Why Planning For The Fourth Trimester Is Important
We often have certain ideas of what parenthood should look like. These are modeled by family, friends, social media and popular culture. This is not dissimilar to what we expect birth to look like and be like. Real life doesn’t have filters or edits and while many folks consider it to be the most “natural” thing one can do, it doesn’t mean everything comes easy or even intuitively.
Some people have a hard time asking for help and worse, often have a hard time accepting help when it’s offered. This often stems from a belief that we “should be able to handle it ourselves” or want to try to live up to these built up expectations. It’s not uncommon, even now, in many cultures (mostly outside of the United States) for the new parents to be surrounded by supportive people for some time following the birth of their babies.
Bringing a new baby into the house introduces a lot of change. Everything is new. Planning for a baby typically involves the following: read some books/websites, take a childbirth and breastfeeding class, create a baby registry, create a birth plan, set up nursery. Some people make plans for a family member to come for a visit or prepare freezer meals, but what about the rest?
An article published in the Journal of Prenatal Medicine in 2010 stated that the postpartum period can last up to six months and has 3 distinct phases. The first phase is the immediate postpartum, so the first 6-12 hours following birth. This is the time when we are still being looked after by our care providers and typically not yet on our own as parents. The second phase typically lasts 2-6 weeks. At this point we are now home on our own with our newborns trying to figure everything out. This is the time when we need the most support. The third period can last up to 6 months. This time frame looks different for each person. By now the family is adjusting (hopefully) to the new dynamic and has identified needs and created boundaries. With this said, the length of time someone spends in the “postpartum period” is subjective. Some parents may still consider themselves “postpartum” up to their baby’s first birthday.
Keeping this in mind, we can create a picture that can grow and evolve just as we will.
Postpartum planning starts with identifying needs: the needs of the parents (especially the primary caregiver) and the needs of the baby. This involves nourishment, rest, adult interaction, self care, setting boundaries, addressing family dynamics, and creating a “sanctuary” in your home (possibly more!). Once needs are identified, we can create a plan for how to have these needs met. Not unlike a birth plan, this plan allows for flexibility and adjustments as time goes. While it doesn't guarantee you any kind of certain outcome, having a plan for the fourth trimester will allow you to not only feel confident navigating any possible bumps in the road, but also help create a smoother transition into postpartum.