Lily and Llama talked with Carrie Murphy of Major Care Doulas to get educated on what the fourth trimester is, and what a fourth-trimester doula is all about. Carrie is a full-spectrum doula and the digital content manager at Major Care. The below are some of the highlights from our conversation with Carrie, edited for length and clarity.
The first three months after a baby is born, or the “Fourth Trimester” (a term coined by Dr. Harvey Karp, the pediatrician behind the uber-popular “Happiest Baby On The Block”) is a crucial time for both baby and mama. There’s a TON of stuff to learn (quickly) and it can often be overwhelming for first-time parents. That’s why you might want to call in professionals to ensure you get the proper postpartum care.
DO YOU NEED ANOTHER DOULA?
You’ve probably heard about, or are already working with, a birthing doula. But maybe this is the first time you are hearing about a postpartum doula. So, what even is that? A postpartum doula is a professionally trained person who specializes in the fourth trimester. Postpartum doulas provide practical emotional, mental, physical, and informational support to new families during the months and weeks immediately following birth.
SOME IMPORTANT INFO ABOUT THE FOURTH TRIMESTER, FROM CARRIE MURPHY.
- This period of time is called the “fourth trimester” because during this time your baby is essentially still functioning as a fetus…but just outside of the womb!
- Ideally, they’d be able to stay inside a little longer and let the neural pathways and nervous systems develop more fully, but if they did that their little brains would become too big to make their exit (OUCH)!
- In reality, new babies barely even register that they are separate beings from their mamas. And, mama bodies are still regulating for their babies as they adjust to life outside the womb.
- This makes these 12 weeks a pivotal time for both baby & mama. It’s a key time for rest, recovery, and bonding. Not to mention, pregnancy is a crazy stressful bodily process and mama bodies need time and care to recover successfully.
1. THE FIRST TWELVE WEEKS POSTPARTUM IS THE TIME TO RECUPERATE AND REPLENISH AFTER PREGNANCY.
Therefore, anything that relieves stress and anxiety is an absolute must!
Real talk: “Our culture pays so much attention to the birth and to the baby. But we pay very little to the physical, emotional, and mental needs of the mama who has just given birth. Postpartum care in modern culture is lacking,” according to Carrie Murphy. You give birth, and then essentially sent on your own with a tiny, helpless, brand-new being. No directions. No support.
Ok, that is just the medical world doing its job. You are told to come back in six weeks for a cursory checkup to make sure your stitches (if a vaginal birth) or incision (if a cesarean birth) have healed.
2. POSTPARTUM DOULAS ARE PROFESSIONALLY TRAINED EXPERTS IN THE POSTPARTUM PERIOD.
“We fill that gap between “baby’s here!” and “baby is three months!” with ALL of the kind, useful directions, support, and space-holding,” according to Murphy. Postpartum doulas (PPD) are armed with the latest information, recommendations, and a hefty dose of compassion. Let’s be honest, there may be things that are not only difficult to do, but to talk about along the way. That is why postpartum doulas serve families as a whole. They support partners just as much as birthing people in the transition to parenthood. They aren’t there to replace the services and expertise of medical providers. On the contrary, they can work in tandem with them to provide the desperately needed experienced community postpartum care that is so direly missing from the American postpartum experience.
3. SOME FORETHOUGHT INTO YOUR FOURTH TRIMESTER CAN MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN WHETHER OR NOT THE EXPERIENCE IS POSITIVE FOR YOU.
Obviously, you can’t plan how everything will go. But being mindful and putting some strategies in place will absolutely help your overall postpartum period. And the sooner you can start, the better!
Doing things like taking a breastfeeding class during pregnancy (pre-game warm-up!), or reading up on stuff like what you can expect for your own recovery and typical newborn behavior. Murphy recommends books like “The Fourth Trimester” by Kimberly Ann Johnson and “The First Forty Days” by Heng Ou and the Birthful podcast. Don’t know what ya don’t know? That’s what a postpartum doula is there for! They’re like an awesome friend who knows everything about babies, but that you never have to feel guilty for not asking her about HER life because you are totally overwhelmed with being a new parent.
4. SELF. CARE. IS. CLUTCH.
Parents should to expect to do very little other than care for their baby in the fourth trimester. So, where does that leave all the other aspects of your life?! Planning for practical life details (like food, pet care, cleaning, etc.) as well as having discussions with your partner or other support people about your expectations and capabilities is crucial.
Coming up with some strategies for emotional and mental health like taking a walk every day or a long bath once a week will help you navigate some of the big ups and downs. Postpartum care doulas can do so much to support mamas and families during this time. In-person postpartum doulas usually do shifts at your home where they might hold your baby while you shower, help you figure out babywearing, stock your fridge with snacks, freeze meals for the next week, then watch your baby’s latch and provide a referral to a lactation consultant. Yes, please!
5. GUESS WHAT? THERE ARE ALSO VIRTUAL POSTPARTUM CARE DOULAS!
Major Care Doulas have created an app called My Fourth. My Fourth is the first-ever app dedicated to parents’ postpartum care. It’s an amazing day-by-day guide to the fourth trimester with videos covering evidence-based information on everything from lactation and nutrition to mental health, as well as access to on-demand postpartum doulas.
Options like this can make a huge difference in helping new mamas know what to expect and what’s normal (for both body and mind) for the first months of parenthood. A virtual postpartum doula could listen to your birth story and help you process it. They can suggest communication strategies for navigating your new relationship with your partner. A postpartum doula can check in on your recovery and progress. And provide specific information and suggestions on important topics like feeding. A postpartum doula might research the best bottle for you & your baby’s specific feeding situation (so you don’t have to do a deep dive on Google or Amazon reviews!), AND then check in daily via text to see how things are going with all of the aspects of navigating life as a new mom.
No matter what you do, mama, take care of yourself. Get that support, and get it on your own terms.
We made the Lily and Llama pre-packed hospital bag because we want to help take care of mamas. Mamas, please stay in touch with us and see what we’re up to by following us on Instagram. We’ll see ya there!