Surviving the Fourth Trimester

The first months of being a mom flew. There were moments of intense struggle (physically and emotionally) contradicted by total I got this moments. I am still a newb, but I do feel the fourth trimester was slightly easier than I anticipated (tbh I was imagining the very worst case scenario). Out came a sweet tempered baby and a partner who truly stepped up, so I was set up for success from the beginning. I think it looks different for everyone based on your delivery, support system, and to be frank your baby. He/she comes with their own little (or big) personality, and you sort of get what you get. I was able to stay relatively sane, probably in part to the cards we were dealt and in part to the calm + happy environment we maintained (yep, taking some credit here). I spent some time reflecting on things in my control that helped:

Get nighttime help or create a system for getting a decent stretch of sleep, from the beginning. Sleep deprivation will make every area of your psyche fall apart. I truly believe if you can get this area in check, everything else will be 10x easier.

A few of my friends have night nurses and this seems like an incredibly helpful tool if it’s something you can afford. It allows you to get better rest at night right from the beginning. We personally did not have help at night, but we did create a system for me to get some rest. I think because many women breastfeed, nights can fall on them exclusively. Since traditional nursing didn’t work for us (I started exclusively pumping at day 7), Alex was able to help with nighttime feeds. Noa went down at 8, and I got into bed when she did. He stayed up and did a “dream feed” at 11PM, then she would typically wake up around 2AM. So I would at minimum get a stretch from about 9-2 every night, then get back in bed after feeding her + pumping. That 2AM feed quickly stretched to 4AM, and I honestly felt pretty rested from the get go. In full transparency though, I’ve been battling insomnia for most of my adult life, and I just feel like this isn’t quite as hard for me as someone who is used to easy sleep. I always felt pretty smug when people warned me about “never sleeping again,” and my attitude hasn’t changed much.

Get on a schedule. This is going to be controversial, because many people are adamantly against scheduling a newborn. For us, it just worked and we have a super happy baby who thrives with predictability. I followed “Taking Cara Babies” to a T, meaning from 7AM to 8PM Noa was awake for 1 hour, then down for 2 hours (since hitting 12 weeks she is up for longer periods). Our first night home from the hospital felt like an episode of Survivor, and the following day we desperately followed every bit of advice in the newborn class. She was scheduled from that day on, and our experience was immediately better. Obviously, she didn’t follow a schedule perfectly on her own, we did a lot of non-feeding soothing to get her naps to look as close to that cycle as possible. This also meant waking her from naps to feed during the day. Babies are born nocturnal, and will sleep all day long if you let them, and then of course with fewer day feeds, they’re up all night. Since we woke her to feed she got majority of her calories in during the day and pretty quickly became a decent sleeper.

Stay in the moment. This may sound cliché, and maybe a little contradictory to “scheduling” your day…but stay with me. I notice the days where I focus too much on productivity I am unable to really breath in the beauty of this newborn phase. It goes very, very quickly. By nature, I am a get shit done kinda person and I struggle when I don’t feel like I’ve been productive. However, this is a unique phase of life that is fleeting. The days where I remind myself to be fully present with Noa while she is awake – talking, snuggling, and literally studying everything about her are by far my happiest days. When I let my mind wonder to what I “need” to get done once she is down it just takes away from my experience as a mother. I find that having a predictable schedule actually helps me stay present because I know there will be a solid amount of time she is down and I can shift my mindset during that time (but not gonna lie, sometimes I just stare at her on the monitor).

Get outside daily. Right after giving birth, my body felt a bit broken. Sorry for TMI but it’s a bloody, sore mess all around and padsicles will be your very best friend. You honestly just want to bundle up and stay inside. However, right from day two back from the hospital I forced myself to “get dressed” (yoga pants) and take a walk every day. Since we had my mom’s help for a few weeks, we also went on a date night a few times times in her first weeks of life, sans baby. Even without my mom, babies are basically asleep those first few weeks, so taking her with us was pretty easy. It felt good to get out, have a glass of wine, and just enjoy being “us” for a bit.

