Yes, There’s a 4th Trimester—Here’s How To Navigate It
Don’t worry, it won’t last forever.
After nine long months of pregnancy—nearly 10, if your baby was full-term—you may have thought you were done counting trimesters. After all, the word “trimesters” itself means that there are only three. However, you might be surprised to learn that a 4th trimester exists. The 4th trimester refers to the post-childbirth adjustment period involved in becoming a mom—whether it’s your first kid or fifth. And, just like when you were pregnant (especially in your third trimester), it poses its own set of challenges.
Ahead, we’re delving into what the 4th trimester is and answering common questions such as how long the 4th trimester is and when does the 4th trimester end. Best of all, we’re providing tips for surviving the 4th trimester to help you make the most of your precious time with your new baby.
What Is the 4th Trimester?
The “4th trimester” refers to the transitional period both you and your baby go through in the first three months after they’re born. And just like the other three trimesters, you’re in this together. During the 4th trimester, your little one is adjusting to being a tiny human. Their whole world has changed, and they’re now breathing air, eating, pooping, tooting, and experiencing all the sights, lights, and sounds around them.
Meanwhile, even if you already have kids, it still takes time to adjust to caring for a new infant, create as much of a routine as possible, and forge a bond with this brand new little person as much as you can. And no two babies are the same—even twins—making this time of change taxing, both physically and emotionally. But the sad truth is that, too often, all the focus is on the new baby, and not nearly enough attention is paid to what mommy is going through. From differences affecting your mood and body to making sure your child is fed, sleeps, and consoled when they cry, these first three months especially cause quite the upheaval in your life. Below, we’re briefing you on what to expect with each new challenge, plus ways to help you navigate the 4th trimester.
A lot of new moms come down with a case of the “baby blues” in the first few days after giving birth. These include crying spells, stress, worries, mood swings, and insomnia that can last for a couple of weeks. But one in eight women experience much more persistent, intense negative feelings that are more difficult to shake—and they can interfere with their daily life and ability to care for themselves and their baby. This indiscriminate condition, known as postpartum depression, requires treatment to lift the cloud. So it’s imperative that you speak to your doctor if you think you’re experiencing it, as it can set in prior to childbirth and last weeks, months, or even a year afterwards.
Even more prevalent is postpartum anxiety, which affects one in seven new moms. It’s characterized by excessive worrying, stress, fear, and an inability to calm down, and can also impact your quality of life. The good news is that it’s highly treatable, so speak to your doctor if you recognize any of the symptoms. All of these mood disturbances are side effects of being pregnant and giving birth, so it’s important to try to remind yourself that they’re not your fault and help is out there.
Your body was quite literally transformed when you were pregnant. And the fourth trimester is a time of recovery from it. Your pregnancy hormones are ebbing (which can rattle your mood), and you may have postpartum swelling and bleeding for a few weeks, as well as general discomfort or pain, whether or not you had a vaginal birth or C-section. Then, there’s the inevitable sleep deprivation that comes with caring for a new baby. (You can lose up to 700 hours of sleep in your baby’s first year alone!) This lack of sleep can also affect your mood, energy, and focus, and amplify the fogginess known as pregnancy brain (which can last well into the 4th trimester and beyond).
If you were diagnosed with a pregnancy-induced health condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, those symptoms may also persist into the 4th trimester or longer. During this time, it’s important to listen to cues from your body and, if any physical symptoms worsen or interfere with your daily life, it’s important to let your doctor know.
Learning your baby’s eating habits & needs
On top of managing your own emotional and physical issues in the 4th trimester, you have to be sure your infant gets all the nutrition they need, which involves learning their cues and habits, and ultimately developing some sort of mealtime rhythm. Babies need to eat frequently—about every two to three hours if they’re breastfed, including overnight—hence the sleep deprivation. This may sound like it needs to be pretty regimented, but the truth about feeding schedules may surprise you.
Even if your infant is bottle-fed, it’s less about checking the clock and more about feeding them when you see signs that they’re hungry, like if they’re sucking on their hands, opening and closing their mouth, or smacking their lips. Then, the key to making mealtime more enjoyable for you both is finding the right, comfy position to feed them in. The 4th trimester is, after all, a learning period when you and your little one are discovering each other’s signals and idiosyncrasies.
