The '4th Trimester' Is A Real Thing (And It Can Be Rough)

by Jennifer Craven
Originally Published: 
A woman going through the fourth trimester holding her newborn baby close to her face
SolStock / iStock

I recently emerged from a deep, dark tunnel filled with sleepless nights, hourly feedings, and endless babywearing. The tunnel was long — about three months or so – during which a wriggling baby was constantly in my arms, being bounced, rocked, or fed. There were lots of tears and little rest. This was my fourth trimester.

The fourth trimester, a period described by expert Dr. Harvey Karp as the first three months of a baby’s life, is a time when a newborn is adjusting to life outside of the womb. It’s filled with a tremendous amount of changes and development for the baby, and is becoming more and more recognized as an important phase of a little one’s early days.

But what about the parents? The fourth trimester doesn’t just present adjustments for babies, but also for the tired, overwhelmed adults who are caring for them.

For me, the newborn stage is tough. It’s certainly not my favorite period. I dreamed of snuggling a peaceful newborn baby for hours and then gently placing him in his swing while I tended to the other responsibilities of being a wife and mother.

Turns out, though, reality gave me a big slap in the face. The fourth trimester, in my experience with all three of my children, was nothing short of stressful, frustrating, and exhausting. You see, I breed fussy babies. The kind who are only happy if being held, and even then, not always content. They have a voice and aren’t afraid to use it. Swings, bouncers, or anything else that is not mommy’s arms? A waste of money. Naps are few and far between, and the eat, wake, sleep cycle consumes my every waking moment.

When I see other moms in their prime with their newborn baby, who plaster their Facebook feed with crying emoji faces at the fact that their little one is a week older, or outgrew their newborn clothes, I sometimes question if there’s something wrong with my mom DNA, especially because I want to post weekly fist pumps that I’m that much closer to leaving infancy behind.

Turns out, I’m not as much of a “baby baby” person as I thought I would be. Maybe if I would have had easier newborns? But alas, those aren’t the bundles that the stork dropped on my doorstep.

But what this realization really tells me is that there are lots of types of parents — ones who are baby whisperers and ones who would rather take a needy toddler any day. Thankfully, parents are hardwired to love their kids, even during the less-desirable phases.

Those first three months test my patience and emotional stability. But guess what? It passes. Sooner or later, you’re coming out the other side of the fourth trimester, amazed that lo and behold: You’ve survived.

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen the clouds beginning to part and am finally feeling like we’re getting into a groove with this kid. A blessing to this story is that this isn’t my first rodeo. Since my older two children gave me similar challenges, I felt moderately prepared this time around. Experience told me to hunker down, barrel through, and take it day by day.

And here we are! Together, this little one and I have adjusted to life and to each other. It wasn’t (and isn’t) always fun, but it’s worth it. Hey, he even plays on his play mat for a whopping 10 minutes at a time — alone! Gasp!

This babe is my last. Outsiders would think I’d be one of those “stay little forever!” moms. But no. Of course I love my babies, love snuggling them and relishing in the knowledge that it’s me alone who can comfort their cries. But the times I enjoy most are as they move past the infant stage. Truthfully, you couldn’t pay me to go back — this mama is only looking forward.

So peace out, fourth trimester. It’s been nice knowing ya.

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