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The Fourth Trimester
by Rebecca Garland

Pregnancy may officially be only three trimesters, but it is certainly not over when you deliver your precious little one. What many pregnancy guides and websites fail to tell you is that strange pregnancy related symptoms don't just suddenly go away after forty weeks. In fact many last up to three or four months (or longer) prompting what many moms jokingly call The Fourth Trimester.

Your Belly
It never fails. Mothers so desperate for a cute pregnant belly early in pregnancy, seem to expect that same cute belly to disappear with delivery. And for many, it does – until you roll over onto your side. The stretched muscle and skin that may look somewhat flat while on your back puddles when you're on your side. Skin and muscle do not bounce back immediately, and if you are unfortunate enough to get severe stretch marks from a very large belly, your belly may never bounce back entirely.

Not only are you left with a saggy stomach, your uterus, which took nine months to expand fully, is still swollen and enlarged.

While doctors may say six weeks is the ideal recovery, most mothers take far longer to get their skin back in place and their uterus properly shrunk again. By the way, there is little you can do to speed either process except nursing. Nursing makes the uterus contract (which can be rather painful at first) and it shrinks faster than it would otherwise. You just have to wait on the skin to shrink back, though. Crunches or belly exercises are great for the muscles if you wait at least six weeks before starting, but do nothing for the skin.

Your Weight
Another little problem for the first few months after delivery is the rest of the body your belly was hiding. By growing a cute pregnant belly, you were able to ignore the cute pregnant thighs and butt you grew, too. Once that belly is on its way back to something resembling normal, your legs, backside and arms might look distinctly thicker than you remembered. In fact, your whole body may look a bit swollen with the extra weight.

It is entirely possible to lose the weight you gained during pregnancy, but you have to respect your body while you do it. Many women have tried desperately to lose weight starting immediately after delivery and are frustrated by how sticky those pregnancy pounds are. Sure, you do lose quite a bit immediately following delivery, but your body sheds pounds at its own rate. Many women don't find themselves in control of their weight loss for about four months after delivery.

There is almost nothing you can do, besides eating right and exercising a little to help it along. Spending hours in the gym or starving yourself will only frustrate you and make you more tired than you already are. Give your body time to heal – and that takes longer than six weeks. Breast feeding can help burn extra calories, but it won't help tighten up muscles. It can also make it impossible to lose the last ten or fifteen pounds if your body insists it keep the fat around as a reserve until you stop nursing.

Your Sweat
Your body stored water like a balloon for most of the pregnancy whether you realized it or not. (You probably did.) After delivery that water starts to come out, and not always the way you expect. Sure, suddenly you're peeing every hour on the hour, but don't be surprised if you're sweating up a storm, too. Your body purges water every way it can, which means you sweat A LOT – especially at night. The plus side is that you get to lose that much more weight quickly.

Your Hair
The lustrous, silky hair you got during pregnancy will begin to fall out. You're not going bald; your body just takes a few months to shed all the hair that it didn't release while you were pregnant.

It may be scary the first few times you wash your hair and come away with handfuls, but it will gradually stop over a few months. And then you can convince your husband to clean out the clogged drains.

Your Period
Admit it. You didn't miss your period while you were pregnant. Your vacation may last longer than you think. With fluctuating hormones, and especially breastfeeding, it may be months before you see (or even think of) your period after delivery. Be careful, too. You can most certainly get pregnant BEFORE you see your period. Breastfeeding and lack of a period post partum are not birth control.

It's fortunate in a way that your period is on hiatus. There is already plenty of bloody yuck coming out of you as your uterus sheds the lining that protected your baby for all those months. That discharge, by the way, will be bright red and possibly clotty initially fading to brown and then yellow over a few weeks or a few months. It will disappear just in time for you to get your period!

Your Hormones
If you thought your hormones were bad during pregnancy, you're in for a big surprise. During pregnancy, your body takes months to set new levels of everything from blood to hormones. After pregnancy, expect it to take months to get everything inside back to normal. While you're working on the outside, your body is still working on the inside. These extra hormones may be why it's impossible for you to lose weight for the first few months and why you cry every time you see a remotely sad (or funny) commercial.

Pregnancy hormones are also responsible for The Baby Blues and the more severe Post Partum Depression (PPD). Baby Blues are amazingly common. Nine months were spent preparing for the new arrival. Suddenly he's here and you're simply overwhelmed no matter how ready you thought you were. It's completely normal and the Blues usually last for less than five to ten days. If you are upset longer or start feeling like you might actually danger yourself or your baby, you need to talk to your doctor. You might have PPD. Even that usually clears up within the first few months with the right help.

Your Body
Your body goes through a lot in the nine months of pregnancy, and it keeps on trucking for months afterward repairing the damage pregnancy causes. Don't be surprised if it takes four to six months for your hips, belly and the rest of your body to return to normal. And even then, your outside may be permanently different. Your feet probably will be permanently larger at least. Your insides can take at least that long to really stabilize again. Pregnancy takes a full year – nine months with the baby inside, and another three with the baby out. But, as you know already, every single thing pregnancy ever did to you was well worth it when you look at the baby in your arms.


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