The Truth About the Fourth Trimesterby Lauren Schaefer
When you think about pregnancy, whether it’s because you are planning, expecting or just in general, you don’t often think much further than nine months. Your baby apps are counting down to the most important day, but have you ever heard of the fourth trimester? This refers to months 10-12 essentially, so the three months after you give birth. I wanted to write a piece on my first-hand experience with what happened to me during this time.
After giving birth naturally, it took me a considerable while to recover. I spent two days in my birthing suite before I felt strong enough to make it home, and even after then I had to have a few more hospital visits plus an iron transfusion to get my body back in working condition.
The first thing I’m going to talk about is the bleeding. Birth itself, be it natural or via cesarean, is a trauma to the body. For me, I found the bleeding in the first few days post-partum to be incredibly heavy. I wore these amazing knickers that were like an adult version of a nappy so I didn’t have to worry about going through ten extra-large maxi pads in a morning. They aren’t the most flattering undergarments, but I certainly needed them for a good ten days after birth before I could go back to using my normal knickers again.
This next bit is a bit uncomfortable, to say the least, so if you want to know what it’s like when you have a tear during birth, this part is for you. I had a second-degree perineal tear that was partly internal and partly external. It took about twenty minutes to be stitched up afterwards, but the pain from this really dragged on for months. It was very difficult to sit down at all in the first week, especially on a chair or in the car. I had my stitches checked out by my GP to make sure everything was healing ok, and over time it did. It’s not exactly as it was before, but that’s just something I have to come to terms with in my own way.
The most bizarre change that occurred in the fourth trimester was my temperature. I can’t say whether it was a definitive core temperature change or just me feeling hot, but ever since having my daughter I am constantly trying to cool down. Before falling pregnant I was always reaching for a second jumper or complaining about being cold, but now I have to take extra layers off and will rarely be seen in a thick jumper or hoodie.
Emotions are running high at the best of times with a new baby. It can go from bliss to bad in a nanosecond because you forgot to put the bottles in the steriliser. For me, I became increasingly upset if I was struggling to breastfeed. I felt like I wasn’t doing a good enough job and that my baby was going hungry every time I couldn’t get her to latch on. I realised that I was being completely irrational about ten minutes later, but in the moment I was completely consumed by the voice in my head. This slowly passed as each day went on, but having a breakdown literally over spilt milk is something we all have in common.
The final stage of my fourth trimester actually happened around month five after birth. This is when I started experiencing hair loss. I wouldn’t say it was a huge amount- I didn’t end up with patches on my scalp- but it was very noticeable after every shower when I saved the ball to stop it heading down the drain. If you wash your hair several times in a week like me, you can imagine what my mind was going through when I was mentally adding it all up.
I’m not writing this to put anyone off from having a baby, I just want to share my story so that it can help prepare others for the fourth trimester. You may experience similar changes, or have a completely different recovery. Other symptoms after birth can be much more extreme such as post-natal depression, a prolapse, incontinence or haemorrhoids. One thing is for sure, no matter what you experience from the fourth trimester, the happy moments with your baby make up for them tenfold.