LAST week’s article introduced the concept of the fourth trimester, and focused on the developments that baby undergoes during that time.
It’s important to acknowledge, though, that although those three months after giving birth present obvious challenges related to taking care of a new-born, it is also a time of change, shift and adjustment for mum, and represents a significant transition both physically and mentally that needs to be navigated while simultaneously caring for a tiny new human being.
Even without the potential added complications of postnatal depression or anxiety, it can be an incredibly overwhelming time, typically glamourized by magazines and social media, which adds further pressure on mums to seem to have it all together, all sussed out.
The all-important preparation for mum’s fourth trimester journey is something that only in recent times has received any great attention. In the lead-up to birth, education is very much geared towards the birth itself. Post-natal preparation focuses on everything related to successfully looking after baby. And that in itself can be so overwhelming and all-consuming that the mother’s recovery, survival kit and identity shift often get overlooked.
Once pregnancy is over, concern for you and your bump transfers almost entirely to your new-born baby, and of course this is completely understandable.
However, happy mum — happy baby; mum’s wellbeing is very important too. So whether you’re in the midst of the fourth trimester fog, or anticipating it in the near future, here are some nuggets to consider.
The fourth trimester is 12 weeks long for a reason. It takes at least that amount of time for things to start feeling “normal” again, for you to find yourself feeling like yourself again.
It doesn’t occur overnight, as much as we would like it to. So much needs to happen first. Stitches may need to heal, your pelvic floor may need re-strengthening, and with the placenta now after vacating your womb, you’re minus the powerhouse of hormone production that your body has grown accustomed to.
Mood can fluctuate, postpartum hair loss may begin, and throw piles into the mix and you’ve got a lot on your plate in terms of recovery.
Not to mention the fact you have just become a mum; a monumental event that changes life as you knew it forever.
It’s a time of incredibly raw and intense emotions (as somebody once put it, a piece of your heart now beats outside of your body).
Don’t underestimate the physical and mental changes that occur during this period, and honour them by allowing yourself the time and space for that transition, minus the pressure to get your pre-baby figure back just yet!
Motherhood in general, but the fourth trimester in particular, can become a complete blur of surviving from one feed to the next, fitting in a couple of hours sleep where possible. Make the decision to uitilise any and all offers of support, and to gratefully accept all types of help. It may come in the form of food, an extra pair of hands or a listening ear. These will make this transitional period as smooth as possible.
And make sure to actively verbalise what it is you need on a given day, as people mean well and love to help, but they’re not mind-readers and won’t guess what it is that you really need without you telling them.
Once you’re accepting the support available to you, there then opens up the possibility of incorporating some self-care into your day or your week. A buzz word of late, and considered by many to be an unessential luxury, don’t overlook its importance during the fourth trimester.
And it doesn’t have to be a trip to a spa (just as well, because realistically that won’t be happening any time soon!) The logic behind it is somewhat counterintuitive when you have a little person to look after who is completely helpless and reliant on you; why would you deliberately take time away from them to selfishly do something for yourself? Because without that time to reset, regroup and reinject yourself with the energy that you need to meet the demands of that all-consuming role, you won’t be able to fulfil it long-term. By investing little pockets of time into your own wellbeing you’re going to boost the positive impact that your presence has on your little one too.
So what constitutes self-care if not a day of pampering in a five star resort? Think “back to basics”. The things that you probably took for granted pre-baby are what’s going to make you feel invigorated and energised now. An uninterrupted shower. A hot cup of coffee. A walk in fresh air. Getting dressed. Meeting somebody outside of the house. Don’t underestimate the power of these little things to boost your headspace. Count the small wins and appreciate those brief moments of flipping the focus back to you and your needs. They are the things that ensure you’re not pouring from an empty cup.
In these uncertain times of Covid, the levels of support available to new mums are fluctuating on a weekly basis, dependent on lockdowns and social distancing measures. While we cannot control these things, we are lucky to be able to take advantage of the ever-growing range of online groups and classes to create our own tribe of mums who are all in the same boat, experiencing the same joys and worries, milestones and hurdles. And regardless of whether this is your first or your fifth baby, that feeling of support and connection with other mums is one of the most helpful things to establish in the early months of baby’s life.
Sign up to the online version of that baby massage class that you would have liked to attend in person. Reach out to friends of friends who perhaps you didn’t know too well before this, but are also on this journey.
Share stories, swap tips, and reassure one another through what can be the most daunting but equally rewarding of journeys.
The fourth trimester is the time during which baby develops new skills and neural pathways.
As a mum, you’re spending this time essentially doing the same thing; developing new skills and neural pathways to be the best mother that you can be.
Your identity shifts unequivocally in those 12 weeks, so give yourself the gift of patience and time, create connections, look after yourself and accept the offers of others who want to look after you too.
By investing little pockets of time into your own wellbeing, you’re going to boost the positive impact that your presence has on your little one too.
Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through her company InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally