Preparing for breastfeeding and the fourth trimester

Preparing for breastfeeding and the fourth trimester

The first few weeks after birth can be filled with lots of new experiences for both mamas and babies. And one of the biggest learning curves you might encounter can be breastfeeding. 

This time (known as the fourth trimester) can bring up a whole range of emotions. Plus, learning a new skill like breastfeeding can be trickier than you might expect. 

We chatted with Amber Gibson, Founder of Body, Birth & Baby (a holistic private midwifery practice) and a Lactation Consultant and Registered Midwife with over 8 years’ experience.

In this blog, we explore what to expect during your fourth trimester, how to prepare for breastfeeding and the benefits of breast massage when navigating those first few weeks post-birth. 

What is the fourth trimester? 

During pregnancy, we experience three trimesters where our bodies evolve and change as we bring new life into the world. Once delivery happens, those first 12 weeks with your newborn are often referred to as the fourth trimester

The term was coined back in 2002 by paediatrician Dr Harvey Karp who suggested that this period should be used to recreate the kind of environment our babies have had in the womb. 

As Amber explains, “the fourth trimester is a time for a baby to be close to their parents. They want to be on their parents' chest, they want to be able to feel their heartbeat, and they want to feed really frequently.”

The focus is on giving babies a soft, nurturing and supportive environment during those first early weeks, which can include:

  • Swaddling bub when you put them down to sleep to keep them feeling secure and settled, as well as gently swaying or rocking bub while carrying.
  • Skin-to-skin contact and cuddling your newborn (this is something both you and your partner can do).
  • Feeding frequently (whether that’s breastfeeding or bottle feeding) and reinforcing that close contact and comfort. 

Along with supporting your newborn, the fourth trimester is also a time for recovery and finding your routine as a new mama, too. 

What breastfeeding challenges can occur during the fourth trimester?

The fourth trimester is a time when you’re learning a bunch of new skills and roles all at once. As Amber shares, one of the big learning curves some of us can face is  breastfeeding (if you decide that is the right choice for you). 

“A lot of new mamas can really struggle with feeling [breastfeeding] would have come easily and naturally, and often that's not the case,” shares Amber.

From understanding what good attachment feels like to realising how often babies need to be fed (which can be every hour to two hours during those first few weeks), there can be a lot to learn and absorb during the fourth trimester. 

Common challenges such as engorgement, blocked ducts and even mastitis can occur (particularly in the few first weeks) and can cause lots of pain and discomfort for new mamas. 

Amber recommends mamas take some time to get to know their breasts before feeding their baby to understand how full our breasts can feel. Plus, she recommends women harness the power of breast massage (using products such the Lactamo ball) to help stimulate blood flow, support the let-down reflex and encourage proper drainage. 

“I tell mamas to do breast massage every single day, particularly during the fourth trimester,” tells Amber.

How to prepare for your fourth trimester

The biggest thing Amber recommends mamas do in preparation for their fourth trimester is this: educate yourself through classes and resources. 

“I really think an antenatal breastfeeding class is absolutely key,” explains Amber. 

It’s also worth chatting to your midwife as they are a great resource and can point you in the direction of good quality information about what to expect during the fourth trimester. 

Amber also suggests mamas think about creating a post-birth plan which helps them figure out where they’re going to get support from (such as where to find a local lactation consultant), what meals they’re going to eat (and maybe even stocking up the freezer!), and other things such as how long your partner will be off work to support you. 

“I think by having this plan in place, even things like boundaries around visitors… you can focus on adjusting to postpartum life,” tells Amber.

If in doubt, please always consult your healthcare professional.