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The Fourth Trimester: What to Expect

By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

I know what you're thinking: What? There's a fourth trimester? Being pregnant for another three months is probably too much to bear when you're ready to have that baby!

Don't worry. 'Fourth trimester' is just another term for the postpartum period, the few months after pregnancy when you're body is recovering from having been transformed for the better part of a year. Here's how to handle the fourth trimester.

  • It's not called 'labor' for nothing! A long or difficult delivery may have left you worn out. Now that you're home, forget about trying to be Superwoman. Cooking complex meals for you and your family and doing the housework should take a back seat to resting and spending time with your newborn. It's good to know that French toast, fruit and milk qualifies as a healthy dinner and that the world won't end if they laundry isn't folded.
  • Ask for support. Allow others to help you as much as possible, even if it's simply to watch your baby while you do a few errands, take a nap, or go out for a walk. Always accept food donations. It's wonderful to have something nourishing to eat on hand, especially when you're tired and cooking is the last thing on your mind.
  • Spend time each day enjoying your newborn, who is growing quickly, but don't neglect yourself. Take 30 minutes or so each day to shower or take a bath, relax with a book, or get some fresh air. New moms need energy and focus to care for an infant.
  • Finish taking the remainder of your daily prenatal multivitamins, then switch to a daily multivitamin with about 100% of the Daily Value for the nutrients it offers. You may also need extra dietary supplements such as calcium and vitamin D. Dietary supplements help fill in small gaps in your diet, including for iron, and for folic acid, which is especially important for helping to prevent neural tube defects in early pregnancy.
  • Don't rush weight loss. Eat a balanced diet to drop the pregnancy pounds. Restricting calories too much may leave you feeling fatigued and more prone to infection. Moms who are not breastfeeding should eat at least 1,800 calories a day, while nursing moms need 2,100 calories or more daily. Give your body time to return to its regular, healthy weight.
  • Curb the caffeine. It's tempting to rely on caffeine to boost your energy, but try to keep your intake to 200 milligrams or less daily, about the equivalent of 12 ounces of strong coffee. Limiting caffeine is especially important for breastfeeding moms. Caffeine gets into breast milk and stimulates the baby, too. Too much caffeine can disturb your sleep as well as your child's.

About the Author

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, a writer, and mother of three. She has worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Heart Association, and for seven years counseled children and adults about healthy eating and disease prevention at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston.

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