This post is in partnership with Hancock Regional Hospital as part of their empowering women and children site. All thoughts, experiences, and opinions are my own. Be sure to check out their site for additional resources and support.
The fourth trimester is no joke. Even with an “easy” baby I felt like a shell of a human being at times. The fourth trimester is that extra three months after baby has arrived where you and baby are continuing to grow together. I mean, you are probably/hopefully always going to be growing together – but this period is marked by daily, if not hourly or less, life time transitions. You both have been growing and changing at a dramatic rate through pregnancy, but surprise! It's not over! These next few months you'll be learning a slew of new things together.
The Fourth Trimester: from the babies perspective:
Your baby spent the last nine months or so in a climate controlled environment. The temperature was steady, it was always dark, and soft. They didn't need to experience feeling hungry or having to pas gas or relieve themselves. All of the sudden, baby comes Earth side and his/her entire world has changed. There are new temperatures, sounds, smells, and sensations happening every second.
The Fourth Trimester: from mama's perspective:
You've just birthed a baby! Not only that, if it's your first baby you just became a mom! It's no easy feat and you're probably both on a high, and exhausted while recovering. And while you're recovering, you have to care for this new little human. Feeding, bathing, getting some ZZZ's, not just for you, but for another human life. All the while, you may be on bed rest or fighting postpartum depression or simply just struggling because, I mean… you did just have another human life come out of you!
Here's a list of tips and things to remember for surviving the fourth trimester
The Hand Test
The womb is a wonderful, climate and light controlled environment. If your baby is having difficulty sleeping, keep that in mind! Seriously, they are going from a warm, cozy environment to a cold, hard, and harsh world. One way to make both mom and baby sleep a little easier is to do the hand test when it comes to bed and nap time. If you hold your hand in front of your face, like reading a book close up, and you can see it, then the room may be too bright. Obviously you want your baby to eventually get used to sleeping in more lit up environments, but sleep in general is the priority at this stage!
Fed is best
Breastfeeding can be really challenging, remember fed is best. I pray that every single one of your reading this post will reach your goals for feeding your baby, but I also want to acknowledge that no matter what happens, as long as your baby is fed, it's okay. My breastfeeding journey was full of tears, anxiety, and pain. We ultimately made it work, but I know if I was going back to a traditional office, there's no way I would've been able to make it work. My own sanity and being a happy mom would've been what ultimately mattered because that's the mom who needs to show up for baby. Not the mom who is resentful and falling down a dark emotional path because she's sticking to some ideal about feeding her baby. If breastfeeding is your goal, here are some tips for nursing a newborn from Hancock Regional Hospital and here is a lactation guide from them as well!
This saved us! I really wanted to baby wear but was beyond nervous when it actually came time. The first time I put little one into her carrier she cried like crazy and it last about 30 seconds. The second time we got about a minute. But then the third time I decided I would wear her and go for a walk. I wouldn't give myself the option to put her down. And guess what happened? A minute or two after I strapped her in and was about to head out the door she fell right asleep. We went for a walk as a family (hubs, dog, baby, and me!) for the first time and she actually slept! We had gone for walks before with her in a carriage, but she refused to sleep which always resulted in an over tired fussy baby.
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Skin to Skin
Everyone hears how important it is to be skin to skin with baby. In the hospital, we had plenty of skin to skin time – I mean we barely got dressed! That same pattern continued throughout the first month. Seriously, I can't imagine there is a mom who doesn't become a nudist basically in that first month of their newborn's life! But once things settled a little after that first month, I realized I was typically the one topless all the time to breastfeed but baby was always in clothes, kind of negating the idea of skin-to-skin. Around six weeks I noticed she'd get fussier around a particular feeding time so I began making it a priority to do at least one feeding a day skin-to-skin. Things improved within a week!
Okay, I know, I know, sleep and newborn don't go hand in hand here. But in between clocking your newborns sleep, you need to be clocking yours too! If you aren't getting enough, ask for help. Ask someone to step in and rotate the middle of the night feedings with you. If you are having trouble with breastfeeding (and that's your goal), talk to a lactation consultant about when the best time to do introduce a bottle is so you can take a feeding off and get some sleep! For us, our lactation consultant suggested it at three weeks. This gave me the chance to have five or six uninterrupted hours to myself each morning. Granted my anxiety levels were so high at that point that I only slept like three or four of those, but that was still more than I would've gotten had I tried to do it all on my own.
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Remember, you can ask for help. When people offer it, say yes, it doesn't mean you're a burden. Now is not the time to be polite and not worry about what others will think. If that means you have family stay with you to help out, great! If you have the means and prefer a night nurse or postpartum doula, awesome! Do whatever works for you and your family.