Identifying infant gas vs. colic
Both gas and colic can cause babies to cry and fuss, and trying to figure out which one is to blame can be tricky. Babies toot throughout babyhood and beyond, but colic is most common in the 4th trimester. (It usually disappears when babies are about 3 to 4 months old—which means it occurs smack dab in the middle of the 4th trimester.) While it’s true that colicky infants can have gas—usually from swallowing too much air when they cry—that’s not always the case. Gas and colic are two totally separate conditions. Colic is characterized by frequent, intense, prolonged crying and fussiness for no apparent reason. Think of it as the “Big 3”: Crying for three or more hours a day, three or more days per week, for three or more weeks. But resist the urge to diagnose your baby yourself. Only your pediatrician can do that.
Mommy Pro Tip: If your little one is diagnosed with colic, Infants’ Mylicon Daily Probiotic Drops can help. When given every day, they can reduce crying and fussiness associated with colic by 50% or more over time. Plus, the probiotic has other benefits, like supporting healthy digestion and your baby’s immune system.
Colic is one thing, but on the other hand, babies are tooting machines. And gas can certainly make your baby uncomfortable and fussy. Signs of gas are pretty distinctive, so look for a swollen little tummy, straining, and if your infant is arching their back or lifting their legs. Gas goes out both ways too, so look for burps, as well as toots.
Mommy Pro Tip: To help relieve excess gas quickly, try Infants’ Mylicon Gas Relief in either our dye-free or original formula. The active ingredient simethicone works quickly to break gas bubbles down to help your baby naturally release them, and it’s never absorbed into your infant’s system.
Understanding your baby’s cries
Both gas and colic can cause crying, but crying is also just what babies do. Your baby may not be able to speak yet, but that doesn’t mean they’re not trying to tell you something when they cry—it’s how they communicate with you. Hey Mom, dirty diaper over here! But their cries can be stressful for you both. Learn all about the four different types of cries and what your little one may be saying.
Mommy Pro Tip: Help soothe their tears by discovering different ways you can help calm them down.
Discovering sleepy signs and patterns
In the first few months of their lives during the 4th trimester, babies sleep up to 18 hours out of 24. There may be nothing more precious during the 4th trimester than looking over at your little cherub soundly snoozing—those chubby cheeks, their little chest rising, and twitching limbs every so often. What in the world could this tiny person be dreaming?
Babies can konk out seemingly at the drop of a hat. And that’s because they’re sleeping pros, but it can be tough figuring out what sleeping schedule works for both of you to ensure that everyone gets the rest they need. Find out all about baby sleep, then learn what to expect (and look forward to!) with their snoozes as they grow.
Mommy Pro Tip: Try to hit the hay—or at least rest your head—while they sleep. There’s absolutely nothing dire about scrubbing the dishes or sweeping up that can’t wait until they're awake. Your sleep and wellbeing is just as important as your infant’s in the 4th trimester.
When Does the 4th Trimester End?
We completely understand the urge to continually ask yourself how long the 4th trimester is and when things will finally calm down. And it may seem like this period of your life will never end. But, rest assured, it won’t last forever, and both of you will eventually adapt to your new lives together. And keep in mind, even though the 4th semester is defined as the first three months after your baby entered this world, everyone—yourself and baby included—is different. If it lasts a bit longer, there’s usually no reason to fret. Of course, if you become concerned with your emotional state, physical health, or your infant’s acclimation and development, always speak to your doctor.
Surviving the 4th Trimester—and Beyond
The 4th trimester may test your patience—and endurance—but try and go easy on yourself. There’s a reason this time in your and your baby’s life warrants its own moniker. Not only are you dealing with emotional and physical challenges in the 4th trimester, but while you are, you have a little one who needs you, which can truly seem overwhelming. As you and your baby adapt to this new temporary normal, remind yourself as often as possible that you will get through this. You can also try these tips for surviving the 4th trimester to help.
