The Fourth Trimester

Nov 2, 2023

Traditional Chinese medicine and many cultures have long respected the need for women to rest and heal during an extended period at home, following the birth of their baby. The fourth trimester is usually a period of 6 weeks (approx. 40 days) that gives the mother’s body an opportunity to heal, to establish breastfeeding and bonding with baby; a time to nurture their deep connection. 

Woman’s bodies need this recovery time following labour as quite often they are left in a state of energy and blood deficiency, whether they have experienced complications of labour or not. The blood nature needs time to rebuild and the use of nourishing foods such as stocks, soups and herbs can help to bring the body back into balance. 

It is also important to keep extra activities and visitors to a minimum during this time so the concentration on mother and baby stays at the forefront. When healing takes place, this allows for better breastfeeding, and a healthier mother and baby with a smoother transition back into normal daily life once they are both stronger.

Breastfeeding may take some time to master, and demand feeding during the night can be unrelenting and exhausting without the right amounts of rest, nutrition, and support. Mothers require the opportunity to sleep during the day when baby sleeps and rest whenever they can in-between feeds and changes.  An environment that is well organised to meet the needs and demands of the mother is vitally important to her physical and mental health. 

Prior preparation is key, so start early in the 3rd trimester. Find your support team and get them onboard to help. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, so rally hubby and as many friends and family that you can to help provide you with the nourishment and a safe, peaceful, clean environment to be with baby. 

Make sure you let everyone on your support team know what your needs are and ask them for the help you require. If you or baby are unwell, this will create an even bigger need for some well organised helping hands.

Some of the requirements you will need to consider are someone to buy groceries, or organise a delivery in advance, someone to provide cooked meals ideally for breakfast, lunch and dinner or easy meals that you can defrost or reheat, weekly cleaning of the house, someone to help with washing clothes, towels, and bed sheets so you can receive the rest that you deserve. 

The first 40 days can be very demanding while you are breastfeeding day and night. It is important to get sleep in between feeds and as often as you can while baby sleeps. Co-parenting and co-sleeping may be a way to make raising a baby easier for you, but you will need the support of your partner if this is something you are interested in exploring with your newborn. The Continuum Concept is a great book that looks at the benefits of co-sleeping and the psychological benefits for mother and baby.

To be truly present, switch the phone off or put it onto silent and consider only small windows of time for visitors to allow your bonding and intuition with baby to develop and to help your breastmilk flow. There is plenty of time for extended family and friends to meet your buddle of joy when they are slightly bigger and more settled. Babies generally don’t like car travel, so keep your trips short to alleviate the stress on you and baby. 

You may find you have an increased appetite when you are breastfeeding. Organising cooked meals to be delivered to you by your family or friends, or stock your freezer up in the months before baby arrives with meals that will sustain both you and the family at home. 

Simple nourishing foods like eggs, porridge, stocks, and broths and cooked, easy to digest dishes like soups and stews are a wonderful source of protein, carbohydrates and fats that are easy to cook or reheat. 

Hydration is important too when breastfeeding. Make sure you are getting enough fluids as dehydration can be an issue especially in the warmer months. We suggest 30 ml/kg body weight and try some herbal non caffeinated teas like chamomile and nettle for a calmer mother, baby, and increased breast milk supply.

The post-partum phase is not the time for strenuous exercising or cleaning but it’s good to keep your environment clean with fresh sheets and towels. Ask your support team to do washing and cleaning to keep the dust away while you get outside for some fresh air and sunshine with baby. 

As your body becomes stronger and your breastfeeding becomes less frequent you may naturally start to feel the need to explore away from home. Enjoy some time outside each day, on the beach or maybe a walk to a nearby park is a great way for you to transition back into the world and to get used to what is required for you to comfortably breastfeed in public areas. 

Acupuncture and herbal medicine may be an effective way to restore your energy, build the blood and get your body back into health following labour. Acupuncture may also help with some breastfeeding issues such as lack of supply, engorgement and prevent mastitis from developing. Other conditions issues like fever and excessive bleeding, depression, haemorrhoids, incontinence, may be relieved with acupuncture care.  

Andrea Bicket 

B.HSci (Acup); post grad NFM; QRA