While we hear a great deal about the first, second, and third trimesters of pregnancy, we don’t often hear much about the fourth trimester: the 12-week period that occurs immediately after giving birth. Potential challenges such as postpartum depression (or PPD) are commonly discussed, but we should also be aware of other physical challenges and conditions such as postpartum weight retention, pain, and swollen breasts.
MyGirlyNames discusses these commonly overlooked challenges in the sections below, so read on to learn more about the fourth trimester of pregnancy and how you can better care for yourself while also caring for your newborn.
Postpartum Pain & Discomfort
Whether your baby is born vaginally or by C-section, you may experience pain and discomfort for several weeks or months after giving birth. For instance, you may experience pain in your lower abdomen, perineum, breasts, and nipples; and you may experience pain or discomfort as a result of constipation; hemorrhoids; or swelling in your legs, feet, and hands. You may also experience vaginal bleeding and discharge, water retention, and soreness from a perineal tear.
To ensure you’ll have everything you need to ease pain and discomfort during the fourth trimester of pregnancy, it’s important to prepare yourself for the recovery process well before giving birth. Here are a few things to stock up on to reduce pain as your body heals:
- Heating pads or hot water bottles for postpartum abdominal pain.
- Stool softeners or fiber-rich snacks to treat postpartum digestive issues such as constipation.
- Witch hazel for relieving postpartum hemorrhoid pain and swelling.
- A peri bottle to protect the perineum from infection and soothe perineal soreness.
- Sanitary pads for any postpartum spotting, bleeding, or discharge.
- Nursing pads and bras, cold packs, lanolin, and hydrogel dressings to relieve nipple pain and fissures while breastfeeding.
Postpartum Weight Retention
Many pregnant women expect to lose their baby weight shortly after giving birth, but this isn’t often the case. In fact, 15 to 20 percent of new mothers retain 10 or more pounds one year after they’ve given birth. Most new mothers, however, exceed their pre-pregnancy weights by about two to five pounds.
Losing weight after a second or third pregnancy is even more difficult for most women, and it becomes even more challenging for new mothers in their 30s and 40s. And while studies show that breastfeeding may help some women to lose their baby weight, this is not the case for every new mother. Many other factors come into play during the postpartum period, as breastfeeding increases hunger and sleep quality: two things that can make weight loss a challenge.
That being said, you shouldn’t rely on breastfeeding alone to lose weight after pregnancy. Whether you breastfeed or not, it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough physical activity while caring for your newborn; drinking plenty of water throughout the day; and eating smaller, more frequent meals instead of relying on a large breakfast, lunch, and dinner like you used to. It’s also best to avoid sugary snacks and beverages, fried foods, and artificially sweetened foods and drinks.
Changes in Breast Size or Shape
Engorged breasts are another common challenge during the fourth trimester of pregnancy, which can be both painful and uncomfortable for some women. These changes in breast size may also make it harder to fit into your regular bras and shirts, and you may not like the way your breasts look or feel.
Fortunately, certain clothing pieces like nursing bras, tanks, t-shirts, and nightgowns can help you to feel more comfortable with these breast changes after giving birth. Clothing pieces that have been designed for breastfeeding mothers offer added support and comfort, adjustable straps, and easily opened panels or flaps for nursing your newborn at home or on the go.
Working While Breastfeeding & Caring for Your New Baby
In addition to experiencing complications such as postpartum pain and other challenges like weight retention and changes in breast size or shape, returning to work while breastfeeding can be physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. Whether you’re pumping breastmilk in the workplace or nursing your newborn while working from home, it can be challenging to find a balance between working, breastfeeding, and caring for your baby.
To reduce overwhelm when returning to work, one helpful option is to rely on a hands-free pumping bra. Look online for a quality hands-free nursing and pumping bra with patented clips to hold each pump flange in place as you express milk, as this will enable you to pump while working from home or the office, reading, folding laundry, caring for your newborn, or playing with your other little ones. Hands-free pumping bras are absolute game-changers for busy new mothers: they can be used to pump milk, breastfeed, or pump and breastfeed at the same time.
Another option for new moms is to look for some ways to decrease working hours after having a baby. If you’re self-employed, for instance, you could inform your customers or clients that you’ll be working fewer hours as you adjust to motherhood — and you could even hire a virtual assistant to take some of the load off your plate. Or if you work for an employer, you could ask your boss for a flexible schedule so you’ll be better able to care for yourself and your newborn.
Keep an Eye Out for Other Health Complications
As wonderful as the fourth trimester of pregnancy can be, it’s also a time in which other health complications can occur. Common complications among postpartum women include cardiovascular diseases, sepsis, cardiomyopathy, stroke, and thrombotic pulmonary embolism.
After giving birth, it’s important to look out for the signs and symptoms that could indicate a medical emergency, such as chest pain and shortness of breath. Many postpartum medical conditions are very treatable if addressed early on.
Prepare Yourself for the Postpartum Period
While some of these postpartum challenges and changes may be temporary, others could hang around for a lot longer than expected. Remain gentle with yourself during the delicate postpartum period, and look for ways to reduce stress at home and work so you’ll have more time and energy for your newborn. Find ways to multitask while breastfeeding or pumping and remember to treat your body with kindness. You may not be happy with how your body looks or feels right now, but you’ll learn to love your body again in time.
Need help coming up with a name for your newborn? Visit mygirlynames.com or check out our blog for more parenting tips and advice.
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