The Fourth Trimester

This Article introduces a new conceptual framework to the legal literature on pregnancy and pregnancy discrimination: the fourth trimester. The concept of a fourth trimester, drawn from maternal nursing and midwifery, refers to the crucial three to six month period after birth when many of the physical, psychological, emotional, and social effects of pregnancy continue. Giving this concept legal relevance extends the scope of pregnancy beyond the narrow period defined by conception, gestation, and birth and acknowledges that pregnancy is a relational process, not an individual event. In the United States, however, antidiscrimination law has failed to acknowledge the demands of the fourth trimester; it operates from the presumption that pregnancy begins at conception and ends at birth. Without employing a fourth trimester framework, the current federal antidiscrimination regime will continue to permit pregnancy discrimination against women because employers can discriminate on the basis of activities that typify the fourth trimester of the pregnancy. Judges, administrative actors, movement lawyers, and other policy makers should recognize that the law should prohibit discrimination on the basis of fourth trimester activities like breastfeeding, caring for newborn infants, or recovery. As a matter of law and policy, discrimination arising from these activities during the fourth trimester should be regarded as pregnancy discrimination.