Happiness · Health

Comments on the Forth Trimester

Lillian is now over six weeks old, and I am through the 40-day postpartum period. Mentally, “maternity leave” is over for me and I’m *trying* to get back to work full time. Back to waking up early(ish). Back to my FlyLady Routines. Back to my workouts. Back to writing every day. Back to cooking more.

I have experienced both excitement and overwhelm. I think the secret to life is staying excited about it. I’m excited about Lilly growing because it means she will be learning some adorable new behavior. I’m excited about homeschooling my boys next year because I found a curriculum I think we will all love. And I love watching my boys learn. (as their mom, I think they are so smart. Of course)

And I am excited to be through the 4th trimester because as much as I love the newborn stage, it’s like when I’m on vacation too long–home starts sounding better than the vacation.

What is the fourth trimester?

In many cultures, the 40 days after birth are set aside as a time of healing and rest for the mother and new baby. It is almost the same as our 6 weeks maternity leave (42 days). Most daycares will accept 6-week old babies as the mothers return to work. The mother generally can resume exercise routines, as the body and hormones start to return to a new normal.

However, the 12-weeks, or 3 months, after birth, while the mother and baby recover, grow, and heal, is the fourth trimester.

Why is it important?

Do you remember your first trimester? Do you remember how sick you were and how tired you felt? Did you start noticing changes as your hormones and body prepared for the months ahead? Then the second trimester, your baby was growing, and you started to notice a decided baby bump. The third trimester came with its changes and challenges–tiredness, back pain, maybe even anxiety. The postpartum period is no different. It has its changes and challenges, and we should respect and respond to its specific needs. My midwife put it this way, it took us 9 months to get here, we shouldn’t expect to go back overnight. You are not wasting time when you honor your postpartum weeks– you are investing in your health and future productivity.

How can you have a better postpartum experience?

Self-care is the foundation of enjoying your postpartum season more. We learn how to care for our babies, but we must also learn to take care of ourselves.

First of all, sleep is essential to recovering physically as well as emotionally/mentally. “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” is the best traditional advice I’ve heard. It’s not always easy to follow, however, unless you have help taking care of other children, laundry, and meals. If you don’t have regular help, you can still make things more simple for yourself.

  • Simplify meal prep by purchasing precooked meats and pre-prepped veggies.
  • Use paper plates, and maybe even plastic spoons and cups.
  • Wash all the dishes as they are used.
  • Have read-aloud parties on the couch or bed with all your children.
  • Wash one load of laundry after breakfast, and put them away immediately (folding is optional)

During this time of healing, creating a self-care routine can be helpful. Waking up and simply brushing your teeth, washing your face, and combing your hair can do wonders to how you feel about yourself. I strongly recommend baths over showers as it is more restful and you can use the healing properties of oils, herbs, and salt. Neglect for personal hygiene is a symptom of depression, but I think it also helps my mood when I take that time for myself. It’s a subtle message that says I matter, too. With my third baby, I took special care never to miss self-care routines, so that I would not get caught in that downward spiral.

some self-care example routines:

morning: Gratitude meditation, Gentle stretches, Brush teeth, Read the Bible, Cup of herbal tea, Skin care, Get dressed, Journal, Breakfast + supplements

afternoon: Five minutes of deep breathing, Stretches and core recovery exercises, Fill your glass with water, Read a devotional or study the passage from morning reading.

evening: turn the lights down, brush your teeth, light a candle, take a bath with Epsom salt and herbs/essential oils, apply a favorite moisturizer, cup of calming tea, read a book, journal

How can you support a mother postpartum?

One thing I wish I could have told myself when I was a new mom was to stop doubting myself. When I tried to open up to someone and share my concern about my mental health postpartum, they said it was normal, as long as I wasn’t thinking about harming myself or the baby. Sorry, not true. I felt invalidated as it doesn’t help someone who is going through something like that to doubt them or tell them that it’s normal and they are “fine.”

Postpartum Anxiety Disorder affects 10-15%. That means 85/100 of moms DON’T experience this level of anxiety. Let us not make the mistake of using our own limited experience to judge someone else.

So, yes, take them food, offer to put laundry away before you hold the baby, and remember that support may be needed/appreciated past the first two weeks! Maybe even past the first six. The fourth trimester is too often overlooked, and mothers are expected to be back 100% to everyday activities.

Be a friend. Let them know that that they can talk to you and you will listen. Let them feel that you are a safe place and that you won’t judge if they’re struggling with being sad, or struggling with laundry. Withhold comparison and try to be understanding. Sadly, it’s hard to understand an experience that we haven’t walked through ourselves. (which is why it is important to listen)

Invite your friend out whether it’s for a walk or a Starbucks, and if she seems stressed offer to change plans. I say this because I’ve been on both sides of this experience. This is my apology to the momma whom I didn’t know how to help, the momma I didn’t change plans for, and the momma I didn’t bring food. I wish I had more understanding then, but hopefully, now I have a wealth of experience and empathy I can cash in to help someone in the future.

A Note of Thanks

I also want to say thank you to the friends and family who showed me what good postpartum support looks like. Thank you to my parents who came to help after each of our babies were born, and thank you for asking me how I was every day and listening when I said, “Not too great.” Thank you to the one who babysat and invited us over for meals. Thank you to the one who offered to help even when my baby boy wasn’t a baby anymore and even though I didn’t know how to ask or accept help. Thank you to the best sisters in the world who didn’t push me away when I was depressed and not an uplifting person to be around.

Thank you for being there for me and showing me what it looks like to love and support someone.

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