Written by Megan Murray-Jones, specialising in stress, hormonal rebalance, pre- and post-natal care
What is the Fourth Trimester?
The Fourth Trimester is a relatively new term, describing the 3 months after your baby is born. However, it has always been associated with the baby; we are told that due to a baby’s head size we give birth before full gestation and, therefore, our child needs the Fourth Trimester to truly be prepared for the world. We are also told that colic usually lasts 12 weeks and that babies stop being newborn after this time. But this focus on the baby misses the real point of the Fourth Trimester. Here is why I think Western society has it all wrong:
Women are offered support, love and care throughout pregnancy but as soon as we give birth all that focus is diverted to the baby. Whilst our baby is worthy of all this attention, our society has forgotten how to nurture the postnatal mum; this leaves her exhausted from birth, sleep deprived and sometimes physically or emotionally traumatised.
I personally experienced postpartum burn out after the birth of my first child so I know why and how new parents ignore their own bodies when it needs nurture and nourishment the most. Firstly, it is assumed that post birth the hard work is done. But, for a woman, labour is one of the biggest physical challenges our body will go through. Our hormones are spiking. From the time the placenta is birthed to when breast milk comes in, a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels plummet to the levels of a menopausal woman. The process of hormonal rebalancing goes on for months causing mood shifts and extreme highs and lows. And our brains change. That is right; activity increases in regions that control empathy, social interaction and, crucially, anxiety. (It is interesting to know that a man’s brain also changes when he is involved in caregiving so this isn’t just for new mums!)
Secondly, with this shift in brain activity, a woman’s focus has shifted to their new baby (for all the reasons above) meaning that her health and wellbeing takes a back seat. At new parent collaborative Takes A Village I have seen baby weaning workshops sell out whilst parent nutrition courses are cancelled due to lack of interest.
The fact is that the Fourth Trimester should be about the birth of a new woman; a mother. As Sarah Walker describes it; ‘becoming a mother is like discovering the existence of a strange new room in the house where you already live’. This also inspired me to develop my Fourth Trimester Treatment; treating a client in their first three months postpartum.
So what can we do to change how we view the Fourth Trimester and a woman becoming a mother? I look to other cultures for inspiration:
The tradition of “Sitting the Month” or Zuo Yuezi in Chinese medicine goes back thousands of years and inspired the book ‘The First Forty Days’. Zuo Yuezi recognises that the month directly after childbirth is crucial to the future health of the mother and newborn. This programme has become an ingrained tradition in Chinese culture and involves strict rules for the month following childbirth, some of which are still followed as closely as they were 2,000 years ago. This includes food delivered to your door, rest and a constant stream of family and friends helping around the house for 40 days. It is now a full industry involving luxury hotels with doctors on call in house and a nurse in the room at all times. Families who can’t afford a luxury hotel still do a version of Zuo Yuezi where the new mother stays with a family member so she can have help recovering and focus on her baby. It is sad (and a reflection of our societal expectations on new mothers to ‘snap back’) that the British press recently reported on Zuo Yuezi by ignorantly presuming it was a negative ‘confinement’ process.
And it is not just Eastern society that understands the importance of postnatal care. For decades, the French government has subsidised “perineal re-education,” i.e., physiotherapy that helps strengthen a new mother’s pelvic floor. As Claire Lundberg explains in her 2012 Slate essay ‘The French government wants me to tone my vagina’:
“When I gave birth to our daughter last November, my husband and I spent five government-sponsored days in the maternity ward at Clinique Leonardo Da Vinci, where we learned that French hospital meals come with a cheese course and that as part of my postpartum treatment I would be prescribed 10 to 20 sessions of la rééducation périnéale,”
Compare this to the U.K. model where we are just given a 6 week GP check up and simply asked ‘how are you?’ – and given less than 10 minutes to answer – and you see why I am so passionate about giving women postpartum care.
So how can you make your fourth trimester work for you?
Taking inspiration from the above, I keep this simple. I have created the Fourth Trimester Treatment for the Association of Reflexology to encourage new mums to focus on their own health and wellbeing. I also run self-care workshops for new mums where I focus on the 3 N’s; nurture, nourish and naturals.
Nurture: we need to re-programme our brains that self-care isn’t selfish; you need to be fit and mentally well to care for your child (or children). Book regular ‘you’ time; ask for reflexology sessions as postnatal gifts (we don’t need more 3 – 6 month old babygrows!); and, if possible, find your ‘village’ in your local community. Blogger Mamalina has written a brilliant article about the importance of your village to raise a child.
Nourish: I bet you ate healthy nutritious food when you were pregnant, so why do we not take the same approach after the baby is born? Our cafes and coffee shops are set up so mums have to grab a croissant or cake each time they take the baby out. Neither of these fuel the body to feed the soul. I provide recipe advice to my postnatal clients that encourage slow releasing energy, freezer friendly batch cooking (which saves money and the environment) and makes mums feel better from the inside out. I still use some of the recipes from the First Forty Days book for friends who give birth, providing hearty stews at their door rather than clothes for the baby.
Naturals: we should all be cautious of plastics and chemicals in our house but even more so when our immune system is low. I use doTerra oils to make natural surface cleaner and immune boosting infusions for the house to stop me and my family getting ill. If you have any questions about how to use essential oils please do get in touch.
I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions or want to discuss reflexology treatments or workshops please do get in touch; I love a chat!
Meg Murray Jones is a MAR qualified reflexologist with over 8 years experience. She specialises in pregnancy and postnatal care as well as female burn out.
Mobile no. 07969912873