“Your baby doesn’t magically transform into a different life form at the moment of birth – he is the same person he was just a minute before. So, the first three months of life are like a fourth trimester, and should be treated as gentle entry into this world – with respect and loving care.” Elizabeth Pantley
There were so many things I didn’t know before pregnancy, before becoming a mama. One of the biggest things I didn’t know (that I think we don’t hear enough about) is the fourth trimester. Little humans don’t arrive used to this world, I’m not even used to this world. But little ones are particularly ill equipped to deal with the drastic change from the womb to the world.
They go from a warm, dark, aquatic environment to a light, cold airy one. In the womb baby has every need met- in the world they feel hunger pains, stillness and less contact (so mom can eat and pee.) For the first three months of life baby is experiencing a fourth trimester, and so will you. A time of adjustment and change.
When baby arrives it can be tempting to wish they were doing everything perfectly. People ask you about their eating and sleeping habits and want the baby to be doing everything right away, but they are brand new to this world. And you are brand new to parenting your little one.
Give yourself grace. Give your partner grace.
I am certainly not an expert- I only know what has worked for us and what hasn’t but I do think the following tips have helped us in this mysterious, challenging, wonderful fourth trimester.
1. Have zero expectations. Chase and I came into this fourth trimester with zero expectations for ourself or our baby. This has made the transition so amazing. When you have no expectations for yourself or baby there is no disappointment. You simply take each day for what it is- the ups and downs are not a struggle or a surprise because you haven’t put pressure on yourself to be a certain way. I think the baby blues have stayed away for the time being because I have not put pressure on myself or my baby, I hope I can continue this as baby grows and changes. Forgive yourself, give yourself the space to change your mind and do what you need, not what you think you should do. A book that has helped with grace and forgiveness for baby and for ourselves is The Wonder Weeks– it helps baby’s behavior make sense. There’s an app that goes with it as well!
2. Trust your instincts. You will receive so much advice and insight from other mamas, well intentioned family, and experts at the hospital. While it’s important to listen and take in this advice, sometimes, you just need to do what you feel is right. While I was at the hospital a nurse told me very specific limits for breastfeeding and as a result I started watching the clock and not feeding baby until it was “time.” But then, my body yearned to feed him. When he cried I wanted to comfort and nurse him, and so I did. Little ones don’t follow clocks, they know what they need and so does your body. So I chucked the advice and fed him whenever I felt it was right and as a result my milk came in so well and he is an excellent eater! Breastfeeding has been such a positive experience for us and I follow my instincts. Use the guidelines from health experts but ultimately trust what you know about yourself and your baby.
3. Don’t forget your partner. The days go so quickly. Miles is almost four weeks old and I don’t know where the time has gone. With feeding and burping and bouncing and surviving, the days are over in the blink of an eye. In all the fuss and needs of your little one it is so easy to forget your partner. Chase and I make an effort to check in with each other. Just a hug in the kitchen or remembering to kiss goodnight is so important. We are here for our baby but we are also here for each other. The same goes for our pets! We take intentional time to cuddle Max and pet our kitties to remind them that they are loved.
4. Take time for yourself. Shower, eat, rest, listen to a podcast, get outside, sit and breathe for two minutes. You will be a better parent for it. (My Fitbit Charge 2 has helped with this tremendously, you can track your sleep, food, water, exercise, meditation and more. Find something that will remind you to take time to care for yourself.)
5. Enjoy your baby. This time won’t last forever, for better or for worse. Take pictures of baby, sing to baby, dance and walk with baby. Get through the hard stuff and remember to treasure the good stuff. Every silly little noise and face they make, all the coos and squeaks- before you know it they won’t be your little baby anymore.