Your Fourth Trimester Doesn't Have to Break You—Even If Your Family Breaks the Mold

From understanding Medicaid to getting help with mental health issues, we're helping you navigate your fourth trimester when your circumstances don't fit neatly into a box.

A Black mother prepares a bath for her baby

Getty/Igor Alecsander

Giving birth is one of the most exciting and rewarding moments in a birthing person's life. For those whose circumstances may create some challenges, it is important for their village to be present and rally around them with support, especially during the fourth trimester and especially when we know that social determinants of health affect the well-being of parents and children.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reinforces the importance of the fourth trimester, saying that “postpartum care should be an ongoing process.” They further emphasize that the weeks following birth are “a critical period for a woman and her infant, setting the stage for long-term health and well-being.”

Still, too many birthing people don’t have the support they need to avoid the trauma that can come with this transitional period for parents and babies. Here’s how your village can support you, in ways that are specific to your circumstances.

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For Single Parents

Postpartum can be a scary time when you are doing it alone, whether by choice or not, and all new parents need a village of people to rely on. Research shows that 23% of US households are single-parent families with recent data revealing that Black families account for 64% of those households.

“Postpartum support isn't 'one size fits all', so the best way for family and friends to offer support after birth is to be on call,” highlights Virginia-based doula, Christen Camacho. “Having a go-to person(s) ready to meet their needs whether they are physical, emotional, or spiritual, can make a world of a difference during the postpartum period.”

In the first couple of weeks, it could be a good idea to ask a close family member to stay over while you get settled into the new routine of being a parent. This will give you time to also focus on your mental and physical healing while someone trusted is there to help with your baby.

Labor and delivery nurse Tina Bitangcol also suggests enlisting the help of a doula. “A postpartum doula basically acts as a fairy godmother for the birthing person in the immediate postpartum period so that they can then focus on their new baby! They come to you and their duties will vary depending on the doula but generally include helping with postpartum healing, baby, providing support, and sometimes even tending to the house so it’s off the to-do list,” she explains.

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For Parents of Other Young Children

Your village can advocate for you by offering to help with your other young children. Bitangcol suggests helping with everyday tasks such as taking older kids to and from school and doing crafts and outings with older kids. Even coming around to play and entertain your other young children can help alleviate daily pressures and take away a lot of stress.

House cleaning is also one of the biggest things that needs to be done, especially with young children running around. Asking your village to help with household chores such as cleaning around the house, cleaning up after your other children, and doing laundry can help ensure your environment is peaceful and clean.

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For Parents on Medicaid

Raising a child is expensive but for low-income parents, supporting their family can be even harder. Your village can help by checking whether you qualify for government programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), both of which support low-income families with food and formula. While helpful, these may not always be an option.

Your village can step in to help by cooking and dropping off nutritious and healthy meals. You can ask them to meal-prep enough food for a few days, or even a week’s worth. This will not only save on food costs but also allow you to focus on yourself and your baby without the stress of cooking.

With doulas being an important source of support, in states such as Oregon and Rhode Island it is becoming increasingly possible to access doulas via Medicaid with more states adopting doula care on a policy level. Your village should help you do the research and apply for the relevant type of support which will vary from state to state.

If your insurance doesn’t cover doulas, there are community-based doula services such as HealthConnect One (Chicago) and Ancient Song Doula Services (New York) that support low-income parents of color. Your village can help by reaching out to these nonprofit organizations. Alternatively, they can take a postpartum support course like the free classes at JustBirth Space to learn more about the techniques and mindsets that doulas use.

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For Parents of Babies With Disabilities

If you're a parent who has a child in the NICU or starting life facing a range of disabilities, having your village research the specific medical issues your child has, so that you don't have to, can be helpful. It can also be helpful for a member of your village to communicate with doctors and insurance companies, filtering out some of the more complicated issues so that you can focus on caring for your new baby.

You can also ask for emotional support or seek it out from support groups geared towards helping parents transition into caring for a child with special needs, like Parent to Parent USA, which matches parents with resources for kids with a number of specific mental, emotional, and physical needs.

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For Disabled Parents

Every disability is different and dedicated parenting support during postpartum can be necessary even for parents who are self-sufficient in daily activities. Your village can assist by seeking out specific guidance on newborn care methods for your specific disability.

It is important to make you feel empowered so they should seek out health providers such as an occupational therapist who can provide person-centered care that meets your individual needs.

For some birthing people, their disability means that they can be faced with significant barriers when breastfeeding or chestfeeding. Your village can help by finding a lactation consultant to assist with issues such as positioning and latching. Depending on your disability, you should ask for support with breastfeeding from a close family member or friend. 

Your village can also take the time to reach out to local community health centers for information on local services that could cater to you such as peer support groups. Connecting with other birthing people or attending a disability group may provide you with useful advice from people with similar experiences.

Signposting you to relevant services and resources is essential–for example, Through the Looking Glass in the Bay Area and The Disabled Parenting Project.

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For Parents Struggling With Mental Health Concerns

While women of color are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression, they are less likely to receive help. It is vital that your village takes the time to keep an eye on you.

“A listening ear is priceless,” Camacho comments. “The excitement of a new baby can sometimes overshadow the experience and emotions of the parent who just gave birth. Allowing them to share their story, process any thoughts, and express their emotions can go a long way.”

The CDC advises that “your pregnant or recently pregnant friend or family member is going through many changes. Changes are normal but some could be warning signs for complications or more serious problems.” Your village should listen to your concerns, encourage you to seek medical help if something doesn't feel right, offer to go with you to get medical care, and help you ask questions to medical professionals.

Your village should also take the time to learn the urgent maternal warning signs to help prevent serious postpartum-related complications.

Advocacy Is Different For Everyone

Support looks different to everyone so no matter how your village wants to help, they should recognize and acknowledge your specific wants and needs during postpartum.

Bitangcol reiterates the importance of advocating for new parents: “We forget that the mom is the one who grew and supported that baby for nine months and then birthed them. And now their body is starting to see some of the biggest hormone and physical shifts it will probably ever see in its lifetime! Women’s health is brushed under the rug too often and too quickly, and postpartum care and experiences are often entirely overlooked.”

Editor's Note

Though this story addresses the fourth trimester for cisgender heterosexual parents, Kindred by Parents acknowledges that not all parents identify as cisgender or heterosexual, and not all birthing people identify as women.

Learn More About Taking Back Your Fourth Trimester

Experts share more on how to take back your fourth trimester. Here, read Parents' guide to self-advocacy during postpartum and learn how communities can come together as support systems.

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Parents uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Expenditures on Children by Families, 2015. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Misc. Pub. No. 1528-2015.

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