The 4th trimester is as challenging for parents as it is for babies. You have a big, important job ahead of you; the care of your precious newborn, but you’re sooo tired. You may feel anxious and overwhelmed.
If this is your first, you may be suddenly realizing that your life has changed forever. You need a plan; rest, awareness of your own needs, and the loving support of your community.
Plain and simple, you need sleep. Childbirth and recovery take it out of you, and you need strength to care for your baby. Sleep when the baby sleeps.
While you may feel driven to clean your house, if you don’t sleep you’ll be a mental mess. Ask the people who love you for help, or consider hiring a doula.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Seriously, is it worth being a sleep-deprived zombie to have an immaculate house? Do you really need to iron your clothes? We all like feeling pulled together but be realistic. If you really can’t stand letting a few things go, for now, you need a strategy; reduce your expectations, and accept help.
Let Other People Help
People who love you and are excited about your new baby ask “what can I do to help?” Tell them! Letting people help blesses them even more than it helps you. Let your friends and family bring you food, do the laundry and the dishes, walk the dog while you sleep or take a shower. What a concept!
You know that everyone wants to see the baby, but cut yourself some slack. Don’t let anybody but family visit for the first two weeks.
Tell friends you can’t wait to see them but you need time to get to know your baby. Don’t exhaust yourself being a hostess. If they are true friends they will understand.
Take Care of Your Healing Body
Whether you had a vaginal birth or a caesarian, you’re sore and moving slowly. You’ll want sitz baths and perineal cold packs, especially if you had an episiotomy. You’ll need maternity size pads for weeks, as your uterus returns to normal. This will happen a little faster if you breastfeed because nursing makes your uterus contract.
By the six-week checkup, you should be fine. Until then, take it easy.
Manage Your Pain
Talk to your OB-GYN about pain relief and don’t try to tough it out. If you had a c-section, the first two weeks can be especially brutal. The challenge is to manage it with a combination of Tylenol and Ibuprofen. Especially if you are breastfeeding, you want to avoid opioids if possible, so don’t delay your pain relief and get into a bind.
Take Care of Your Breasts
Your breasts are going to swell up whether you breastfeed or not. Three days or more after birth, they will engorge, which can feel like hot rocks. If you are not breastfeeding, ice packs, Tylenol, and a well-fitted bra should get you through the 10 days it usually takes for your milk to dry up. Your OB-GYN may suggest medications.
If you are breastfeeding, warm showers give wonderful relief. In the first few days when the baby isn’t eating much and you are only producing colostrum, heat helps the most. Once you and your baby get rolling, nursing will make you feel so much better. La Leche League or a lactation consultant is a great help to new mothers.
If you feel a hard, painful spot in your breast, it’s probably a clogged milk duct. This usually comes from incomplete emptying of the breast, although stress or a too-tight bra will increase the risk.
Nursing regularly is the key to preventing these blockages which can lead to abscesses. If you feel a clogged milk duct, point your baby’s chin at the lump and let him or her drain you dry. A pump can be a lifesaver if your baby falls asleep or isn’t hungry.
If you go back to work, set an ironclad schedule to pump and refrigerate. When you nurse, relax;
don’t rush. See your doctor if the blockage persists or if you develop a fever. This could indicate mastitis, which you really, really don’t need!
Get Your Body Back
Time to get your pre-pregnancy weight back, or better! If you are not breastfeeding, follow your normal weight loss routine.
Put on your baby sling and take your baby out for some fresh air. Get a jogging stroller. Go out early so you won’t run into your adoring public, and don’t forget to socially distance.
If you are breastfeeding, you are burning 300-400 calories a day making milk. You will be hungrier, but stick to normal portions and you’ll drop the weight easily.
Eat a healthy diet including lean proteins, leafy greens, and calcium and iron-rich foods. Consider vitamin supplements. You will get very thirsty but avoid sugary drinks.
Keep a bottle of water with you all the time. If you are thirsty your brain may confuse thirst with hunger. Keep bowls of cut-up vegetables and fresh fruits in the refrigerator to snack on while you are nursing or cuddling with baby.
When you breastfeed, what you eat and drink goes into your milk. Be mindful that some seafood is known to be high in mercury which will transfer through your milk. Some foods, like cabbage, can actually make your baby gassy!
While some mothers swear by a glass of dark beer to get the milk flowing, generally avoid alcohol. Skipping caffeine is a no-brainer!
Watch For Post Partum Hormonal Changes
After childbirth, your hormones will plummet to pre-pregnancy levels. Most 4th trimester moms feel it as exhaustion, but 10-15% suffer from postpartum depression or PPD. This can be dangerous to you and your baby. Ask someone close to you to keep an eye on you, because we are often not aware of our changes, or we try to soldier on. If you feel anxiety or a sense of impending doom, see a mental health professional right away.
This is a huge topic; one you as a 4th trimester parent should research with your feet up and your baby snuggled on your chest. You are going to learn so much during this precious time, but the main thing you should know about taking care of yourself during the 4th trimester is that keeping yourself physically and emotionally healthy is the foundation of your baby’s health and development.
The other thing that you will learn as you grow as a woman and a mother is that you are part of a larger whole; your village is your community, your family, and your friends. Just as you are ready to love and support them, they are ready to love and support you. Take care of each other. Your baby will be the better for it.
Barth, L. (2020, May 9). What’s with the 4th Trimester? Adjusting to Life with a … Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/4th-trimester
Marcin, A. (2019, November 27). Clogged Milk Duct: Symptoms, Treatment … – Healthline. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/breastfeeding/clogged-milk-duct
Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. (2020). Pregnancy Info. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from http://www.pregnancyinfo.ca/postpartum/postpartum/care-of-your-breasts/
Stone, K. (2020). Get Answers About Postpartum Depression. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://postpartumprogress.com/get-answers-about-postpartum-depression
UNC Health Care/Women’s Care. (2018). Managing Pain after Your Cesarean (C-section) [Brochure]. Raleigh, North Carolina: Author. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.mombaby.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Pain-management-after-c-section-3.5.18.pdf