Let go of mom guilt (and get help). Somewhere we’ve developed this notion that moms need to be flawlessly selfless to be “good” moms. I disagree, and actually think showing up to motherhood without your oxygen mask on is a mistake. I also believe that I am modeling how my daughter should care for herself. If she watches me respect and take time for myself, my hope is that she will do the same. I’ve decided that handing her over so I can take a bath or have lunch with a friend is okay and I will not feel badly about it. Obviously, there are exceptions, but for the most part there is no reason why your partner can’t help you out daily to get some alone time. Assuming you are having a baby with a partner, parenthood should not fall solely on one person. When I hear of new moms who go days with out showering, it makes me want to slap their partners across the face. Sorry, but step up. To new moms, please accept help and don’t try to do it all on your own. If your partner isn’t helping out, nip that in the butt right away and communicate your needs. If you’re a solo parent, a parent to multiples, or in any circumstance where you truly cannot get help: you’re a fucking angel on earth and I’m bowing down to you.

Organize the shit out of your house. I was a completely stereotypical, psychotic nester in my third trimester. I’m talking organizing the nails in our tool box. Every inch of my house was Marie Kondo’d. Now, with a little babe sure it’s a bit messier and there are a few more non-neutral toys laying around than I’m comfortable with. BUT, for the most part I keep our house pretty clean and organized. I am constantly picking up all day long in little ways so it’s rarely a big job to clean our house. This is important because you spend so much time at home those first few months. For me, having our home feel put together and peaceful was important in keeping me sane. Putting baskets in every room to toss toys and clutter into helps tremendously. Sometimes in a desperate moment I just tossed a whole lot of clutter into a basket and dealt with it later. I do believe that creating such detailed organization while pregnant was the key though, because now everything just has a place and I force myself to put things where they belong every single time.

Sure, eat healthily, but do not worry about “getting your body back” right away. Your body is going to look different when you give birth. It just will, period. And yes, you will vent about it to your girlfriends. After you vent though, move on. Stressing about it is a huge waste of energy. Your body just simply needs to heal in the beginning. Resting, eating a lot of nutrient dense foods, and staying calm (i.e. not freaking out about body changes) will help you do this. Your time to workout, if you choose to, will come. Personally, giving myself grace during the first few months was really helpful.

Check in with yourself regularly. I did hit a few patches of baby blues. They seemed to come for a few hours at a time, every few days. I would be overcome with a sense of dread and sadness for a few hours and then it just disappeared and I felt happy again. Once, the blues lasted for a few days and felt very, very dark and scary. I immediately booked a session with a therapist as I was sure I was entering something more serious than baby blues. Fortunately things returned to “normal” shortly after this dark moment, but it doesn’t for everyone. I was observant about my emotions and I started to recognize that this was happening (and was able to talk to Alex about it). It’s super important to be honest about where you are emotionally on a regular basis, so that if things do shift from occasional, manageable baby blues, you can get help as soon as possible. Post partum is very real, and can get very serious quickly. Please keep your doctor and partner in the loop (or another trusted person), and seek professional help if you even slightly suspect you’re experiencing post partum depression.

Put your blinders on. This is somewhat related to letting go of mom guilt, but it deserves its own category. It is awesome to connect with moms so you can seek advice, vent, and just generally feel like you have a community. However, try not to worry about doing exactly what the latest mom-influencer is doing. Listen to your own instincts and do what’s right for your baby, even if it’s totally different than your best friend’s approach to parenting. That includes comparing yourself or your baby to another (like so-and-so already seeming so together, and her baby walking at 9-months). If anyone tries to shame you for any decision you make with parenting, I highly recommend putting up strong boundaries right away. You are the parent, and besides your co-parent, no one’s opinion matters. Oh, and please don’t be the asshole on the other side of this, shaming another mom for any of her decisions. Stay in your lane.

What are your tips for surviving the first few months after birth?