Show yourself some love
As a mom, it’s easy for your baby to take center stage–and they should. But that doesn’t mean they should be up there all by themselves. Be sure to take care of yourself. If you're not doing well, your little one’s care will suffer too. Know that it’s OK to take time for yourself, even if it’s only for a 15-minute breather a day or a little self-care. If you get bogged down by any symptoms of the 4th trimester, don’t blame yourself, and instead remind yourself that you’re only human, and let your doctor know.
Go easy on yourself
Along the same lines, Mommy Guilt is a real thing. Try your best not to let it consume you. Feeling like you’re not doing enough is an unpleasant motherhood right of passage. It’s normal to doubt yourself during the 4th trimester—and beyond—or feel bad about not spending enough time with your partner or other people in your life. But, try as you may, it’s also really common for guilt to get the better of you. Resist the urge to compare yourself to other moms, and what progress you think you should have made by now, or judge yourself based on relatively arbitrary timelines. Most of all, remember: Postpartum depression affects one in eight moms, regardless of how many kids they have. If your feelings become intrusive or interfere with your life and ability to care for your baby, tell your doctor about them right away. Postpartum depression is not a battle you can—or should—fight alone.
Ask for help
Don’t hesitate to ask for help with feedings, diaper changes, babysitting, or otherwise, even if you’ve convinced yourself that you should be able to do it all. No one’s expecting you to be a supermom, and your loved ones would likely want to help make your life easier if they can.
Know it’s OK if breastfeeding isn’t working out
Just because Mother Nature created breastfeeding, that doesn’t mean it works out for everyone. Some women—even those who’ve breastfed their older kids—can have trouble with it. Formula has all the nutrients your baby needs, so go easy on yourself if there are any issues breastfeeding. It happens often.
Give bonding time to happen
It can be hard to bond with your newborn or be able to read their emotions to understand what they need. And that’s completely normal too. Bonding takes time and will happen the more you interact with your little one and as they begin to develop their own personality at the end of the 4th trimester—when you both settle in and they hit important milestones.
Your friends and family will likely be overjoyed when your infant arrives. And you may be peppered with questions on when they can see the little angel. Refer back to the pointers about making your needs a priority and trying not to feel guilty. We know, easier said than done. But, really, the 4th trimester is all about adaptation and recovery, so make sure you’re giving yourself as much time to rest and heal as possible. Instead of having a parade of people coming by to meet the new baby, spread out their visits over the months of your 4th trimester. As a bonus, having visitors now and then can help give you some valuable social time and help prevent the feelings of isolation that are so common with new moms.
Try remembering the “5 Ss”
If you find yourself still searching for a place to turn during the 4th trimester to help your baby settle down, try to remember a simple philosophy called the “5 Ss.” It’s based on the fact that the distinction between your baby as a fetus and your baby as a newborn is still a very fine line. So, to help them acclimate to life in the outside world in their first few months, try to make their environment as similar to—and comforting as—their home inside your womb was. This entails 5 “Ss”: Swaddle, Side or Stomach Position, Swing, Shoosh, Suck.
As the cornerstone of all 5 Ss, swaddling your baby in their newborn blankie can give them the sense of comfy snugness that they were used to in your womb—which can be especially helpful if they’re fussy or ready to go down for a nap. Bonus: Swaddling can also prime your infant to respond faster to the other 4 Ss.
Side or stomach position
Babies tend to settle down best while laying on their tummy or their side. (Just be sure to place them on their back to sleep for safety.)
When you were pregnant, anytime you were in motion, your baby was too. Try similarly bouncing and swinging them to help give them the same sensation.
Much like the lulling effect of the pitter-pat of raindrops tapping your window, or, in lieu of that, a fan or white noise machine, making shushing sounds can help simulate the swishing sound they heard in utero.
Sucking comes naturally to your little one, and it can help calm them down to boot. (Hint: This is where a pacifier might come in really handy.)
Next: The 4th trimester can be a little bumpy, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy time with your little one. One activity you can do together is baby massage, which has numerous benefits. Find out what they are and how to give your infant a proper rubdown. (Hint: It can also be a way to unwind for both of you.)