What Is The Fifth Trimester?

by Lindsay E. Mack

Each trimester of pregnancy brings its own set of changes and developments, and there are plenty of books and other resources available for expectant mothers. Not surprisingly, though, the initial weeks of motherhood are challenging in their own right, so much so that they are sometimes called the fourth trimester. However, for many moms another huge transition known as the fifth trimester takes place around the time their child is about 3 months old. So what is the fifth trimester, and what challenges does it bring to new moms?

The fifth trimester is a reference to the time when maternity leave ends and a new mom returns to work, as noted in Running With Strollers. For many moms, this signals a period of stress when their new responsibilities as a mom collide with their previous responsibilities as an employee. Basically, getting up for night feedings and then trying to be alert for the 8:00 a.m. meeting leaves many moms feeling overworked and exhausted.

Granted, the idea that balancing a family and a career is difficult is not exactly news. However, the moms who are facing this dilemma don't have to go it alone. In fact, an upcoming book from Lauren Smith Brody, The Fifth Trimester, will provide practical advice for working moms who want to manage motherhood, work life, and their peace of mind at the same time. Weathering the fifth trimester isn't easy, but (for what it's worth) millions of other moms are facing the same struggle. You aren't alone.

Why is the return to work so difficult, though? In the U.S. at least, the Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees a maximum of 12 weeks unpaid leave following the birth of a child. Although 12 weeks may sound like an abundance of time off, new moms have only that amount of time to physically recover from birth, adapt to the challenges of motherhood, and bond with their new baby. These tasks alone are intense and time-consuming, and (as any stay-at-home-mom could tell you), they are a job all on their own.

Additionally, the average amount of postpartum time off has actually declined in the past decade, as reported in The Washington Post, and many women opt out of taking their full leave entirely. Sometimes financial pressures, or the threat of job loss, drive new moms back to work before they've fully healed from labor. Even under the best of circumstances, many working moms have to head back to the office while the realities of sleepless nights and the demands of breastfeeding are still in full swing. As long as these workplace leave policies stand, the fifth trimester will remain a trying reality for many mothers.