10 Tips to Survive the Fourth Trimester
Who knew there was such a thing as a ‘Fourth Trimester'. I didn’t. At least until I sat through my newborn care class and the nurse gently explained that the baby will experience a fourth trimester outside of the womb. WHAT?! Cue all the questions…
So, What is the fourth trimester? Essentially, it’s a period of developmental change for the baby that is experienced outside of the womb and can be extremely overwhelming. All of a sudden, your baby is no longer in their safe and cozy environment inside of you. They now have to learn to eat on their own and are exposed to this whole, new world that is overwhelming and overstimulating at times. Everything can seem overwhelming - light, sounds, smells, etc. Because of this, the first three months can be difficult (for mama and baby) at times. It’s a learning experience for you both.
I heard that this phase can be the hardest as a parent. And while there were certainly difficult times, we made it through (!!!) and we’re able to enjoy it (most of the time). I think you have to remind yourself that ‘it will get better’ and that this newborn phase will go by so quickly. But if you need more advice, here are a few things that helped us survive the fourth trimester phase.
Allow yourself to rest & recover - Mamas, this is crucial. I know you don’t want to hear the phrase ‘rest when the baby sleeps,’ but you really must. Lack of sleep for days on end can lead to major exhaustion and even feelings of anxiety or depression. We cannot take care of our infant without taking care of ourself first! Work, housekeeping, fitness and anything else that feels important really need to come after yourself and baby. You have to put yourself first so that you can make sure your baby is well-fed, especially if you are breastfeeding. I would allow my husband to cook for me or for others to bring me food while I breastfed. I would go to bed 30-minutes after the baby fell asleep at night - even if that meant as early as 8:00 p.m. to ensure I would get some rest. We decided to outsource the things we could no longer take on including hiring a house cleaner and an assistant for my business. We made it work, even if it felt like a crazy balancing act, but we always put my recovery first followed by the needs of our baby. I promise, it won’t always be this hard - and I promise you won’t always be in pain, so enjoy those slow days with the baby while they last.
Create a (flexible) routine - Your pediatrician will likely have you tracking your baby’s eating, diapers and sleep. We started by using an app (Glow Baby app) to stay on track and eventually phased that out once he was steadily meeting his goals around two months. But it does help in the beginning to get into a routine. We followed the eat/play/sleep schedule and watched for cues to ensure baby was getting fed or put down for naps before he went into a cranky phase and completely shut down. We made sure he ate every 3-hours and slept every 90-minutes. You will eventually pick-up on their hunger and sleepy cues, even if it doesn’t feel natural right away! Also, remember that as soon as you figure out one thing - something else will happen. I added the keyword ‘flexible’ because you always are tweaking things as you learn what your baby needs. Listen to your inner mom instinct to help guide you. Tip: invest in a sleep training program early. We used TakingCaraBabies and I personally like that it was comprised of videos and a PDF checklist vs. a book. I was able to watch the videos while breastfeeding, which made it easy to get through the info!
Invest in the essentials: swaddles, sound machines & Paci’s - The products we needed most during the fourth trimester were not fancy. The swings/bouncers/chairs were all great, but what we needed most were the essentials: a cozy swaddle that kept baby feeling safe & secure, a sound machine with white noise and a few different pacifiers to help with soothing. Remember, your baby might not like one swaddle/pacificer right away. These things are new to the baby, just like it’s new for you! Test out one product at a time (give it a few days) and if it’s not working, move on the next for a few days. We ended up buying three different brands of swaddles when trying to see what would work best for us and have used them each at different times throughout the Fourth Trimester phase. We had the best luck with swaddles that kept baby’s hands down for longer stretches even though he hated it at first! Once he got his reflux under control, we switched to the Love to Dream Swaddle UP.
Seek support - Becoming a mother and caring for a newborn is not an easy job. Some parts of the job feel more natural than others. You have to be willing to seek help! I really struggled with breastfeeding at first, so I decided to seek support with our hospital’s outpatient lactation consultant. I can see how easy it would’ve been to just give up and switch to formula, which is totally fine if that is what works best for you and your baby! But I kept trying because it was important to me and something I felt I could do with the right tools. Also, don’t be afraid to seek support from other mamas. I didn’t have a ton of mom friends initially, so I would seek support in Facebook groups or forums. Our hospital also offered support groups that met on a monthly basis. Motherhood can feel lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Ask for help!
