Mum kisses baby's foot.

Surviving the fourth trimester: it takes a village

New parents need a network for ‘life after birth’.

At a recent TEDx Sydney talk, Annalies Corse, a medical scientist and lecturer in Naturopathy at Australasian College of Natural Therapies (ACNT), said we should bring back the missing ‘village’ with a ‘fourth trimester’ community to help new parents deal with the loss of identity, independence, and sleep in those first three months after birth.

“I think many expectant parents hear ‘your life will change forever’, but we have no idea what that means. Personally, I was not prepared for the social isolation or the loss of independence,” says Annalies. “Life-changing alterations to your identity can occur, and I have witnessed many relationships that don’t survive after kids are born.”

CHILD asked her how it might work:

1. Who should make up these ‘fourth trimester’ networks?

Ideally, anyone willing to be part of them. Traditionally, midwives, medical professionals and grandparents (if available) made up the bulk of the support network for new families. However, midwives and medical professionals are only a prominent feature in the first six weeks post-birth. The fourth trimester is ideally suited to highly clinically experienced naturopaths, nutritionists, fitness professionals and emotional health professionals, such as psychologists. Nutritional, physical and mental health for the WHOLE family is important.

2. When should women start building a community?

If it’s your first baby, you probably won’t even think about it! However, yes, build it early. Your baby shower could be a planning session with your friends and family. Think of who will be your best supporters. Even friends without kids can help, if they want to. They could be a friend who comes once a fortnight/month with coffee, a meal and some wine or just to hang out with you. They might play with your child for an hour so you can wash your hair, go for a walk, or get a coffee with your partner. The idea of the village needs to be a modern one, as we are away from family in many cases. Setting up a plan before birth with your professionals is fantastic. Many health professionals offer phone/Skype consults, but good ones will do this only after they have consulted with you in person.

3. Is ‘fourth trimester’ support just for first-time parents?

No, not at all. Some couples and families can face difficulties with any new baby. Every birth is different, every child is different and every new life phase is different. If parents have introduced second, third, fourth (or more) children to their family, there can be a perception by family, friends or greater society that their need for support might be less. This is not always the case.

4. Any advice for sleep-deprived parents?

“Sleep when the baby sleeps” does not work for people who feel worse after a daytime sleep. You need to focus on recovering your energy, not expending it. You are going to be exhausted, but that can be buffered with nutritional and herbal medicine. Embrace early nights. New parents must also get their diet right. Don’t start any harsh diets. Introduce energy in the form of high quality food. Limit coffee to one a day, but if you are relying on more than one, you should seek professional health guidance – coffee does not actually provide us with energy. Don’t commit to punishing exercise regimes. Gentle exercise will help you feel more energetic, and it won’t deplete you.

5. Can you point to any successful ‘fourth trimester’ networks?

Build it, and they will come. Lots of online communities are emerging around the idea of the fourth trimester or the ‘village’ that no longer exists. I would look for one that promotes get-togethers in your local area. If you can’t find one in your area, you can start one. I have heard of parents putting ads on Gumtree and forming some beautiful friendships this way. There is huge potential for hospitality businesses to jump on board. How many parents with young children do you see in cafes these days? They are everywhere! They are trying to socialise, to connect with other people, to interact and not feel so isolated.

Where’s your network? Check out Find Your Mum Tribe.

Annalies lectures in medical sciences, biochemistry and nutritional biochemistry and supervises clinical experience at ACNT, part of the global Laureate International Universities network.

Words by Natalie Ritchie.