The 4th Trimester

posted by Andrea | 12/7/2015
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Just weeks after Nora was born, I went to the doctor for my routine 6-week checkup. Of course, Nora came with me because she was ALWAYS with me. I figured it wouldn’t be a huge deal to take her along, and I wanted the doctors and nurses to see how cute she was.

She SCREAMED the entire time — to the point where I was actually crying in my room while I was waiting for the doctor to come (he was unfortunately running way behind schedule). Thankfully, a kind nurse came and took Nora, fed her a bottle, and held her while the doctor finally came in and finished my checkup.

We left the doctor’s office and both of us sobbed the entire 25-minute drive home. When we got home, I fed Nora again and we both slept on the couch for a solid 2 hours (which was ridiculously long for Nora to sleep back then.)

I remember waking up from that nap and thinking “There is no way I can ever do this again.” And for the first time in my life, I seriously considered only having one child — even though I knew Dave and I both wanted several children.

I remember that day so vividly (I even remember what Nora and I were wearing). It’s permanently etched on my brain as a reminder of how extremely difficult and challenging that tiny newborn phase of life is — especially for anyone with a fussy, colicky, overly-sensitive, or high-needs baby.

Oh, and for the record, I went to all my other 6-week checkups child-free 🙂

3 days old

(our first day home from the hospital — I felt as tired as I looked!)

mom and nora

(Nora @ 12 weeks old)

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It was at that same 6-week doctor’s visit that I first heard the term “The 4th Trimester”. The nurse was trying to encourage me and said, “Just wait until the 4th trimester is over… things will start to get better.”

I must have stared at her with that overly-tired new-mom zombi stare for a bit too long, because after an awkward silence, she went on to explain that the 4th trimester is considered the first 12 weeks after a baby is born and learning to adjust to life outside the womb. 

While her assurance of “things getting better” didn’t offer me any real comfort at the time, I continued to think about the concept of a 4th trimester long after that day…

(Simon @ 12 weeks old)

Now, looking back on 3 very different pregnancies and 3 VERY different babies, I can honestly say that “The 4th Trimester” is real.

With each of my babies, I noticed a significant change in myself and the baby after those first 12 weeks passed.

Even though Nora was by-far my most challenging baby, I can remember feeling so much better mid February (right around 12 weeks). At the time, I thought it was simply because one of the international students living with us moved out at the beginning of February due to major behavior issues. And while I’m sure that didn’t hurt anything, I know that I personally felt slightly less exhausted and overwhelmed right around that time. I can remember going to bed early on Valentine’s night (Dave offered to stay up with Nora) and thinking that I was starting to feel like I sort of knew what I was doing 🙂

Then with Simon, I felt another huge shift in my physical and mental state right around the beginning of June (almost exactly 12 weeks from when he was born). Of course, I assumed it was because Dave was just finishing up school and was home for the rest of the summer. And again, that didn’t hurt the situation, but there was still the fact that I felt physically, mentally, and emotionally more “with it” after those first 12 weeks.

After James was born smack in the middle of Dave’s summer vacation, I thought I certainly wouldn’t feel as exhausted because I had Dave home with me. However, the exhaustion was still there even with all his extra help. I was dreading the beginning of the school year and doing it “on my own”… and it was a lot of work. But would you know, right around the middle of October, I realized that I felt SO much better — physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. — and that’s right around the 12 week mark!

(James @ 13 weeks)

By 12 weeks, I had lost my baby weight and was fitting into all my normal clothes again. By 12 weeks, I had developed some sort of “routine” and loose “schedule” for life with a new person around. By 12 weeks, my baby had fallen into some sort of pattern as to his/her eating and sleeping needs (Simon was almost sleeping 12 straight hours by this point!)

 

Looking back, 12 weeks seems like nothing — just a short page in the long novel of my life. However, as I was going through those first 12 weeks, they seemed to drag on forever (especially with Nora). With James, I tried really hard to keep pushing ahead and telling myself “It will only be for a few weeks” and that did help to keep things in perspective.

