The moment I found out I was pregnant, I started studying trimesters like it was my job. I had pages of baby books earmarked and online forums bookmarked and a list of questions to ask my doctor. Unfortunately, the fourth trimester was left out of my extensive research. Like everyone else, after labor and delivery my focus shifted to my baby, and I didn't realize just how taxing postpartum life would be. Firsthand experience can be unkind, but it's also why I can confidently say there are things no one will tell you about the fourth trimester, that I will. Things that are left out of the baby books or just passed over, in favor of chapters about breastfeeding, co-sleeping and other baby-related happenings. Things that every mother, and every partner, should know.
I had a very difficult pregnancy, so I was more than ready for it to end and for my son to enter the world. I was so excited, in fact, that I completely forgot that I would have to actually recover from labor and delivery. Unlike the movies or television shows I have watched throughout the years, I didn't walk out of the hospital in my pre-baby pants, feeling no pain or discomfort, confident in my parenting abilities. In fact, I felt and reluctantly experienced the exact opposite. So, when I took that first postpartum shower and saw my body — the same body that felt like it had been ran over by multiple vehicles — I was shocked. When I couldn't move without being in excrutiating pain, I was disheartened. When I was lost in a sea of relentless postpartum hormones, I was confused.
So, in an attempt to be transparent and because feeling that shocked and disheartened and confused about your body, and your mindset, after giving birth isn't fun; here are just a few things I think every woman (and every parenting partner) needs to know about the fourth trimester. The devil you know beats the devil you don't, my friends.
It's Just As Uncomfortable As The Third Trimester...
Every pregnancy is different, but the last few weeks of my third trimester were absolute hell on earth. My entire body hurt; I was so uncomfortable; I couldn't sleep; I was anxious. Basically, I wasn't having a very good time and couldn't wait for my pregnancy to end and my child to arrive.
Then he arrived and, well, my entire body hurt; I was so uncomfortable; I couldn't sleep; I was anxious. The end of your last trimester and the fourth trimester are basically the same. The only difference, honestly, is that there's a baby in the mix.
...If Not More So
I didn't anticipate being as sore as I was after labor and delivery. But holy hot hell, did I hurt in places I didn't know could hurt. I had used so many muscles to push my son into the world, that my entire body felt like it had been ran over by a semi-truck. Twice.
It's difficult to take care of a new baby when you're that sore (and I can't even begin to imagine how you c-section mothers do it and consider you all warrior women). If you thought you were uncomfortable during the end of your pregnancy, just wait until the fourth trimester. That's when the "real" fun begins.
You'll Look Like You're Still Pregnant
I'll never forget taking a shower the day after my son was born. I had "survived" the first night of his life and felt comfortable leaving him in the hospital room with his father while I took a quick (and much-needed) shower. I stripped down in that tiny hospital room bathroom, only to look down at my stomach and wonder if I had given birth at all.
Thanks to television shows and movies that show women walking out of a hospital after having a baby in a size 00 pair of jeans, as if their body had never been pregnant, I had thought my stomach would magically be "back to normal." Nope. I still looked pregnant, and I was shocked. I cried right then and there, completely detached from a body I no longer recognized. Learning to love your postpartum body is hard, and the misrepresentation of the fourth trimester in mainstream media definitely doesn't help.
You'll Need Just As Much Support As When You Were Pregnant
As one might expect, focus shifts from the pregnant woman to the newborn once a brand new baby is born. Suddenly, it's the baby who gets all the attention and the baby everyone wants to see and the baby everyone asks to help out with. Make no mistake, though; you still need just as much help and support in your fourth trimester as you did when you were pregnant. You're going to be sore, in need of physical recovery, in a sea of relentless hormones, sleep-deprived and trying to adjust to motherhood. Do. Not. Be. Afraid. To. Ask. For. Help.
Let people bring over meals and let people clean your house and (if you're comfortable) let people take the baby for an hour or two so you can rest. Your body (and your mind) have been through a very demanding experience. A woman shouldn't be "on her own" the moment that baby arrives.
Your Baby Will Want To Be Held, By You, Constantly...
I underestimated just how much my son would want to be held, and by me and only me. Not that I'm necessarily complaining, as my arms were they only place I knew my son was absolutely safe. However, when trying to go to the bathroom or make a meal or take a bathroom break, a newborn who needed to be held by mom proved to be difficult.
...So You Might Miss The Days When You Could Carry Them In Your Stomach
While I was so glad my son was outside of my body and in the world, I did have my moments when it just felt easier for him to be back in my stomach. I felt like he was safer in there; I felt like he was much easier to transport to and from places; I felt like my stomach was the only place I knew I could protect him absolutely, 100 percent of the time. Motherhood is weird, you guys. You wait for the day you're no loner pregnant, only to somewhat wish you were still pregnant. Ugh.
There Will Be A Lot Of Bleeding
Postpartum bleeding is relentless. I mean man, I was always in awe of women's bodies for bleeding as much as they do during menstruation while not, you know, dying, but postpartum bleeding is an entirely new ballgame.
Of course, you should pay attention to your postpartum bleeding. If you're soaking more than one sanitary pad in an hour, if you're bleeding bright red blood for longer than four days after delivery, or you're passing clots bigger than a gold ball, you need to contact your doctor immediately.
You'll Still Contract (Especially If You're Breastfeeding)
The contractions don't end once your baby arrives. In fact, if you breastfeed, you'll probably feel your uterus contract every time you feed your baby (which is why you'll probably bleed during those first few breastfeeding sessions, too).
These cramps (or contractions) are at their most intense during the first two or three days after giving birth. By the end of the third day, they should taper off. However, it's worth nothing that it can take up to six weeks (or sometimes even longer) for your uterus to return to it's normal size.
You Won't Be Sleeping Very Often
Sleep will be but a distant dream, my friends. This is not a revelation by any means, but it's always worth repeating. Find time to rest (if and when you can). Sleep is an important part of your postpartum recovery, which is why the fact that you won't be getting too many of it is the cruelest fourth trimester joke of them all.
Our Society Doesn't Support You As Much As It Should
Unfortunately, society doesn't seem to support mothers once their babies are born and they're no longer pregnant. The United States is the only industrialized nation without mandatory paid family leave. Women aren't given the time to recover from labor and delivery — and adjust to motherhood — without fear of losing their jobs or being unable to pay bills, and partners aren't given the time off from work to assist and support the postpartum mother in their life. Only 5 percent of low-wage workers receive maternity leave of any kind, paid or unpaid. An estimated 25 percent of women go back to work 10 days after having a baby, even though a recommended six weeks rest, at home, after labor and delivery is needed for a full recovery.
As a country, we could be doing much more to support women in their fourth trimester. Until that day comes, however, the best you can do is have a solid support system around you, ask for help when you need it, and rest.