The Fourth Trimester and Your Recovery

The period after you have given birth is as full of changes for you as your actual pregnancy. Your body is adjusting to its new role as a mother while recovering from the birth process. For this reason, some have taken to calling the first few months after birth the fourth trimester.

Directly after giving birth you will feel swelling from edema. The labor process will push a good deal of the fluid that has built up in your body over the last nine month into your face and your arms and legs. If you had a C-section, the IV fluid will just add to your bloat. Keep your feet elevated and your body will rid itself of the fluid quickly.

Your breasts will be swollen and sore as they attempt to produce milk for your child. If you are planning to breastfeed, nurse as needed and wear a supportive bra. If you do not plan to breastfeed, avoid touching your chest and wear a compressive bra.

Prepare for some vaginal soreness for the next month and a half. If you had a vaginal delivery you may have swelling, bruising and tearing in your perineum (the skin and tissue between your vagina and anus). Or, you may have had a episiotomy. Your doctor stitched up the cut neatly, but you will still need time to heal. Use doughnut pillows when you sit down to take pressure off the area. Warm baths and witch hazel can also offer relief. If you delivered by C-section, your incision site will be sore as it heals. Follow your doctor’s advice as to taking care of it. Be alert for any odd smells or colors. These can signal infection.

You will also experience cramping in your uterus for a few days. This is simply the organ shrinking back down to normal. If you are breastfeeding, the cramping may be slightly worse.

Lochia is the term used for the natural process in which the uterus cleans itself out after birth. Your baby needed more than just a placenta inside your body. That tissue must be shed in a process much like menstruation. At first you will shed a dark red material. Over time it will become clear or yellow. This normally takes four to six weeks.

You may notice changes in your bladder and bowel habits. Swollen tissue and pain medication can make it hard for you to move your bowels for a few days. You will probably have the opposite problem with your bladder. Slight incontinence for a few weeks is normal. Kegel exercises can help rebuild the muscles in that area.

Your skin and hair will be changing. During pregnancy your surging hormones may have caused your hair to come in thicker and your skin to darken. As your hormones return to normal, so will your skin and hair. It can be distressing, but over the next few months, it will normalize.

Many mothers will also report feelings of depression and sadness called the baby blues. It becomes postpartum depression when it lasts for over a month. Do not be afraid to seek help if needed.