What is the fourth trimester and why is it important?

Author: Dr. Michelle Durkin on 20 June 2017

I see so many moms in the clinic who have specific health complaints that they attribute to “since having kids”. Whether it’s fatigue, weight gain, back pain, or insomnia, many patients feel like their body hasn’t been the same since before pregnancy.

The other common pattern that I see is the compounding effect that multiple pregnancies have on the body. This can be especially problematic if the pregnancies are closer together and the body hasn’t been given a chance to return to homeostasis in between.

This is why the fourth trimester, aka post-partum care and recovery, is so important. As a society we need to start adopting the mindset of “it’s easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble” when it comes to mommy’s health.

Chinese Medicine believes the loss of Blood and dramatic transformation of a woman’s body during the gestational and birthing process results in a state of Deficiency that requires replenishment. If left untreated it may give rise to potentially a number of long-term health problems. During the fourth trimester a woman’s condition is very vulnerable and much emphasis is placed on rest, recovery, and ensuring the diet is rich and nutritious to help strengthen the Qi and blood that is deficient at this time.

So if you plan on having your first baby, or whether you are planning to have your last, here are some simple recommendations from ancient Chinese Medicine to help you have a healthy fourth trimester that will pay dividends for your health in the future:

  1. The fourth trimester begins immediately following childbirth, not on your schedule. It starts with a month of postnatal confinement or “sitting the month”. This basically means spending the month mostly in bed with your baby.
  2. Cold and drafts are to be avoided. The body must be kept warm. This involves avoiding contact with anything cold, eg. cold environments, cold food, air conditioning, sponge bathing instead of showering, wrapping/binding the abdomen to keep it warm, keeping your head covered, and wearing socks & clothes at all times.
  3. Foods consumed should be nutritious, warm, and assist recovery of Qi and blood. This includes things like soups, animal meats especially lamb (very warm), eggs, warm veggies, and whole grains like wild rice and quinoa. Avoid junk food, greasy food, raw food, sweets, and salt. Warming herbs like turmeric, ginger, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, and basil are encouraged. An ancient Chinese saying is to “eat a chicken a day.” The idea behind it is to eat the nutritional equivalent of a chicken a day.
  4. Activity in general should be minimized if not avoided completely. The body must be well rested with as little energy as possible exerted. This means no visitors (too stimulating for mommy & baby), no work (that means housework too), no TV or digital devices, stay in bed, no sex, and no exercise for at least the first month. You should focus only on sleeping, eating, and feeding your baby. When feeling stronger mom can make time for moderate activity such a walking, in order to help restore the circulation of Qi and blood. Heavy lifting and physical strain should be avoided for the first four months in order to allow the pelvic tissues to completely heal and renew.

Now I would love to hear from you! Are there any fourth trimester recommendations that were passed down from your ancestors that you think would still be beneficial today? What do you think of these ancient Chinese medicine recommendations? Leave a comment below and I’ll be back next week with another edition of Doctor as Teacher Tuesday!

One Reply to “What is the fourth trimester and why is it important?”

Anna Matiowsky

This really makes a lot of sense. Compare this to our ways today. Now you have the baby, are released within 24 hours and are expected to go home look after baby, other children, home and husband. Granted some husbands are great helping and some ladies have a mother or other relatives that help out but that is usually the first week and then you are on your own.
I do not think a whole month od bed rest is necessar but certainly help with a lot of the domestic duties would be a huge help.

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