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The fourth trimester refers to the first 12 weeks after birth, which is a period of immense change, challenges and adaptation for both the baby and the new parents. This period is absolutely vital and is often swept to the side, meaning new parents are left without the care and support they need.

The concept of the fourth trimester came about because human babies are born less mature than other animals, meaning that they need nurturing as if they were still in utero. The immaturity of babies at birth means that they cry (a lot) in the first 9 weeks, and after that the crying gradually settles. Even though we know that babies cry a lot, new parents still feel to blame for not knowing how to console or settle their new babies. It is important to know that this is normal newborn behaviour, and it is not something that you are doing wrong but that the fourth trimester is a period of rapid adjustment for both the baby and the parents. 

A newborn’s arrival brings immense joy but also new challenges including sleep deprivation and stress. The presence of good social support during the fourth trimester is essential in creating a positive postpartum experience leading to, improved outcomes with breastfeeding, infant care and maternal adaptation to changes. A lack of social support is strongly linked to stress and postpartum depression. It is, therefore, essential for the mother and the infant to have effective social support in the postpartum period.

Common stressors in the first few weeks after birth include challenges with breastfeeding, lack of sleep, the logistics of having a newborn, trying to learn the baby and navigating visitors. During the fourth trimester social support in the form of instrumental, informational, and emotional support are most effective. Some ways that you can best support your partner, friend or family member in the fourth trimester include:

  • Instrumental support = providing meals, childcare for the baby or older children, housework, help with groceries, or other day-to-day tasks that were a source of potential stress
  • Informational support = support from health-care providers, lactation consultants, family, friends, Internet sources and social media groups. Personal contact with health-care providers can be especially reassuring.
  • Emotional support = Any support from partners/spouses, family, and friends. As well as from less “tangible” sources such as social media groups and “mom groups”

Just as you plan for your birth, it is important for you to plan for your postpartum before you baby is born. This will enable you to be prepared with the type of support you will need and know what resources are available to you.

Know that the fourth trimester is hard and you are not failing, no matter how much you feel that you are. Both mothers and partners can become overwhelmed in the fourth trimester, having a baby is a massive life change for both parents. Approximately 20% of new mothers and 10% of new partners in Australia experience depression following the birth of their child. If you notice that you or your partner is struggling or not feeling like themselves, it is important to encourage them to seek help.  


Support is essential in helping new parents navigate the transition to parenthood. Some great free support networks include: The Gidget Foundation, PANDA, Beyond Blue, NSW Mental Health Line (1800 011 511), The Australian Breastfeeding Association (1800 686 268) Tresilian and Karitane.

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