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"It was a real shock to the system." 20 mums on the reality of the fourth trimester.

For parents-to-be, there is an overwhelming amount of information and guidance for carrying and then delivering your baby. Whatever type of pregnancy or birth you hope to have, there's a library of apps, books, websites and experts to answer your questions.

But once the birthing is done and the experts have left you and your baby to it, there is a lot less support for the postpartum phase, commonly referred to as the 'fourth trimester'. 

I am a mum of two boys and while I had considered what the fourth trimester might be like, I still felt highly anxious taking my baby home for the first time. 

Watch: The Mamamia team talk about what they wish they knew before giving birth. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

I was sore and physically fragile from the c-section, and I wasn't really comfortable breastfeeding, especially not in front of the constant stream of visitors. I was tired, emotional and unsure about what was 'normal', and at the time I wished there were more available resources and honest accounts about this intense phase of new mum life.

Thankfully, times have changed since I had my first son in 2010. More women, like these 20 mums from our Mamamia community, are sharing their fourth trimester experiences - helping other mums to feel less alone.

1. "I felt really isolated."

"I found baby number two so much harder. There was no 'mums group' set-up like you have for your first baby so I felt really isolated and lockdowns didn’t help. For months and months, I was so stiff and sore getting out of bed - it was like I was suddenly 100 years old. Apparently this is quite normal!" - Adele.

2. "Mastitis was hell."

"Breastfeeding was difficult for me, I felt a lot of guilt around that - and mastitis was hell! I remember feeling so raw and vulnerable and like I had to have visitors. Looking back, I would have set more boundaries around that but there were lots of things to love about that phase too." - Amahlee.

3. "Loved the cuddles, but felt super anxious."

"I actually loved the fourth trimester with my baby, I loved all the cuddles and special bonding time. However, I had a c-section and had some complications for a few weeks afterwards and this made me super anxious. So while I felt confident as a parent, I was constantly worrying about getting better and how to manage that while being a good mum." - Oceane.

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4. "We were completely unprepared."

"With my first baby, I had a traumatic labour and birth and was exhausted afterwards. I didn’t feel a sudden rush of love for my baby, I just felt relief that he was out. I was surprised at how difficult breastfeeding was and how much it hurt. I remember feeling overwhelmed as my husband and I left the hospital, I couldn’t believe they we letting us take this tiny baby home, we felt completely unprepared." - Claire Wootton, Baby 101.

5. "I was bone tired."

"The hardest thing for me was sleep. I was blessed with a baby boy who woke every one to two hours for months so I was only getting snippets of sleep. I fell asleep feeding him more times than I can count (and then felt guilty about the safety aspects). I felt bone tired and was parenting solo and breastfeeding so I had to just soldier on. It does magically get better, but it was a hard slog whilst I was in it!" - Genevieve.

6. "I was very unwell - the PTSD is real."

"I had a rare form of heart failure caused by pregnancy which wasn’t picked up until my daughter was a week old so I became very unwell and ended up in the ICU. I was in hospital until my daughter was about three weeks old, so trying to establish breastfeeding or pick her up when attached to wires and fighting for my life was pretty sh*t to be honest. I am thankfully all good now she is two years old. I'm still psyching myself up for baby number two. The PTSD is real." - Anna Louise.

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Listen to This Glorious Mess: Little Kids. On this episode, hosts Leigh Campbell and Tigga Natoli discuss postpartum doulas and the fourth trimester. Post continues below.

7. "I felt like the worst mum."

"My first son Luca wouldn't breastfeed so the [midwives and nurses] told me I was doing it wrong, and I had to express every hour, even though I wasn't producing much milk. I was kept in hospital an extra day to 'practice with supervision' and I felt like the worst mum. Like I didn't deserve him. 

"At his check up it turned out he had a little tongue tie, and that's why he couldn't latch on. It traumatised me so much. I told my OBGYN, and she was horrified." - Rea.

8. "I was emotionally and socially depleted."

