The Truth About The 4th Trimester

What is the fourth trimester anyway? No, it’s not an extra three months of pregnancy (praise be). The fourth trimester is defined as the 12-week period after the birth of your baby, and is definitely more taxing on your body and mind than pregnancy itself. It’s a time when you are adjusting to being a first-time (or second-, or third-time) mom and your baby is adjusting to the fact that they are an actual person. There isn’t much talk about how difficult this trimester is on new moms, probably because the new baby is way more interesting to people than the woman sitting on ice packs and walking sideways.

There Will Be Oh So Many Tears

Tears from the baby, tears from mom, probably even tears from dad. Remember those hormones that made you cry at every dog commercial during pregnancy? Those are now being flushed out of your body at an alarming rate, making you somehow even more emotional than you were during pregnancy. Even if you aren’t really a touchy-feely person, prepare yourself for some big emotions as your body tries to regulate itself. 70-80% of moms experience these postpartum blues, including you non-sensitive types. Not to mention, sleep deprivation will make anyone want to cry. 

There’s A Weird Combination Of No Sleep And Lots Of Sleep

When I say lots of sleep, I mean your newborn. Newborns average around 16 to 17 hours of sleep a day. So why do you hear that new parents are sleep deprived when the baby is only awake for 8 hours max a day? Probably because your baby uses torture tactics like waking up every hour to eat, and you’ll be too paranoid to sleep anyway. Most have day/night confusion as well, which basically means they’re ready to party at midnight. Fortunately, with lots of light during the minimal amount of time they’re awake during the day, this issue should resolve itself over time. While your baby is snoozing away endlessly during the day, watch all the Netflix (unless you’re napping) and don’t feel guilty about it. Your baby has no clue and the mental escape is needed.

There Is No Sense Of Routine And No Rules

There are zero rules or routine in the 4th trimester, which may make your head spin if you’re a control freak. It’s sort of like the airport, where you can get a sh*tty glass of red wine at 9am for $25 and not be judged. Similarly, in the 4th trimester (partially due to the ’round-the-clock sleeping/not sleeping), do whatever you want and don’t you dare clean. Snacks that require cutting? Forget about it. Even reheating all those homemade freezer meals you ambitiously made while 39 weeks pregnant may feel like a stretch. Let yourself be lazy AF.

Recovery Takes A Long Time

Your day or two hospital stay is not a good indicator of how long you’ll actually be recovering from the birth for. You’ll probably be hobbling out the hospital doors at one mile per hour with an adult diaper on (friendly reminder to wear the baggiest sweatpants you own). You’ll likely be bleeding for a month or two, and taking some form of painkillers around the clock for weeks. For some reason, another thing that people don’t talk about enough is the fact that you’ll experience contractions after giving birth. Yep, you heard that right. Your uterus is trying to shrink itself from two pounds to two ounces, and does so by pretending like you’re in labor again for a couple of days after birth. Usually they’re not nearly as bad as regular contractions, but they may take you by surprise.

The bottom line is that it’s important to take care of yourself during the 4th trimester as well. It’s not selfish, it’s necessary.

Breastfeeding May Be Natural, But It Definitely Isn’t Always Easy

Did you ever go to a breastfeeding class offered by your hospital while pregnant? If so, you may have seen a video of a day-old newborn baby naturally finding its mom’s breast and learning how to feed on its own. The reality will look more like two nurses and your partner squishing your boob just right while simultaneously opening your baby’s mouth and slamming it into you. Yet even with all that effort, your nipples still bleed.

A mom’s milk supply takes a couple days to come in as well, so new moms get to worry if their baby is starving every time they cry until the next check-up. When it does come in, you may produce so much that you give yourself mastitis, or you may not produce enough. Sometimes it gets better (usually by the end of the 4th trimester), and sometimes it doesn’t (formula is totally cool too). If you are agonizing over the decision, remember that you have no clue which of your coworkers were formula fed vs. breastfed and it would be really weird if you did.

Feeling Isolated and Totally Overwhelmed is Normal

Some moms hate the newborn stage, or at best are totally overwhelmed for weeks and feel guilty AF for it. So if you know someone in the 4th trimester, can we make a pact to ask about how mom is doing first? And maybe bring a meal or clean the house while you’re at it? That would be great. 

If you are in the thick of it, remember it’s a stage that will pass. You will eventually form a bond that is absolutely unlike anything you’ve experienced, like a weird “I’d kill for you” type of bond. On the other hand, if you love the newborn stage, don’t feel any shame in taking in those newborn snuggles and not sharing your babe with anyone else. 

