Soon after the birth of her first son, Chandler mom Jennie Bever found herself struggling in the day-to-day.
She suffered from mastitis, a painful infection of the breast tissue, her employer expected her to work while she took six weeks of short-term disability and she became sleep-deprived.
“My body changed, my focus changed, all my relationships changed overnight after having a baby, and there really was no system set up to support me beyond my partner and my mom,” said Bever.
Now the mother of three sons, ages 16, 10 and 7, she runs 4th Trimester Arizona, a nonprofit organization created to bring awareness to this phase of life, to create community for new mothers and to change the culture of new parenthood.
Bever holds a doctorate in biology from the University of California at San Diego and is also a lactation specialist. She owns the Arizona Breastfeeding Center in Tempe, which she established in 2010.
The fourth trimester comprises the first three months after a baby is born.
“During this time, infants require 24/7 care, including feeding every few hours, and near constant holding,” Bever said. “This first three months is also the time that the new parent is healing from pregnancy and birth, learning how to be a 24/7 caregiver, how to feed baby, and dealing with the financial and relationship implications of now being a parent.”
For most parents, the fourth trimester lasts much longer than three months, Bever said, and at 4th Trimester Arizona, the focus is on the parent’s mental, emotional and physical health in the first five years after a baby is born.
Bever found first hand that very little is focused on postpartum care for new mothers.
So did Gilbert mom Jillian Seamans, who felt like she was sent off home from the hospital with nothing but some paperwork, Vicodin and a baby.
“As a new mom, I was surprised at how little support and guidance I received from my doctors and at the hospital after having a baby,” she said. “I had an emergency c-section, so not only was I recovering from the most intense and invasive surgery of my life, but I was also trying to figure out breastfeeding and how to take care of a baby.”
Traditionally, OBGYN is focused on physical healing, Bever said.
“However, there are many more problems new mothers face, including postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, that are not adequately addressed in the postpartum period.
“More than 50 percent of maternal deaths happen after a baby is born,” she added.
Created on the theme that “it takes a village to raise a child,” 4th Trimester Arizona offers monthly villages, or meetings, specialized for each area of the Valley and in Tucson. The East Valley Village meets from 10-11:30 a.m. the third Thursday of the month on Zoom and Facebook Live; the topic for September is “Postpartum Hacks: Infant Feeding Challenges.”
The Central Village meets 10-11:30 a.m. in person on the second Wednesday of the month at the i.d.e.a. Museum, 150 W. Pepper Place, Mesa.
The organization also offers annual conferences. A free online 4th Trimester Ecosystem Summit for those who support parents is planned for Sept. 27-28.
Conferences are attended by 200 to 400 people each year, and the villages serve about 60 new parents each month, while hundreds watch the videos that are posted on social media.
Seamans attended a fourth trimester conference that provided her with a lifeline.
“The conference completely changed the way I feel about motherhood. Of course, it didn’t fix all of my new-mom struggles, but it helped me to realize that I wasn’t the only one who found the fourth-trimester stage extremely difficult,” she said.
“Not only did I learn what the fourth trimester even was, but I also learned that there were resources out there to help during this time,” she added.
She vowed to do better with her next baby, and she did.
“I found myself a little angry and passionate about the way Americans view the fourth trimester period. When I found myself pregnant with my second baby, I referenced the resources and connected with the community that I was introduced to at the 4th Trimester conference,” she said.
Her goal was to utilize any and all resources to help ease the weight of the fourth trimester so she could heal, rest, bond and focus on her baby.
“I connected with the lactation specialists who again noticed that my second baby had a tongue tie as well. I hired a postpartum doula, had postpartum cranial sacral therapy for myself and my baby, a postpartum massage, and nourished myself with the foods and drinks that I learned help a postpartum body,” she said.
Bever runs The Arizona Breastfeeding Center, a clinical lactation practice of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants that serve families for infant feeding support as well as train future lactation consultants.
“The families I work with at the Arizona Breastfeeding Center were and continue to be my inspiration and motivation as we work towards changing the culture of parenting so no one has to do it alone,” Bever said.
4th Trimester Arizona operates with five staffers and a host of volunteers, especially during events. It’s funded by grants, sponsorships and individual donations. A tech-support person and a full-time coordinator are on its wish-list.
“We have experienced a lot of growth in the past two years, and our biggest challenge is having the funding and resources to meet the needs of parents and those who support them,” Bever said.