You may sail through your pregnancy without a bother or you may be plagued by medical issues and sleepless nights. Your birth may be the very best experience of your life, or perhaps not. Most likely you will experience a mixture of good bits and bad bits, and every step of the way you will be reminded that no matter how much yoga you do, how many superfoods you consume, how many books you read, how fit you are, how rich you are, how clever you are….being a mum, your experience is largely beyond your control.
And so the same applies for the fourth trimester. No amount of planning, reading, note-taking, praying or hoping can guarantee you a smooth ride through the first 3 months of your baby’s life and your life as a new mum.
What to consider in the fourth trimester:
There are 3 main elements to consider when thinking about the fourth trimester.
- Your baby
- Your partner
How are YOU doing? Maybe you’re loving this! Perhaps breastfeeding comes naturally, the baby feeds and sleeps, you are up only once in the night and you can get back into your favourite jeans after two weeks. You’re enjoying your new role as a mother and just love all the attention, visitors and presents and especially the newborn cuddles. Your pelvic floor is in good shape and you’ve done the deed with your partner already and everything felt fine…good even! You’re a pro!
Perhaps everything hurts, and you’re up 3, 4, 5, 6 times in the night. Your nipples are cracked and feeding the baby is so painful which is a huge surprise. Your stitches are aching and you look as though you’re still pregnant and you’re still in all your maternity clothes. Every time you cough you leek urine. You’re scared to have a look down there. Perhaps you can’t seem to get dressed and out of the house before 4 pm and you just can’t stop feeling sad. What have you done?
You don’t get to choose how your body and mind react to this new role in life. Some women recover quickly and are back to “normal” within weeks. Others take longer, have complications, and some suffer from depression. You may have had a model pregnancy and a straightforward delivery but just hit the wall in the postnatal period, even if the baby is doing well. One in ten women get postnatal depression, and it is often also an unpredictable event.
Babies are often as unpredictable as their entrances into this world. Some people frown upon the use of the words “good” or “bad” to describe babies so let’s go for “easy” and “more challenging” if that sits better.
Your “easy” baby might regain their birthweight in a week and after a few broken nights sleep, feed like a dream 8 times a day. They may be easy to wind and self-settle quickly. Have perfect skin, bowels that work like clockwork, love their Moses basket and smile, roll and tick all the developmental boxes right on schedule.
Maybe you have a “more challenging” baby. They may be a bit jaundiced or struggle to gain weight. Have an unsightly rash that looks even more obvious in photos. Take hours to feed and then scream and vomit. They might cry unless they are being held. Is it colic or reflux? The GP seems unsure. Should you take him to the Osteopath or is that mumbo jumbo?
You do not get to chose which kind of baby you have! And it can be very exhausting and upsetting to have one that does not feed or sleep as easily as others, especially if you are surrounded by new parents who seem to be having an easier time than you.
The presence of and support from a partner is perhaps one of the most unpredictable components of the Fourth Trimester.
Perhaps they are absent or distracted? The partner who came to every appointment and class and was there for you during labour suddenly changes. They start to find work, travel, their phone and the latest box set much more interesting than the screaming baby who won’t stop peeing, pooing and puking.
Your partner wants to know “what happened to our social life and those delicious meals we used to eat…and the sex? What about me and my needs? Sorry, I was late home from work tonight but it was Doreen from HR’s leaving party. I’m out again tomorrow night and I have to go to Huddersfield for a conference next week. And why is the baby crying so much, please try and keep him quiet as I have an important day at work tomorrow.”
Are they besotted and useful? Maybe they are the nappy supremo and expert on baby paraphernalia, sling wizard, and burp-master-general. In tune, in sympathy, and perhaps more important, in the kitchen, with the latest recipe for hungry breastfeeding, sleep-deprived new mothers. They are strict with the visitors who dare to overstay their welcome. They are happy to share the night feeds and looking into shared parental leave!
You can’t always predict how your partner will react to becoming a new parent. A lot of new mothers are quite surprised by their partner’s response to becoming a parent, some in a good way and some not so much! Many partners can take some time to really feel the bond with their newborn. Some get it straight away and some need some space and time and come good later.
So you see that most women and their partners experience a mixed bag in the fourth trimester, so you too should be prepared for that. You can’t always avoid the hard times by throwing money or resources at the situation. Even private obstetric care and access to all the latest technology does not prevent colic or postnatal depression. And likewise, having limited funds does not mean you are destined for a more difficult time. Being a mum and being a dad mean different things to different people.
Advice for YOU:
Do not try and be all things to all people. It is impossible to be a good wife, partner, best friend, sister, domestic goddess, chef, nutritionist, environmentalist, cleaner, admin officer, fashion guru, sex goddess, social butterfly, athlete, career woman AND MOTHER!
Very often it’s being a mother that is the most challenging of these. You simply can’t do it all.
Things you CAN do to look after yourself once you’ve had a baby:
- Take it easy
- Lower your expectations
- Be kind to yourself
- Restrict Visitors
- Sleep when you can
- Learn to say “no”
- Learn to ask for help
- Accept help
- Take expert advice from your midwife, health visitor, doctor and lactation consultant
- Listen to your mother, aunt, sister or friend but be prepared to discount advice that doesn’t work for you
- Speak up if you know things are not right or not going well or you feel you need extra support
- Look for support from communities like ours on Instagram or
- Try to take the long term view and be patient.
- Repeat the mantra, “Everything is a phase”.
- Remember that we all develop at different speeds and sometimes you have to take parenting a day at a time, and be prepared for as many ups as downs in those first few weeks and months.
Although there are so many unpredictable elements to the fourth trimester to consider, one thing you can predict is the love you will feel for your baby. For some the rush of love is instant, and for others, it’s more of a gradual thing, but it WILL happen and it will feel incredible and you WILL get through it and be a wonderful mum!
Becca Maberly, author of “Nobody Tells You…” 101 Truths About Pregnancy, Birth and Parenthood.