"I actually found the time with my baby not as challenging as I thought, but what I found really challenging as a major introvert was navigating the constant social visits from family and the expectation and obligation to visit them with my baby. 

"I love seeing family, but when it was just my husband and me, we had an element of control, i.e. we could go, leave, then have some recharge time. But as a constant people pleaser, when I had my baby, I felt a constant pressure to be around relatives who wanted to see my baby even though I was emotionally and socially depleted." - Rowan.

9. "I wasn't sleeping, and I felt very lost."

"I really struggled - I hated those first few weeks. I was recovering from a c-section, not sleeping, and feeling very lost. We had our baby right at the start of the first big wave of COVID and it was very isolating. I think I was definitely fighting with some sort of postnatal depression, but I didn’t know where to turn because so many services were unavailable because of the lockdown. 

"There were no community or family health services, it was very hard to get into a GP, and my family lived interstate so I had limited access to a 'village'. 

"I ended up with mastitis about a week after coming home from the hospital and I couldn’t even get a lactation consultant to visit. I remember walking into my local pharmacy and sobbing into the shoulder of the pharmacist. It was a really, REALLY rough few months and 20 months later, I’m still not sure if I fully addressed the postnatal depression issue.

"I'm currently pregnant again and feeling a little more mentally prepared. I'm not sure what the future will hold - but I hope help is a little easier to access this time around." - Bek. 

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10. "The first poo was A LOT to ask."

"There is no charming or glossy way to write this but the biggest fear for my fourth trimester? The first poop. I'd like to hope we can all comfortably admit that this is a common fear? Maybe not, maybe it was just me! But a whole human life had just come out of my 'front bottom' and now my 'back bottom' expected me to push something else out? This was A LOT to ask of a person. Not to mention a frail person with a very delicate wound around their perineum and therefore stitches between their vagina and their tooshie.

"Water, fibre, stool softeners, privacy and a lot of good ol' grit was required for me to walk into the bathroom and help my uncomfortable bowel. I leant all different ways, I scrunched up my face, I breathed deeply and prayed to the poo-Gods above. I thought about getting up multiple times and then finally I told myself, 'Just do it - just poo'. With that candid and very rational self direction, my body obeyed, and the deed was done." - Tori Bowman, Afterwards Postpartum.

11. "I felt suffocated."

"In short, I hated it. I had my first baby at 39 so I had waited a long time for him, and I knew it would be challenging, but I wasn't expecting to get zero enjoyment out of it at all. My son was a pretty good night sleeper but a bad cat napper throughout the day, so he was glued to me and would scream if I put him down anywhere. 

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"I felt suffocated. All my mums group friends talked about how much they loved being a mum and I'd think, 'I hate it, so what's wrong with me?' I used to think, 'Where's all this joy that everyone talks about?' It got better at about six months and then I started to have some joyful moments, but those first six months were horrible." - Tara.

12. "I still feel triggered by newborns crying."  

"It was a real shock to the system, and I didn't enjoy [the fourth trimester] at all. I get triggered when I hear newborn babies cry now (and my youngest is nearly two years old) and I have zero interest in holding someone else's baby. 

"No amount of reading could prepare me for the relentlessness of it all. The highlight of my day was a five minute uninterrupted shower, which is pretty bad. It's also very tough on your relationship as you're both just so tired. It gets easier after six months, but it's a lot." - Asten.

13. "There's a huge lack of balanced professional advice."

"I had no idea that my son would be so hard to get to sleep and no idea that it was still perfectly normal. The 'solution' that is almost exclusively shoved down vulnerable parents' throats is by sleep training and sleep 'consultants' with varying levels of expertise. I wish there was a more widely known and more balanced understanding of sleep so that parents have a bit more information to decide what is best for their situation.

"Also, just the fact that this is one of the most traumatic things that our bodies will ever go through and you’re literally stitched up, handed a Panadol and a baby (and probably not sleeping or having any chance to recover physically) and barely ever looked at ever again. Our bodies are left with conditions such as abdominal separation and prolapse and it’s like it’s a luxury to address them instead of built into an effective medical follow up." - Bec. 

