Now that I'm out of the fourth trimester for the last time (brb, sobbing), I'm taking a look back to reflect and pass on some tips that I've learned and tried to abide by (my darndest! though I wasn't always successful). The fourth trimester is all about learning about that new baby and how they fit into your (new) life. It can be a doozy. Perhaps these ideas will help.
1.Take care of yourself. This is a big one. Probably the biggest. It is so easy to forget about taking care of you when you are constantly meeting the needs of a new baby, and possibly with older kids at your home. Mom’s needs matter too and ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ as they say. Make sure you are eating a good, protein-rich diet, drinking PLENTY of fluids (especially when nursing), and getting rest when you can. Don't forget to continue your prenatal vitamin and pop those placentas pills if you've got them. Basically do anything that will keep you from getting mastitis. That's fun for nobody. Also, the sleep thing keeps you from breaking all your china as you walk around in a stupor.
2. Treat Yo Self. This is not just something for Tom and Donna from Parks and Rec, though I admit that’s what I think of every time I say this.
Treating yourself is for all moms, everywhere. You have been through A LOT and are going to rise to meet lots of challenges in your new role. So it only makes sense that you reward yourself for a job well done! Whether that be 'clothes, fragrances, massages, mimosas, fine leather goods,' a candy bar or bubble bath, “treat yo self!” As often and lavish as you can afford. Because if not now, when? Really.
3. Venture out when you’re ready. We want so badly to get back to a “normal” life and schedule after having a baby. We want to feel like we are superwomen and can do it all. There’s no doubt you are and you can, but don’t rush it. It may make you anxious to even think about leaving your baby for an hour or on the flip side taking baby with you out in public. Do it when you’re ready and make sure you are prepared. If you are going out without baby, make it short the first time out and time it in between when baby needs to eat. If you’re taking baby with you, pack the essentials and definitely a baby carrier so you can keep baby close to you and away from curious strangers. My point is, don't let anyone rush you or make you feel guilty or silly for wanting to keep to yourself for a while. Many cultures actually demand staying in for months so follow your gut.
4. Schedule time for yourself. In that same vein, having time for yourself by yourself is important to staying refreshed and rejuvenated. Now that I’m on my third I try to make time for myself away from home, sometimes just for a yoga class or Target shopping trip. If it’s your first baby, perhaps you don’t want to leave them right away but you do need relief from the constant holding, nurturing, and worrying. Find a time when your partner, mom, or friend can watch baby so you can take a shower or long bath, go for a walk, or just eat lunch alone. Make sure this time is SCHEDULED ON THE CALENDAR (so that you won't gloss over it or cancel!) and stick to it.
5. Stock the family up on immunity boosters. For real. This is very important if you have older kids and also depending on what time of year you give birth. Worrying about your new baby getting sick is anxiety inducing at the least and you want to do all you can to avoid transferring germs to baby. My kids both started a new school a month after I had my third and we went through so many sicknesses in our house that first month or two of school. I made sure to load them up on elderberry immunity syrup, good foods, and made sure they got plenty of rest. Baby still got a touch of a few things but was able to stay mostly well by keeping him close to me and nursing and by trying to limit all the grubby hands touching and snuggling him at all times.
6. Set a support system in place. This is something you really should think about before giving birth. Your village. Who can you trust to watch baby for you for short periods once she/he is here? Who can you go to if you are having issues with feeding? Do you know any lactation consultants or been to a La Leche League meeting? Have you met the pediatrician and know and feel comfortable with them? How much time does your partner have off from work? Can you schedule help such as a postpartum doula after they have to go back? Set. This. All. Up. Like, write it down, list-style.
7. Limit visitors. People love babies, yada, yada, yada. Most people come to visit you after birth to ogle at the baby. And although that makes us all proud and happy like, yes, I created that beautiful miracle over there, it does nothing for me otherwise. When I had my second, my midwife told me about this list I could make for my visitors telling me what they could do in exchange for coming to visit. This included bring a meal, walk the dog, wash the dishes, run the vacuum, take out the trash, take older child to the park, etc. When visits come with a chore, people tend to not overstay their welcome. It was brilliant! Honestly, I did have trouble sticking to it because I still felt guilty making guests do things for me. But that is why you print it out and hang it on the fridge. No take backs.
8. Don’t rush sex. This is also a big one I think. Many people wait until their 6 week postpartum visit before resuming sex again, as is normally recommended by your ob or midwife. There’s nothing that says you have to resume the day you get the thumbs up from your provider. You may be nervous about recovering from a tear, pain after a vaginal birth, or even just about how your body looks post-baby. The best thing you can do is communicate these feelings with your partner. Make sure you and your partner don’t have unrealistic expectations that sex will be the same immediately after baby. Things may feel different for a while and you may need to take things slow at first. It doesn’t mean it will be this way forever but give yourself some grace and patience in heating things back up in the bedroom slowly and when you’re ready. You will be meeting others’ needs so much as a new mom. Don’t make this one of them.
9. Don't expect to put on your pre-pregnancy clothes until at least month two. At LEAST. Just trust me. And if you're feeling great and try them on anyway and they fit, that's awesome. But don't expect it. Hang on to those yoga pants and leggings for a while.
10. Give yourself grace. You are going to make mistakes. There will be setbacks. You are going to stray from this list (or any list) even though you really, really didn't want to. But, just as your new baby is growing and learning, you are learning too. You are learning how to navigate life with this new little human. The postpartum period is different every time and for every person. Forgive yourself for the little things, and the big ones too, and move on. That's truly the best thing you can do for yourself.
They call it the fourth trimester for a reason, ladies. It sucks the life from you just like the first three. But you will come out the other side. And with a four month old!! Best of luck.