Dr. Shaila’s Tips: From Surviving to Thriving in the 4th Trimester
Healing the Body after Delivery
Dr. Shaila Callaghan
The first 3 months of your baby’s life outside the womb is called ‘the 4th trimester of pregnancy.’ The term, ‘trimester,’ can be a bit confusing in this case, but it helps to know why we call it that.
Essentially, human babies are born too soon. I can hear you now, ‘Umm…. excuse me? Those nine months felt like a lifetime of swollen ankles and heartburn!” I know that the nine months feel like a LONG time, but we have to birth our babies at around nine months because their brains (and heads!!) get too big and we wouldn’t be able to birth them otherwise!
That being said, babies are still very immature at birth in comparison to other species. Imagine other animals (we are animals, after all) who birth their offspring, and within minutes to hours, their babies are capable of walking, and are even able to keep up with the pack. Our human babies would vote for extra time in the womb, if given the chance.
They are still yearning for that quiet, warm, cosy place they have occupied for their entire existence and their behaviour will be to seek a similar environment. This is why this period of time is called the 4th trimester.
Our human babies would vote for extra time in the womb, if given the chance. They are still yearning for that quiet, warm, cosy place they have occupied for their entire existence and their behaviour will be to seek a similar environment.
To make this transition time easiest, we have to adapt ourselves and our environment to what our babies need. During this time, try to mimic the womb for your baby. The best ‘baby whisperers’ are experts at impersonating the womb.
Some suggestions include:
- Holding your baby close to you
- Babywear – find a wrap or carrier you love and use it!
- Take any opportunity you can get for lots of skin-to-skin contact
- Make shushing noises, sway and rock your baby
- Give your little one many opportunities to suck
During this transition period you are learning to care for your new baby, but what about you, mom? We are often so excited about the arrival of a new baby that we can forget or pay less attention to the needs of the new mother who carried, grew and birthed the little miracle.
While you were pregnant, your body transformed itself over a nine-month period. Now, your baby is finally in your arms! In the span of hours, what took nine months to grow is suddenly no longer present inside your belly. Your body will slowly adapt itself to finding a new normal. But, a ‘Postnatal factory reset button’ doesn’t exist. Your body will be different and this can be intimidating and frustrating for many new moms.
After the birth of your baby, your body will need to recover. Even in the simplest and easiest of births, your body will still undergo tissue stress. As an example, when the placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus in the third stage of labour, it leaves behind a large wound, the size of the placenta, that requires time to heal.
…A ‘Postnatal factory reset button’ doesn’t exist. Your body will be different and this can be intimidating and frustrating for many new moms.
If you birthed your baby vaginally, your vaginal tissues have been stretched to their fullest state, and some new moms must recover from tearing of these tissues or from receiving an episiotomy. If you birthed your baby via C-section, you will have incisions that need to heal. Additionally, blood and fluid loss occur after delivering your baby which, in combination with all of the other tissues stresses, will require a lot of energy to properly repair and recover. And, to top it all off, you’re probably not getting a lot of sleep!
Even in the simplest and easiest of births, your body will still undergo tissue stress
The 4th trimester is a critically important time for healing and recovery. Caring for new moms is a passion of mine! Regardless of the type of delivery you had, giving birth is an intense experience in which the body pushes itself, causing stress and strains that can last well after your baby arrives.
Postnatal chiropractic care is an essential component to healing for all new moms, as it gently aids your body to find its new balance and healthy alignment. Particular focus is spent on the pelvis and its adjoining muscles, ligaments and tendons, as these areas undergo the most change during your nine months of pregnancy, and in the delivery process.
The change from carrying your baby in your belly to holding your baby in your arms, can lead to a forward or head down posture that is so common in new moms. I mean, how can you not spend every waking minute looking down at your new baby! Unfortunately, this posture and positioning can lead to upper back and neck pain, as well as headaches in the 4th trimester.
Gentle adjustments can restore balance to your body and help to relieve the aches and pains of new motherhood. Exercises and rehabilitation recommendations are also given to speed up recovery time, ensure proper healing to restore your body to a familiar state.
In addition to chiropractic care, here are tips I often give for new moms, to help them thrive postpartum:
- Consider your posture at all times! Try to achieve a position where your ribs are stacked over your pelvis during feeding, baby holding/wearing etc. Looking at your side profile in a mirror can help you to find this position.
- Use pillows to prop baby up during breastfeeding, to avoid rounding through your mid back
- Get enough rest and eat a lot of nutritious food. This is not a time for trying to lose the baby weight – many moms overdo it in these early months, and this can lead to injury and prolonged healing.
- Never be afraid to ask for help. Motherhood (especially the early days) can be really hard. We are here for you, mama.
It’s important for new mothers to take the time to care for themselves and their babies! Remember, when your body is in balance, you can focus on what matters most – your growing family.