Don’t feel any obligation to anyone or anything besides you and your baby during this time. Fortunately, your body and mind have a funny way of blocking it all out so you probably won’t remember much of the hazing anyway. It does get better, and seemingly out of nowhere they’ll turn into this funny, smart toddler that you couldn’t picture life without. 

Images: PorporLing/Shutterstock

Ways To Keep Your Kid Engaged With Stuff You Have Around The House

When my friends started to get pregnant, even before being a mom myself, they’d ask me endless questions of what to buy or do. I noticed how scared they all were because they had no idea what to do with a human baby. I thought that with all my experience working in early childhood, I had something to offer: I wanted to empower moms to become their own experts. Having a background in psychology and education, I thought I could refine motherhood in a way that allowed moms to breathe and be confident that less is truly more. I could encourage children’s natural abilities through meaningful play right from the start in a way that wasn’t overwhelming.

That was all well and good, but even with my background, the truth was, I had no idea just how hard motherhood would be—that playing with your infant would be the last thing on your mind amidst healing, recovering, hormonal moods, breastfeeding, and well, just surviving. Two months into launching my blog, I gave birth and figured out that even with my experience, this motherhood thing—well, it’s hard AF and lonely. Moms need each other. So at eight weeks postpartum, I wrangled some new moms together, we dragged ourselves to meet, and I pretended I knew what I was doing by leading a moms group. Really, I just wanted to hang out with moms so I could feel more sane! Moms came to me for guidance on what to do with babies and I kept going, thriving off this community of moms supporting moms. Eventually, it turned into a physical space called Union Square Play. USP is not only a place for moms; it’s a space where young children come to feel a sense of “home away from home.” 

Something that is very apparent both at USP (where we have now moved our entire brand online through moms groups, an app, and play materials) and on my blog is the importance of play in a child’s life. Children are born with a deep desire to explore and learn, and they do so by playing. When choosing the right toys, it comes down to providing opportunities for children to be engaged rather than entertained. I always say that busy toys = passive babies. Do we want them to sit and watch when they play or immerse themselves in learning and fun? I also think it’s important that the things children play with have no right or wrong use for them. That way, when toys can be anything, children can feel confident using them in ways that they come up with. 

Here are my favorite play recommendations by age:

Babies On Their Back

By far the best first toy is a cloth bandana. Seems pretty lame, I know, but trust me on this one. The reason it’s so great for the youngest babies is that a baby who hasn’t discovered their hands yet can accidentally brush against this, maybe grab it, even before intentionally grasping it. 

You can put it in a “peak” so that a baby on her back can see it by just turning her head. Through these types of head movements, gross motor development is encouraged because you’ll see your baby begin to notice what’s next to them and then begin to reach across their bodies and stretch. A bandana or cloth can also be strung through some play objects to prevent frustrating toys from rolling away from an immobile baby and also to allow them to bring a toy to them more easily by grabbing the bandana.

For Babies On The Move

 

RAID THE KITCHEN. (No, I don’t mean to satisfy our endless snacking cravings while working from home.) Your kitchen is FULL of ways to engage your kids. Trust me. One of the ones I found to be the most intriguing was this random cheese board. The reason I got this was because I actually needed a place for cheese with all the wine I was drinking in quarantine. Then one day I put it on the ground to set up some toys on it and noticed that it was light enough for Nell to move around and that she loved peeking under it too. She now even pushes it around as a walker! What’s so cool is that nothing else in their toy box looks like this or serves the same purpose. 

Another great thing for babies who are sitting up is to make a Shaker Station to get the party started through noise-making. I used empty Altoids boxes and put in metal beaded chains for my daughters to shake. You can also use old spice jars or find metal utensils from your kitchen to get the beat going. I specifically love metal cupcake trays and metal condiment cups for music making too: Your baby will love knocking over the metal cups, watching them roll, and clanging them into an orchestra of sounds. A note: You may want to avoid any Zoom calls during this type of play because it can get noisy real quick.  

Toddlers: Keys and Planters

Toddlers love seeing what “fits.” This experimenting is part of a schema for behavior called enveloping—you may see your toddler trying to fit themselves into every crevice possible. My daughter tried to fit into a shot glass, I kid you not. So by giving them an “invitation” to explore this behavioral urge, they’re not only exerting this urge, but they’re also learning about the properties of objects. (This is evident when you put out “suggested” activities like I did above by presenting the slitted planter and never-been-used keys—but a shoebox with cut slits and metal spoons from your kitchen can serve the same purpose).