If you're with a significant other, remember they want to help. For us, E desperately wanted to be a part of, but very much felt like an outsider looking in those first few days. Everything is so mom-baby focused, and it took him some time to feel out his place and feel bonded. His entire life was changing too, and he was watching it unfold, whereas I was a little more distracted deep in the actual changes.
That also means seeing a counselor or doctor if you're feeling any postpartum depression or anxiety creep up. Talking about our stories can help a lot. Read more at Hancock Regional Hospital here.
Give your body time and support
It takes at least six weeks to heal they say. There's ice packs, numbing sprays, lots of rest and loads of change. Talk to your care provider if things don't feel right. I thought I popped a stitch (I had a second degree tear) and took a mirror down there to inspect where I noticed a new gap. Color me panicked and terrified! I found myself in my care provider's office the following week after giving birth and luckily the gap had already sealed itself by then and the stitching material had just been causing me some irritation. Regardless, don't be afraid to reach out to your care provider if things don't feel right!
The other thing to ask about is a pelvic floor specialist. While typically care providers won't urge you to go if you aren't experiencing symptoms like incontinence, back pain, or feelings of instability, many would argue that you should absolutely see one if you've had a baby! The pelvis goes through some miraculous things through pregnancy and postnatal life. While, I haven't been experiencing any of the urgent symptoms, I do notice things just feel different. I talked with a friend who just had her second baby and she said the same thing, she hadn't experienced any of the symptoms but wished she had gone after her first because she felt weaker afterwards and had more “speezes” (sneezing pees) during her second pregnancy. I'm actually going back to my care provider next month and asking about a pelvic floor specialist. Check out other reasons why you pee when you laugh (or sneeze) here from Hancock Regional Hospital!
I never thought I'd post this picture. This is 12 days postpartum.
I remember making my husband take a million photos because I still looked pregnant and felt embarrassed.
Now I look at that photo and am so proud and thankful for my body knowing exactly how to take care of itself <3
Stay off the scale
I haven't owned a scale in nearly a decade. So getting weighed regularly throughout pregnancy was a very strange experience. All of the sudden, a number I had worked so hard to release it's grip over me, was part of my normal routine again. Like I mentioned, a week after having my daughter, I ended up back at my doctor's office… where they weighed me. I was a bit surprised to see the number on the scale one week postpartum. At that point, I kept thinking I looked great every time I looked in the mirror and the number on the scale confirmed to some random part of me that I was doing okay. Only the next week we went to my in-laws and they have a scale. So I decided to get on… and I saw that number hadn't changed. And the next week, the same thing happened.
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All of the sudden my awe and admiration for my recovering body was slowly turning to disappointment and frustration. “Why was this dang number staying the same? I thought breastfeeding peels off the pounds?!” It was about two months postpartum where I hit a breaking point. I felt like my body looked worse than it did one day postpartum. I realized that in losing all control in my life – from my sleep to my work schedule – I had fallen back into an unhealthy relationship with the scale. A relationship that once provided me with a false sense of control. I took a step back. Gave myself grace for a week and decided to start making healthier choices. Not for vanity’s sake but for my mental sake. To allow myself to find freedom in flexibility and letting go of any perceived semblance of control.
Also check out Hancock Regional Hospital's guide for loving your post-baby body!
Express gratitude daily
I truly believe an attitude of gratitude can solve anything. It changes the lens we view our reality in. Sure, you can focus on the exhaustion (which will feel like torture at points) or disdain for your body or comparison of how well others seem to do, however at what cost? The more you focus on things like broken sleep patterns, the bigger they seem. They become these taunting monsters that further exhaust and deplete you. But if you shift your focus from the broken sleep to the stretches of sleep, you'll start to notice how even 40 minutes can seem like a blessing instead of a failure. Give thanks to your body, give thanks to those who are helping, give thanks to your baby. You are all going through massive changes every second and that needs to be celebrated in between the sleep deprivation and tears. Those tiny moments of love and admiration and laughter are what you will remember, if you allow yourself too.
I look back on the fourth trimester and long for it sometimes. I look at my four month old daughter and cannot believe she isn't a newborn any more. Time feels like it's slipping away so quickly. I know it's cliche, but you'll never get these moments back with your baby. No matter how hard it is in this moment, cherish it. Ask for help. Do whatever you need to do to find joy in this time.
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List of tips and things to remember for surviving the fourth trimester:
- The Hand Test
- Fed is best
- Baby wearing
- Skin to Skin
- Enlist help
- Give your body time and support
- Stay off the scale
- Express gratitude daily