, and those muscles do a lot of work to deliver your baby safely. Take some rest! It’s really important to ensure your muscles repair correctly and gives you ample time to bond with your baby! Plus someone else can do the housework, you deserve a break! Having said that, it was a bitter pill for me to swallow, I couldn’t just get back to yard work straight away, so I don’t expect everyone to embrace the rest easily, but you really do need it!
Contractions!? Yes Really.
Your uterus has done its job and now has to shrink back to post-pregnancy size. Which means, yup, more contractions! I found them worse when breastfeeding but they weren’t agony. More like uncomfortable period cramps. Apparently they are worse in subsequent pregnancies so I will fill you in on just how bad they are in July!! They generally last about 6 weeks, the time it takes for your uterus to shrink back. But you can, and I recommend you do, take painkillers to combat the general aches and pains as well as taking the edge off these cramps.
Now I will devote an entire post to the trials of breastfeeding in the coming weeks, because it is no easy feat! But around 3-4 days, you will feel like your breasts have run off and had enlargement surgery overnight. Your milk arrives in the days following delivery, which is great news for baby, but it can be hard to adjust to. My advice is to invest in lots, and lots of breast pads. Not only do you feel like a cow who hasn’t been milked for weeks, but every time your baby cries, or another baby cries, or even if you see another baby, you turn into your own water feature. There were many occasions when the pads failed me and I was left rushing to the bathroom to change in the middle of shopping feeling like a leaky bucket. Make sure you change pads regularly to avoid it the best you can, and dark coloured t-shirts are a godsend! Also just because you’re asleep doesn’t mean you’re safe. If you find the concept of sleeping in a bra unbearable like me, then you can opt for putting a towel on the bed to ensure you don’t wake up in a swimming pool each morning.
Another important note, watch out for redness or heat in your breasts, as well as not feeling your best. If you experience any of this see your health advisor. Mastitis is evil, it’s painful and makes you feel like you have the flu. It also murdered my milk supply, so be on the watch out for any symptoms!
Ok so as if having your body reigning war on you isn’t enough, you may experience some emotional challenges. Often called ‘baby blues’ they last for the first week or so and you can feel overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted and like this was all too much. It’s ok to feel like that. Everyone does! You’re doing a great job! There were countless times where I would be crying, Aria was crying, we were both exhausted, upset and frustrated. Don’t take it to heart, you are both still learning. I was very grateful for my partner in these moments who could take Aria out of the room and settle her, whilst I could take a few breaths and compose myself. Taking care of a new baby is hard work and it’s ok to feel overwhelmed. Never feel guilty or ashamed for asking a relative or friend for help. Your mental health is paramount to being able to provide for your new-born, so make sure your mental wellbeing is a priority! They say it takes a village to raise a baby, nobody expects you to do this alone.
If you find the emotions unbearable or are struggling to cope, please talk to your health advisor. Postnatal Depression (PND) affects so many women, and you should never feel ashamed or like you’re not a good enough Mum. It’s a serious condition that people will help you with, don’t keep it bottled up! I was very fortunate not to experience PND, but I know family who have and they told me just how hard it was to function let alone cope with a newborn. So please don’t leave yourself to suffer!
Jelly belly and stretch marks!
Lastly, but by no means least, the wonderful jelly belly and stretch marks. Now stretch marks may have been there since pregnancy, and whilst they may look more dramatic now they will fade in time, it may be a long time but embrace them! They are the battle scars you should be proud of! You produced a new life, endured labour and are now raising a little human. They aren’t wounds, they are trophies! There is debate as to whether bio oils help, but there is no harm in trying! Now to the main bugbear of many new mums. The jelly belly. You go from having this taught bump to well, what likens to a deflated marshmallow. It feels weird, it looks weird, and you probably don’t like it. Aria was very small, but that didn’t stop me poking at her previous residence wishing it would shrink back faster. The horrible news is that it takes time. But keep hydrated, exercise when you can (I’m talking a walk around the block, not the gym), and invest in some clothing that makes you feel great. There is a lot to be said for retail therapy at this point. Not only have you evolved mentally but physically too. Society places far too much pressure on new mums to miraculously return to their original shape after birth. That’s not realistic and can create some real self-confidence issues. Love your body! Even if right now it does feel like an alien! It will shrink back in time, I promise! In the meantime make it your mission to explore self-love and surround yourself with people who understand the trials of motherhood, who make you feel amazing! Because you are!
So there you have it. The wonderful postpartum changes!
Take this rest period to truly bond with your baby. Sniff them, cuddle them, try not to eat them (it’s harder than it sounds!). Let your body take the time needed to heal properly and before you know it you will feel more human and ready to embrace this new version of you! Next week I will be discussing the fourth trimester from your babies point of view and how you can help them through the equally tough challenges they are facing!
Please comment below with your postnatal experiences! And any tips for the fellow members of this group! I look forward to hearing all about it!
Written by Amy Kingston for her blog, Growing Up With Nature.