Preparing for the "fourth trimester"

Jul 1, 2021


When you get pregnant, it’s easy to find a wealth of information about body changes, your baby’s development, and labor and delivery. But all too often, the period after you give birth gets swept under the rug. In reality, the fourth trimester is just as important as the first, second and third.

What is the "fourth trimester"?

The fourth trimester refers to the initial 12 weeks immediately after you give birth. The concept of the fourth trimester is that, as much as possible, you should recreate the experience of being in the womb for your newborn. The main tenets of the fourth trimester are:

  • Swaddling and swaying, to help your newborn feel more secure.
  • Skin-to-skin contact, to comfort your baby and remind them of your smell and the sound of your heartbeat.
  • Feeding, either through breastfeeding or bottle-feeding.
  • Bathing, as floating in water can remind your baby of what it feels like to be rocked in the womb.

This period is also a crucial time for moms and new caregivers to adjust. After giving birth, your hormones are still going through extreme shifts. Combined with lack of sleep, stress and physical recovery, the fourth trimester can be an overwhelming time for new moms.

Caring for yourself

In the United States, it’s common for you to return home in the first few days after birth and attempt to pick up many of the same duties you had before: preparing meals, doing laundry, looking after other children or returning to work outside the home. All of these responsibilities can be overwhelming, and it’s normal to be exhausted.

To make the fourth trimester go more smoothly, you can:

  • Ask for and accept help. Whether it’s from your partner, family members, friends or neighbors, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Let others make meals, clean the house or watch baby while you sleep.
  • Eat as much nutritious food as you can. Eating nutrient-dense foods can help give you more energy and aid your body in healing. As much as possible, try to reach for fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats.
  • Sleep when you can. You’ve probably heard to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Even if it’s at irregular hours, sleep whenever you have the chance. It will take a while for you and your newborn to settle into a routine, so during the fourth trimester, get rest whenever you can.
  • Have a trusted pediatrician you can go to. Your new baby’s pediatrician is a trusted resource if you have questions or concerns about their health and growth. Make sure you establish care with someone you can rely on as a source of knowledge and reassurance.

Choosing a pediatrician: Why you shouldn’t wait

Ideally, you should choose a pediatrician for your new baby before you give birth. You may be assigned a pediatrician based on your insurance or from the health system where you are giving birth. But you can also make appointments to interview several pediatricians.

“Interviewing a few pediatricians gives you the opportunity to find someone you connect with, share values with and can trust,” says Theodore Zwerdling, MD, pediatrician with Adventist Health Feather River. “I’d advise doing these interviews throughout your third trimester—the fourth trimester is really too late.”

While interviewing, you may ask pediatricians:

  • To explain their care philosophies
  • Whether they follow guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • If they are board-certified or where they went to medical school

You may also be interested in how warm and welcoming the office is in general. Are front office staff helpful and friendly? “It’s important to assess your comfort level in talking with the doctor,” Dr. Zwerdling notes. “You need to find someone you can be honest with. Trust your gut response.”

For help finding a pediatrician near you, find an Adventist Health provider today.

Tags: Maternity