…during the first 12 weeks postpartum.
Inspired by this post, I decided to expand on the idea to create a visual guide for the 4th trimester, otherwise known as the first 3 months postpartum. It’s a blur of hormones, interrupted sleep, adjusting to either a whole new lifestyle if this is your first baby, to adjusting for the whole family if you’re adding another sibling. It’s a lot to get used to no matter if you’re adding your 1st, 2nd, or 7th baby to the family. Even if you’ve done this before, your brain has a way of forgetting just how things were when you last had a newborn.
1. Eat the food. If someone asks you if you’d like a meal train after the baby arrives, if you’d like some freezer meals while you’re still pregnant, or if can they bring some snacks for the toddler and preschooler who are hungry every 20 minutes, the answer is always yes. Dinnertime has a way of sneaking up on you and if you’re breastfeeding, you may find you’re hungrier than ever. I hear from so many moms who eat a granola bar in the morning and go hours before they are able to eat again with tending to everything that needs doing around the house. Stop and eat! And hey, rejoice about no more heartburn!
2. Set up stations around the house with all those things you need when you are stuck with a baby sleeping on you. Or you’re when you are in the middle of the two-week growth spurt. Some helpful things include diapers, wipes, the TV remote, your phone, some tissues, a water bottle, some snacks, and maybe some lotion or breast pads if you need to change anything. Other moms have set up storage near a pack and play including an extra outfit for unexpected diaper blowouts and a changing pad.
3. Let others lend a hand. Often, visitors want to help but they’re unsure what you need. Put up a list on the fridge so people can help you out. Taking out the trash, holding the baby so you can take a shower, doing some dishes are just some examples. If you don’t have family nearby, look into hiring a postpartum doula. The goal is to take off the stress of getting all the everyday chores done so you can focus on healing, bonding, and caring for your baby. A postpartum doula can also offer assistance with breastfeeding or night time help dependent on your needs.
4. Nap when the baby naps. I know, everyone says it, but it’s true! Set a timer, close your eyes for 15 minutes, resist the urge to surf Facebook on your phone and recharge. Even if you’re a seasoned parent, sleep deprivation can take its toll. A well-rested mama is a happier mama.
5. Bond over a bath with your baby. Once the umbilical cord stump falls off and everything looks like it healed well, you’re in the clear to give your baby a bath. You’ll find that babies usually enjoy being in the water (check the temperature to make sure it’s not too hot or cold) and often moms who are looking to strengthen their breastfeeding relationship find the added bonus of skin to skin time helps.
6. Is it baby blues or something more? The “baby blues” are a normal adjustment in the first few weeks thanks to ever-changing hormones and getting used to your new normal with life with a baby. You may find yourself feeling worried or overwhelmed about how you’re doing as a mom, crying over a commercial on TV, or feeling the fatigue of interrupted sleep. Baby blues goes away on its own and improves with reassurance, guidance and time. However, if these feelings persist, or other symptoms emerge that interfere with your life, reach out for support. Postpartum Progress offers some great resources, including this article about baby blues vs. postpartum mood disorders, and an article about the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety (in plain mama English). If you find yourself nodding along with those articles but are worried to reach out for help, please don’t feel alone or others will judge you. 1 in 7 women experience some kind of postpartum mood disorder and there are many therapy professionals, support groups, and options out there to help. If medication is discussed as an option to treat a postpartum mood disorder, there are medications that are compatible with breastfeeding. Massachusetts General Hospital has good up-to-date research on this topic.
7. Need a moment to unwind and feel like yourself again? Make sure your baby is secured in a safe place (crib, pack and play, etc.), and take a shower. Commonly, moms worry about leaving their baby in case the baby starts crying and not being able to console them right away. If the baby is fed, has a clean diaper, and in a secure, safe place, you can take a few minutes for yourself. So often the 4th trimester is filled with putting baby’s needs first, but moms need to take care of themselves and put themselves first too.
8. Find time for self-care. As the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. Fitting little things in like calling a friend to catch up, taking a bubble bath after baby’s asleep, or treating yourself to a coffee at the drive-thru while baby naps in the car are ways to make sure you’re taking care of you so you can better take care of your family. Self-care is also learning when to say no or recognizing when you need to ask for help. If you’ve been up all night with a teething baby and really need a nap without interruptions during the day, see if a mom friend can watch older children or if your partner can take over for the afternoon. As baby gets older and you can leave for longer stretches, getting out to the store even if you walk around and window shop can do wonders without having the stress of toting little kids along.
9. Babies aren’t born knowing more than you. They haven’t been watching breastfeeding videos or researching car seats while you were pregnant. This is new to both of you and you’re learning together what you need. If you have older children, you’ll find in some ways parenting becomes easier but there is still a learning curve since every baby’s personality is so different. Relax and enjoy watching your baby’s personality unfold. You’ll learn what the hungry cry sounds like and if they prefer a certain type of blanket, all in time.
10. Check in with your care provider before returning to exercise. Depending on your birth experience, postpartum healing, or other general health issues, every woman’s circumstances are going to be different. Walking is usually a good, low-impact exercise you can do with the baby, and babywearing is a great workout. Don’t forget to ask your provider to check for diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles that can happen to pregnant women. If you do have a separation, movements like crunches, twists, and sit ups will aggravate it. Seek out a physical therapist versed in women’s health issues to provide exercises that will help close the separation, and help with any other common postpartum issues like urinary incontinence or other pelvic floor issues. Lastly, be gentle on your postpartum appearance. Mainstream media does not help any with images of Hollywood celebs showing off their toned bodies by 3 months postpartum, but that is not realistic. Also, be careful of any health claims with meal replacement shakes or other diet products and talk to your care provider about safe, moderate ways of safely exercising and eating nutritiously.
11. Dads are going to do things differently. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s sometimes hard for moms, who had the extra 9 months of bonding before seeing their baby in person, to understand why dads take some time to really enjoy being with the baby. Part of it stems from not being able to interact with or console the baby as efficiently as mom can, but that will come in time. Babywearing, holding the baby while you take a shower or nap, or playing peekaboo are ways dads can find their own routine. And while they may change the baby a certain way or pick out a top from one outfit ensemble and pants from another to dress the baby, it’s ok. Before dads know it, babies have a way of growing up into toddlers who will inform them on the phone they’re going to wrestle on the bed when dad gets home from work.
12. Embrace babywearing. It is so helpful in the early weeks when baby wants to sleep on top of you and you need to get stuff done. You have your hands and arms back! Baby gets to hear your heartbeat and stay warm and snuggly like how they’ve been used to during pregnancy. Dads and grandparents can babywear too. My husband and I look at each other during the 4th trimester with all of our kids and say, “I don’t know how anyone gets anything done if they don’t have a baby carrier!” Seriously, it’s a lifesaver. If you’re new to babywearing, check out Babywearing International. They have in-person meetings including a lending library of different baby carriers to try out, as well as forums and online guides to the different carriers on the market. Spoiler alert: there’s way more out there than just the Baby Bjorn you see on the shelves of Babies R Us when you were registering for your baby shower.
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12 Things To Remember in the First 12 Weeks