How I Prepared for the Fourth Trimester the Second Time Around
You might be wondering what the heck the fourth trimester is. Or, you might be very familiar with the term as it’s becoming increasingly more popular. This term refers the first three months of your baby’s life outside the womb in which they need nurturing and the mama’s body needs nurturing as it heals from carrying and birthing a child. In Chinese the fourth trimester is called Zuo yuezi, which sometimes translates to “sitting the month.”
This was not a term I was familiar with until well after my first pregnancy. With my first kid, the fourth trimester was a rough transition period that surprised me with it’s difficulty and rawness. I really struggled with the slower pace, lack of sleep, and was shocked at how different my body was. With my second pregnancy, I was very thankful to be aware of these changes and the difficulty I experienced my first time, so I started doing research on how to make the first few months postpartum more healing, restorative, and an easier transition..
I discovered the books The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality by Kimberly Ann Johnson and The First 40 Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother by Heng Ou and they completely changed my perspective on what the fourth trimester should look like.
“Most parents invest endless efforts and resources to ensure the best starts for their children. But mothers need a strong start, too. The old ways teach us that the biggest investment is made up front. If mom begins rested and nourished, calm and centered, she can provide patience and sensitivity - the maternal devotion-that her baby truly deserves. This is much harder to do if she’s pushed to the edge of emotion and exhaustion.” - The First 40 Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother
Thanks to what I learned, here are the major changes I implemented in my 4th trimester:
Planned to stay in bed 2 weeks after birth and move slowly for 40 days after birth. It was equally important that I communicated this to my partner and anyone who was going to be around in those early days so expectations were set. In reality, I only stated in bed for a little over a week and took it easy physically for another couple weeks after that. This was much easier said than done because I really missed playing with my toddler and leaving the house. Also, it’s a bit impossible to take it easy a full 40 days if your partner has to go back to work within 2 weeks of your newborn’s arrival. However, I would encourage any expecting mama to set this goal because healing, rest, and dedicated time to bond with your newborn are SO IMPORTANT. I’m thankful for the time I did take…it was a dreamy beautiful time of connection with my newborn and I really needed it to heal .
I prepared a few meals in advance. While a friend did set us up with a meal train which was so freaking helpful, I also spent some time making some nourishing bone broth and stews from The First 40 Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother. About a month before my due date I spent a few hours in my kitchen cooking and stored all the meals in the freezer. This ensured I had hearty nourishing food regardless of what meals others provided.
I ate differently. I did not know this, but the best foods to eat in the 4th trimester are soft, warm, and foods full of good fat. Unfortunately, these most nourishing foods cannot typically be bought from a takeout restaurant and must be cooked. With my first pregnancy, I remember my poor husband doing his best to support me and my seemingly huge appetite thanks to breastfeeding by stocking up on crackers, granola bars, and green juices at the store…which is the opposite of what a new mom needs! Don’t be afraid to be specific in what you need for those bringing meals and taking time to freezer prep pays off tremendously.
I built my tribe. I made sure I had a solid support system and resources I could call on if needed. A friend organized a meal train, my family brought me food, family came over frequently to help with our toddler and our house, I scheduled house cleaners, I knew which friends I could talk to when I needed emotional support, and I had numbers for all the specialists I may need (i.e. lactation consultant, chiropractor, postpartum doula, physical therapy, therapist, etc.).
I gave myself grace. I think, most importantly, I allowed myself to rest. I did not expect anything of myself during those first few weeks except to rest and feed my newborn. This was a huge and critical mental shift because I tried to be productive after my first birth and crashed and burned.
Something I intended to do better this time around was set boundaries, but still didn’t do a great job. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed in the first 1-2 weeks with people wanting to help. About 10 days in, I got so overwhelmed by everyone texting me to make plans for food drop-off, asking to visit and people stopping by daily that I low-key stopped answering texts for hours (sometime a day or two) at a time. This seems like a silly thing to complain about, help is great, right? Help is amazing and so welcome, but I reached a place where I was spending many of my waking hours texting to organize visits, food drop-offs, and visiting with people who stopped by that I got stressed out because I wasn’t truly resting or napping. Most days I couldn’t take a nap when I finally had the opportunity because someone was about to stop by and I felt the pressure to be social. What I will do next time (if there is a next time), is set better expectations on the front end with my family and friends and maybe even set up a automatic text response saying that if they need to reach someone urgently, to call my husband, otherwise I’ll respond at my earliest convenience. Those first couple of weeks are for cocooning in newborn bliss, not making plans and hosting. One of the books I recommended earlier in my post even has a pre-written letter you can put on your front door that outlines the ideal houseguest for new parents (i.e. always help with something around the house, not just hold the baby).
Winston is now 2 months old and we are doing our best to adjust to our new normal of balancing a newborn and a 2-year-old. Man, it’s a freaking lot of work and we are constantly exhausted, but it is so worth it all at the same time.
Mamas, what did you learn during your pregnancy or postpartum time that you can share with other mamas-to-be?