14. "Sleep deprivation is torture."

"There is a lot of talk about safe sleep practices but they only apply if you can get your baby into the bassinet - which I only managed at night after six weeks for a few hours at a time. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture - less than four hours and you're a crying mess. More than four hours in total and you can take on the world! 

"Putting an overtired baby down is physically and emotionally so challenging. I did sleep train my baby at four months at home, which was a game-changer for me. Just the knowledge that came with that, I wish I’d known earlier." - Amber.

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15. "Partners need more time off work."

"The hardest thing was the day after leaving the hospital, the community nurse came to do the normal checks and found bub had jaundice so we had to go back to the hospital to the special care nursery for two days. 

"By the time we got home again, he was basically a week old, and we only had one week left until my husband was back at work. 

"I think it should be normalised for partners to take much more time off after the birth because it's so common to have issues that land you in the hospital in those first few weeks." - Elle. 

16. "I thought we had made a mistake."

"All I remember was crying in a heap at all hours of the day and night so many times. I hate to even write this as it's definitely not something I feel now, but I even remember thinking, 'What have we done? Have we made a mistake? I can't do this.'

"For me, it was the complete lack of knowledge and preparation. I had no idea what it was going to be like and I felt like someone had thrown me in the deep end with a crying baby. Breastfeeding was also so hard. 

"I guess I feel like the pregnancy appointments (or lack of in the pandemic) were about measuring your belly and preparing for the birth, but honestly, the fourth trimester is what we should prepare for." - Natalie.

17. "I felt like I'd lost myself."

"I’d say with the first it was the overwhelming feeling that this little person depends on you for EVERYTHING and feeling like you’d lost yourself (when in fact you were finding yourself as a new person). I found the first eight to 10 weeks really hard!

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"Now with my third baby, the fourth trimester has been bliss. I’m taking in every little movement and sound that he makes. It’s a completely different experience this time." - Katie. 

18. "I didn't know who to ask for postpartum support."

"I prepared so much for the birth with yoga, research, breathing, TENs machine etc, and I felt on top of the world. When I got home, I realised I knew nothing about actually looking after a baby! I didn't know who to ask for support.

"Before I had my second baby, I wrote a list of names and numbers on the fridge: a lactation consultant, a friend who could bring me a meal, and the community nurse. It took some of the stress away!" - Michelle.

19. "The loss of freedom and independence."

"What I found most challenging in the fourth trimester was adapting to the loss of freedom and independence. I was exclusively breastfeeding every two hours for the first six weeks so I felt literally tied to my baby. It was definitely a lot to deal with. My husband works a seven days on, seven days off roster, so I was also alone for a week at a time with absolutely no break for seven days at a time. I look back now and I’m like 'Wow, how did I do it?' But you just do." - Stephannie.

20. "The emotional ups-and-downs are mentally exhausting."

"I am literally living this now with our five-week-old premature second baby. The physical recovery from birth and challenges of having a newborn in special care (with another child at home) were super hard, but I think the rollercoaster is one of the toughest bits. 

"Some days feel good; our three-year-old and the baby all seem to respond well and we get just enough sleep. Other days the toddler has huge feelings, the newborn is crying and refusing the breast, and we’re exhausted and at our wit's end, Googling too much!  

"The emotional ups-and-downs are mentally exhausting. And with COVID, it’s so isolating and hard to call in help. With our first baby, we could have friends or family come and have a cuppa and help with bub. But now we can't unless they can do a RAT test before they come!

"Also, breastfeeding. My memories of it with my first were that it was easy, because by the end it was, but I had forgotten how hard and perplexing it can be, and painful too." - Rani.

If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, contact PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. You can find their website here or call their helpline – 1300 726 306.

Did you know we have a whole parenting community you can join on Facebook for more discussions like this? Join the Mamamia Parents Facebook group and follow Mamamia Parents on Instagram and tell us what #parentinglookslike for you!

Feature Image: Getty.