Wear your baby - Our baby carrier became my favorite accessory during the fourth trimester. Your baby loves feeling close to you, so when you are constantly putting them in a fancy chair/swing/bouncer, it makes sense that they might get overwhelmed. They can’t see you, smell you or touch you. So, baby wearing is a great option to help you get things done and keep baby calm. We went on daily walks with our baby carrier in the early evening during his ‘witching hour’ (around 5:30 - 6:00pm) because it was the only thing to keep him from crying! During his first leaps (download the Wonder Weeks app to learn more), he lived in his carrier! Once I started getting out more, I would wear the baby when I had to run errands or leave the house, so I didn’t have to stress about him crying non-stop. I promise, finding a baby wearing system that works for you is key! Note: we did get a baby wrap and it was way too complicated for me. I ended up preferring a carrier because it felt more supportive & structured, plus was much easier to get on and off. Again, you might want to try a few (borrow one from a friend or find one that is gently used). We liked this one and it is under $30!
Get out of the house - this may feel impossible, but is so worth it. Whether you bring the baby with you or sneak out of the house on your own, try to find some time to get out and about. I remember strolling around Target for 30-minutes just to clear my head or going to Starbucks for a coffee with a friend to reset. You cannot do everything 24/7. You have to invest in yourself and doing something that makes you feel like yourself. Even if it is hard to leave the baby, it will be better for you and them if you learn to get out every now and then.
Also, we struggled with car rides at first with the baby. He hated his car seat at first. But it did get better over time and I think it was just a matter of him getting used to being strapped in the seat. Tips: Start to ease into car rides by sitting in the back with baby while someone else drives. Bring a pacifier and sound machine, and always cover the car seat so he feels safe and secure! Again, it takes time for them to get used to all of these new experiences and will get better if you are willing to keep trying!
Don’t beat yourself up if you do something ‘wrong’ - there are so many rules that we hear as new moms. ‘Don’t co-sleep with the baby.’ ‘Breastfed is best.” ‘You have to have baby in the room for 6-months’…and so on. We hear so many things that are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and it can feel extremely overwhelming. Do not let those things affect your mental health as a new mom. You have to do what is best for you and your baby! Sometimes, you just have to make things work. Don’t get stuck in ‘bad habits’, but also don’t feel guilty if you don’t always do things the right way 24/7. I ended up coming down with a virus and became very sick (103 degree fever). But I had to keep breastfeeding to make sure the baby was well fed and received antibodies to stay healthy. It was so hard to feed him when I was so sick and weak, so I ended up letting him co-sleep that week. I felt so guilty for letting that happen when we’d been so strict on keeping him in his bassinet at night, but it’s what we had to do to survive. After that week, we got back to our routine and he hasn’t been in our bed since. Just a reminder that you have to do what’s best for you and the baby!
Invest in a mom-friendly wardrobe: this may seem trivial, but having a comfortable, breastfeeding-friendly wardrobe that I could easily throw on each day made life so much easier. Just because these pieces are comfortable, doesn’t mean that they can’t be stylish. I invested in lots of button-up thermals, soft joggers, and wrap-style tops that could be mixed-and-matched for the first slow weeks at home. I am glad I bought soft, stretchy pants as I ended up with a c-section and anything too low or tight felt uncomfortable at first. Look for soft, loose fabrics that are easy to wash and won’t hug you. It takes time for your body to physically recover, so don’t feel bad if it doesn’t happen overnight. Also, anything with a wrap-style or buttons is great those first few weeks when you are cluster feeding. Also, be sure to get a good pumping bra and nursing bras for late-night feedings.
Lean on your partner - this may be obvious, but just because you are the mother doesn’t mean you have to do everything. I had to really lean on my husband during the fourth trimester for support and help. You cannot do everything. So, focus on what you must do (like feedings, if you are breastfeeding). My husband took on a lot of the household duties like tidying up, cooking dinner, etc. I am so thankful to have a partner that shares our responsibilities and is able to step in when needed. Be honest with your partner when you need help or more support. Make sure to have open communication if/when you are struggling. Be sure to make decisions as a team, so you are both on the same page and are doing things for the baby in the same way - it can be confusing to the baby if you and your husband have different parenting styles. You are in this together and you should work as a team to get through those challenging, but exciting newborn days. On the flip side, also make a point to spend time with your partner without the baby! We went on our first date without baby the first week we were home from the hospital and have made this a part of our bi-weekly routine!
Enjoy it - the time goes so fast. So, don’t get caught up in the hard times and enjoy the ride. Yes, there will be days/nights that are rough. Yes, there will be times you don’t feel cut out for the endless job of motherhood. Yes, you will sometimes be completely exhausted. But it will be worth it and it does get better. Try to enjoy those first 3-months because they will fly by and soon enough, the hard times will feel very distant. If you are truly struggling, don’t be afraid to have honest conversations with your partner, pediatrician or OB. If you get overwhelmed, be sure to schedule time for yourself or to ask a family member or friend to help. Try to enjoy these days by creating fun routines - like a daily walk or bath time playtime to make the ordinary tasks feel fun. Get involved and make connections with other moms to swap stories and gain advice. And on the days that you are tired, give yourself grace when nothing else gets accomplished. Keep telling yourself that you ‘can do this’ and stay positive!