After all, if I can get through the tired queasy feelings of the 1st trimester and the sleepless full body aching weeks of the 3rd trimester, I can certainly make it through the 4th trimester with a new baby in my arms.

As with any new change, it takes time to find a new normal — and apparently in my case, it takes roughly 12 weeks to find that new normal when another baby enters our family.

If you’re preparing to welcome a new baby to your family (or if you just recently did) I’d encourage you not to set any expectations for you or your new baby for those first 12 weeks. You will most certainly have many exhausting days, sleepless night, and moments where you think you are going insane… but in my experience, it’s amazing how many of those things work themselves out after that 12 week mark.

I’m not saying life will be complete bliss after 12 weeks, but I do think that “making it through the 4th trimester” is a great goal to work towards (if you love goals like I do!)

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And if you’re not dealing with a new baby, but instead, trying to implement a new habit (exercising, eating healthier, getting more organized, saving more and spending less, etc.) give yourself a 12-week grace period where you allow yourself to make a few mistakes as you work towards realizing your “new normal”.

What are your thoughts on “The 4th Trimester”?

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34 comments

  1. Getting back into the school routine after the holidays and a new baby

    01/07/2016

    […] never really heard the 4th trimester described this way, Andrea Dekker recently wrote about how much easier life with a baby gets at 12 weeks old, so I’m holding out hope that we’ll be in a better routine by February and morning time […]

  2. danielle

    12/11/2015

    The fourth trimester is so real! With my first son I definitely felt somewhat more normal at 6 weeks. I was just starting to figure life out with a newborn and then I want back to teaching and it felt like all the confidence I had built as a new mom was shaken. BUT around 12 weeks I definitely felt like a normal person again. The baby was sleeping better. He had fallen into more of a routine. They do not seem so tiny and breakable. I figured that I would not have such an adjustment with the second, since I would know what I was doing more. But it all happens again. It takes those 12 weeks to get to know this baby and for the baby to know you and for you to adjust hormonally and physically. It also takes those weeks for the other kids to adjust. My two year old had a bit of a hard time, and still does on some days that mommy has to feed the baby, and thereby hold him, so often.

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  3. Megan MacFarlane

    12/09/2015

    Andrea–Thanks for posting this. I am due with our first in April. I’d be lying if I said I’m not scared (but also excited) about how life will change for us as a family of 3 or how we will handle that on little sleep. This post was super comforting to read and extra comforting to see how many women agree with you. I will have to keep this idea in the back of my mind as I’m in the middle of the “fog” of the first 12 weeks. Thank you! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Congrats Megan!
    Just know that there is NO way for you to be or feel fully prepared for a new baby. That is not suppose to scare you, but rather comfort you so you don’t need to feel like you must know everything before the baby arrives. Even on my 3rd baby, there really wasn’t any way to fully prepare.

    You learn as you go, and if you mess up every now and then, the babies won’t remember 🙂

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  4. JJ

    12/08/2015

    Thank you. I needed this! I have 3 under 3, and my youngest is 8 weeks. I had never heard of this before. I LOVE newborns and babies but struggle with lack of routine and sleep deprivation. I had just thought the other day that things normally settle down when they’re about 3 months(did with my older two). What confirmation! And today my baby took a long nap at the same time my older two were napping. I could seriously run laps around my house now. And the productivity was such a refresher for me! I love your posts and so relate to you. I’m actually from Michigan(would totally show you where on my hand if we were in person!), but I live in the South now. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    WOW!! 3 under 3!
    also, I can totally relate to the “praise the Lord, my baby took a long nap today” feeling! so amazing 🙂

    Merry Christmas to you too — hopefully “santa” will bring you a few more of those long naps!

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  5. Melanie G

    12/08/2015

    Yup, I totally agree! Fortunately someone had mentioned this concept to me before our daughter was born, so that helped some, but it still didn’t really prepare me for what those early weeks would be like.

