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What is the fourth trimester?

9-minute read

Key facts

  • The fourth trimester is the 12 week period after the birth of your baby.
  • The fourth trimester is a time of emotional and physical change, as you adjust to being a parent — it's normal to feel overwhelmed in the weeks after your baby is born.
  • The term 'fourth trimester' suggests that you should try to recreate, for another 3 months, the kind of environment your baby had in the uterus.
  • Swaddling your baby creates a sense of safety and security, while skin-to-skin contact is important to bond with your baby.
  • Don't be afraid to ask family, friends or a health care professional for help.

What is the fourth trimester?

The fourth trimester is the 12 weeks following the birth of your baby. Not everyone has heard of it, but every parent and their newborn baby will experience it. It is a time of great physical and emotional change as your baby adjusts to being outside the womb, and you adjust to your new life as a parent.

The term 'fourth trimester' suggests that you should try to recreate, for another 3 months, the kind of environment your baby had in the uterus.

How can I help my newborn adjust?

There are many ways you can provide comfort and help your newborn adjust to the outside world such as:

  • swaddling and swaying
  • skin-to-skin contact
  • during feeding and bath time

Swaddling and swaying

Swaddling and swaying is a great way to re-create the sense of safety and security your baby felt before they were born. By swaddling your baby when you put them down to sleep, they might feel more secure, wake less often and sleep for longer.

All babies are different — some like to be 'worn' in a sling across your chest, as this helps them feel snug and close to you. It's important to make sure you use the sling correctly, as it can cause injury if not properly fitted.

Movement is also a great way to help your baby feel settled and calm. Gently swaying or rocking from side to side, walking while you carry them or even taking a quick car trip can settle some babies.

Skin to skin contact

Skin-to-skin contact, also called 'kangaroo care', is encouraged in the moments after you give birth, and should continue long after you have left the birthing room. Cuddling your newborn on bare skin is a great comfort to them and a bonding experience for both of you. Your smell and the sound of your heartbeat is warm and familiar. This is also something your partner can do.


Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, newborns need to feed 6 to 12 times a day. Combine feeding time with skin-to-skin contact with your baby, to reinforce close contact and comfort.

Bath time

Having a warm bath can be a relaxing and comforting experience for newborns. Floating in the water is like being in the uterus. It's also a great way for you to bond, talk and sing to your baby. Bath time can be enjoyable for you and your baby, but remember to keep them safe.

What does the fourth trimester mean for parents?

The fourth trimester is a time of great change for you and your baby. When your baby arrives, quite often the focus shifts to them. As a result, parents can overlook their own health and wellbeing.

Newborns take up lots of time. It's very easy for new parents to be overwhelmed in the first few weeks by the demands of feeding and looking after a baby. Combined with the physical recovery after giving birth and the changes to your hormones, it's no wonder parents feel exhausted.

Ask for help

In some cultures, new parents spend the first few weeks totally focused on bonding and recovering with their newborn. Other people may have a family member or friend stay with them to do things around the house and help with the baby. If you have the chance to plan ahead before your baby is born, think about what you would like to have happen after your baby is born. Discuss your expectations in advance with family, a close friend or other relevant people. It is okay to ask for help at this time.

If you have a partner, encourage them to help out and participate in parenting as much as you would like them to. The 2 of you are in this together, and there are lots of things you both can do to share the load.

You may not want a lot of people coming over, but family and friends can help by:

  • bringing meals
  • helping with household chores
  • looking after your other children (if this is not your first child)
  • looking after the baby while you rest

Eat nutritious food

You will need lots of energy in the fourth trimester, so choosing healthy foods and snacks will help give you the boost you need.

When you are breastfeeding, your body needs extra energy and nutrients. By continuing to choose a variety of foods from the five food groups you will be able to get the energy and nutrients you need to cope with the extra work of caring for your baby.

Healthy snack ideas include:

  • fresh fruit
  • nuts or seeds
  • cracker biscuits with low-fat cheese or a spread such as peanut butter
  • fruit bread, muffins, pikelets, rice cakes
  • milk drinks, and fruit or milk blended smoothies
  • low-fat yoghurt with fruit.

Some light exercise will also help with your recovery and energy levels. Make sure to give your body time to heal and take it at your own pace. You can always ask your doctor or midwife to recommend an exercise program.

Sleep when you can

It might sound obvious, but you need to sleep. It's going to take a while for your baby to settle into a routine and even then, they may have you up at all hours of the night. If you can, try and sleep when your baby is sleeping, or ask your partner or a family member to look after your baby while you get some rest.

When should I see my doctor or midwife?

Your body has been through a lot during your pregnancy and birth. Your physical recovery will take time, but it's important to speak to your doctor or midwife if you have any of the following:

  • heavy bleeding or passing of clots
  • high temperature or fever
  • offensive-smelling vaginal discharge
  • a hard or painful lump in your breast
  • if you had stitches, an area around stitches that is red, hot or oozing
  • pain, tenderness or a warm area in your legs

It is also recommended to have a postnatal check 6 weeks after having a baby. This is usually a good opportunity to review your health and wellbeing.

Many women also get the 'baby blues' in the first few days after giving birth, but if these feeling are not going away, it's important you see your doctor as soon as possible. Postnatal depression affects 1 in 5 females in Australia — it is nothing to be ashamed of, but you need to seek help.

Resources and support

  • Don't hesitate to speak with your doctor or midwife if you are concerned.
  • Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436. Video call service allows you to speak face-to-face with a maternal child health nurse. This is a free service, available from 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week (including public holidays).
  • You can call the Maternal and Child Health Line in Victoria on 13 22 29, they are a 24-hour service available to all families with children aged birth to 6 years old.
  • Visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association or call on 1800 686 268 for 24/7 support from qualified breastfeeding counsellors.
  • Call PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) on 1300 726 306, available Monday to Saturday 9am – 7.30pm (AEST).

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2023

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