The Myth of the "Fourth Trimester" For Mom

New mom holding baby.

Far more than being fuzzy math, the idea of the “fourth trimester” can be both a confusing and limiting concept for new moms. The term “fourth trimester” was coined by Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block (a book we love!) Human babies are born before they are truly done developing. Why? Well, let’s think about that newborn head size and vagina size… now think about the size of a three-month old baby’s head. Youch.

Those first three months are crucial for your baby, but they can be some of the hardest months you’ll have as a mom. (And they are at the very beginning… how rude!) At three months, the end of “the fourth trimester,” your baby is starting to laugh and respond and act like a real human, but what about mom?

There’s an expectation that you yourself have transformed: into a totally healed, competent, well-slept, expert mom. And that, my weary friends, is the myth of the fourth trimester. You may be the unicorn mom, but likely, you’re still figuring some stuff out. You may be the least human you’ve ever felt.

A uterus typically goes back to its pre-pregnancy size by eight weeks postpartum. But you, you are more than a uterus. (We promise.)  And all those other body parts may still be in need of some attention. And it’s a rare postpartum mom who recognizes those needs while dealing with the never-ending task of mimicking a womb-like environment for a baby. Many moms don’t attend to their own self-care and postpartum essentials until they are well past the “fourth trimester.” 

Time and time again, we hear new moms question if it’s even appropriate to seek out help past the three-month mark. But we assure you, it’s not just appropriate, it’s a life-saver. Here are some things that you should do, at any point, postpartum:

  • Seek out a great therapist if you think you may be experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, or OCD. These postpartum mood disorders do not always happen immediately after birth. 
  • Request a referral for physical therapy. Whether it’s your pelvic floor, painful scar tissue, wrist pain, or back soreness, most new moms have some sort of ongoing discomfort in their first year postpartum. Don’t settle. Get ye to the PT!
  • Ask for help. Brand-new moms get a lot of help (we hope). Meal-trains, offers to hold the baby, etc. but moms are still exhausted at five months. Go ahead and ask, you may feel more able to accept help further into your postpartum journey.
  • Do some self-care. We mean basics: brush your teeth, eat some fruit, look at how pretty the sky looks today.

Some of the hardest moments of being a new mom happens when we least expect it… after the “fourth trimester.” When the fog clears and the sleep gets a tiny bit better, you may be left wondering what’s next. Take some moments to think about what would help you adapt to your new environment, at your own pace, at any point postpartum.


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