    We also found it to be really accurate in terms of her adjustment to the world. I realize not every method works for everyone, but The Happiest Baby on the Block really helped us, and understanding all the things our new baby was adjusting to in those 12 weeks helped us be more patient. It was like she was a different baby after that (in a good way)!

    I have a really hard time adjusting my expectations for myself, but you’re spot on – every new parent needs that period of grace, from others and from ourselves!

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  6. Tanya

    12/08/2015

    Totally agree and I can tell you it happens with adoption as well. My youngest was 3 months old when he came home to us. I figured it would be easier since I didn’t have the physically labor and since he was older. NOPE…still a challenge to adjust to a new life being apart of the family. It took about 3 months.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    That is so interesting to me — even though the baby was already 3 months old, it still took another 3 months to settle in. I can completely understand why though — that’s a huge change!

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  7. Megan

    12/08/2015

    I so needed this today! We’re 3 weeks in with our second child and, while she’s definitely “easier” than our son was (which still stands true – he’s been a challenge lately, understandably so), I keep trying to remind myself that it’s just a phase and I’ll get sleep…someday. 😉 Hoping the 3-month mark proves itself once again! I hate wishing this time away, but I reached my cried-from-exhaustion point last night. 😉

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    Andrea Reply:

    I think it’s totally acceptable to (partially) wish that time away. Honestly, who wouldn’t wish for a time when more sleep was the norm. Don’t feel bad when the little old ladies tell you to “enjoy every moment”… they have rose colored glasses and are only remember the good times 🙂

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  8. Janelle

    12/07/2015

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    [Reply]

  9. Rachel

    12/07/2015

    Thanks, this makes me feel a little better as i just handed my 8 week old to my husband as he walked in the door. I needed a break, he has been crying most the day. Glad to know it gets better.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Sorry you had a bad day… but you’re right, it does get better and easier! The tricky part is that we never know when exactly it will get better and easier. there’s no date that we can push forward to “make it to”.

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  10. Avia

    12/07/2015

    I totally agree with you on this. With both mine I went back to work at 12 weeks and I was bummed because I just started to feel like I had things together when the routine had to change again.

    [Reply]

  11. Laura

    12/07/2015

    I don’t have any kids, but this post spoke to me! I just took on a bunch of clients for a co-worker who’s going on maternity leave, and I’m still in that “12 weeks” with those clients. What a good reminder to be patient while the communication gets worked out!

    I also see connections to jobs and other situations I’ve been in with new people. The first 12 weeks (plus or minus) are always a little extra stressful while I get my balance.

    Thanks so much for your great articulation of this idea!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    thanks for sharing Laura! I’ve always heard the time-frame of 30 days when trying or starting something new — but I honestly don’t feel like that’s enough time in many situations. 90 days (or approximately 12 weeks) is probably more realistic!

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  12. Molly

    12/07/2015

    This is very real! I remember learning this in our childbirth class before our first baby. Humans have to be born when they are because they have the largest baby head to mother’s pelvis ratio (if they were born later, they wouldn’t fit!), however this also means that they are the least developed compared to other mammals and do go through a 4th trimester of sorts. Think about other mammals who can walk the day they are born (e.g. horses) – they are born much more advanced in their development process than humans!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Interesting — I guess I never thought of it like that before. You’re right though… almost all other mammals are born more ‘developed’ and capable

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  13. Kristen @ Joyfully Thriving

    12/07/2015

    I agree completely! It is very real. I think you can start to settle into routines before then, but there is a clear shift / transition when that 12 week period comes. It’s so very interesting to realize…and I hope all new moms realize this!

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  14. Shelly Smith

    12/07/2015

    Absolutely! As a nurse (baby/mom nurse, no less) I knew all about the physiological changes in Mom’s body during those first 12 weeks after delivery (aka Fourth Trimester) but it is hard to imagine all the psychological and emotional challenges, too! I teach classes for expectant parents now, and I always tell them (both Mom and Dad) you will NOT feel prepared for the psychological/emotional changes that a new baby brings to a family (even though you can’t fully understand it until you experience it yourself!) Even if you’ve spent your whole life around babies (as I had) when it is your own child crying, it has a completely different effect on you (the parent!) Unfortunately, like you, my first born was a high-needs baby and I thought I was losing my mind!! Thankfully, we survived 🙂 and went on to have 2 more boys, each one very different from the other! I also tell my classes (and believe it is very true) that when your baby’s little personality starts to show, including those precious first smiles, right around 3 months old, it starts to connect those heart strings and make a parent feel like it is all worth it! God sure knew what He was doing when He made babies so cute!! 🙂

    [Reply]

  15. Emma {Emma's Little Kitchen}

    12/07/2015

    Girl, IT IS REAL, and I’m so happy that my husband told me about the 4th trimester as a concept, it really helps to label that challenging stage 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    you have a smart husband 🙂 Although I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that!

    [Reply]

  16. Jennifer

    12/07/2015

    I first heard this concept to help describe what the baby is going through, and it helped me a lot with my daughter (my first baby). So much of a newborn’s behaviour is frustrating and puzzling – why can’t I put her down? Why does she eat constantly (I had a cluster feeder)? Why does she need to be bobbed around to stop crying for no apparent reason?

    I always remembered that this was just her ‘4th trimester’, and she was just behaving like a little fetus who suddenly found herself in a different world. She just hadn’t adjusted to the ways of the world yet! It really helped me when I thought about her this way, that she just needed things to be the way they were in the womb because that was the only way she knew how to function.

    I’d never thought about it as a phase for the mother as well, but that’s a useful thought too!

    [Reply]

  17. Emily

    12/07/2015

    Oh this is so true!! I have experienced that with each of my babies. We just hit the 12 week mark with Jonathan and “the fog” is lifting. 🙂 The 4th trimester applies to our homeschooling schedule too. We usually take about 4 weeks off of homeschooling (we school year round so we can have breaks like that) and then I have my girls just doing the basics because the postpartum mush brain is still around. By 12 weeks I’m ready to add the extras! Great post, great perspective!!

    [Reply]

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    12/07/2015

    […] Andrea Dekker: The 4th trimester is […]

  19. Leanne

    12/07/2015

    you need to remember this even if you adopt an infant…
    those 12 weeks are needed for bonding, processing the bevy of emotions that you feel, and in a lot of states finalizing adoptions (which is a huge deal for adoptive parents!- there is always that underlying fear that it’s not final… til it’s final)….
    My first adoption was pretty smooth sailing in those first 3 months… but the second wasn’t… and I developed pretty severe post-adoption depression… I barely remember my 2nd son’s first year of life (thank goodness we took photos!)…
    this was such an excellent post! love all your thoughts on motherhood!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, good point Leanne!

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  20. Mariangeles

    12/07/2015

    My baby girl was born last October 27th, and I’m feeling so blue right now… Thanks for your words of encouragement <3

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Sorry to hear that Mariangeles… I do know how you feel. I have not magic words of advice, but I will say that eventually things will start to look up (the hard part is that we don’t know when exactly “eventually” is). Just keep on keeping on… you can do it!

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    Mariangeles Reply:

    Thanks you so much <3

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    Melanie G Reply:

    It’s so hard! You’re in the middle of the hardest of the hard, too. It helped me to know I wasn’t alone or imagining how hard it was. You’ll be amazed at what you can do, and at what you can let go. Sending you good thoughts!

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    Mariangeles Reply:

    Thank you so much <3

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  21. Deni

    12/07/2015

    I totally agree, Andrea! All new Mom’s would benefit from knowing what to expect during that “4th trimester”. To me that was the scariest part, not knowing what to expect when we came home, rather than the delivery it self. I commend you for pushing forward and having more babies after having a “sensitive” baby first. My daughter, who is 17 now was a sensitive baby/child and over time she has improved so much, and I’m so glad we had a second child who is the complete opposite of her to balance out our family. Children are a blessing and you are doing a great job!

    [Reply]