3+: Post-Its and Washi Tape

Your kids will love getting into a sticky situation with these play materials. Post-its are awesome, not just because they can be used by moms to stick motivational mantras on their bathroom mirror, but also because toddlers can stick them anywhere and have a blast taking them off of surfaces too. You can use washi tape for the same purpose while also making paths on the floor to jump, tiptoe, hopscotch, ride toy cars on, or simply to box yourself into a corner of your home and declare it your “office space”. This tape (or painters tape, if you need a substitute) is the definition of multi-purposeful. 

Beyond 3: Color Tablets

Use these tablets to amp up bath time by changing the bathwater different colors. My kids love dropping them into the bath and mixing the water with giant ladles. They make colored soup in the bath and love it. It’s non-toxic and does not dye the skin. You can also have your children play with color mixing by filling different glass cups or water bottles with water and having them drop tablets to see what color combinations make what colors. 

I could literally write pages upon pages of different ideas by age, but my goal is to empower you to look around your home at what you already have and think creatively and resourcefully. I even model this for my 3-year-old. When I sense that she’s feeling bored (or just asking incessantly for snacks) I’ll say, “hmmmmm what do you think we can play with in this cabinet?” And we’ll pluck things from the kitchen and make up ways to use them. The other day, I kid you not, she made up her own version of beer pong with those metal condiment cups, and I could not have been more proud.

 

This is how we raise the future thinkers and innovators: we think and innovate.

Images: @sigmund / Unsplash; Jennie Monness (4); Michelle Rose Photo

Everything I Wish I’d Known About Breastfeeding Before My Daughter was Born

Like most pregnant women, I was peppered with questions for nine long months. Would I breastfeed? How did I feel about natural birth? Would I consider co-sleeping? Would I do the “cry it out” method of sleep training? Was I planning to start giving her solid food at four months, or would I wait until six?

My answer to all of the above was “I don’t know,” and looking back, I think not putting too much planning into what that first year would look like was a good move for me from a mental health perspective. I didn’t know how I would feel, and I didn’t want to plan for something only to have it not work out and feel like I’d messed something up. 

So I went into breastfeeding with the mentality that if it was natural for both of us, we’d do it. If it wasn’t, I was open to formula. I was lucky: My daughter Emma latched on easily, and my milk came in within a few days. Breastfeeding was a breeze!

… Except it wasn’t. I won’t get into too many details, but it was painful. Every time Emma latched on, I would wince in pain. You’re supposed to feed the baby every two to three hours in those early weeks, which meant I was in a constant state of dread. I started pumping so I didn’t have to feed her as much, and I cried a lot. 

It all worked out: My daughter is now a year old, and we’re still at it. But I wish I’d had a little more guidance around breastfeeding in those early days, so here’s a guide to help make your breastfeeding journey just a tad easier than mine was. 

Have The Phone Number Of A Lactation Consultant Before Your Baby Is Born

If you plan to make breastfeeding a game-time decision like I did, have the number of a lactation consultant should you need it. I did a virtual visit that was covered by my insurance (and these were in pre-COVID times!) and it made a world of difference.

In just 45 minutes, the lactation consultant informed me that Emma had a shallow latch, which was what was causing all the pain, and gave me advice for teaching her how to open her mouth wider. She showed me how to position her so my shoulders and back didn’t ache, and gave me advice on how long to feed her each time to ensure she was getting enough milk. I cannot recommend this more. 

Stock Up On Gear

 

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I literally fantasize about what I would do now if someone were to say SHIT about me breastfeeding 😍 Maybe I make a scene? Maybe I unleash a biblical hellfire verbal assault? There’s no many options! Would I stand up, never disrupting my little angel’s meal, and approach them? I only need one arm to nurse and if I have my sling on? Shittttt both arms are free to square up. You’re telling me you wouldn’t back down if a mom went from lovingly feeding her baby in her arms to tightening her sling so she could bitch slap you TWICE without ever unlatching?! Ain’t no way. So I patiently await the day I witness a nursing mother getting slack. I will do that weird anime floating pose shit and fly on over with the light of a thousand suns. HADOU-CUNT ☄️

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Although it has a ridiculous name, the My Brest Friend pillow acted as the perfect little shelf for Emma when she was tiny and helped get her in the right position. I was even able to prop my laptop on there and get a little work done in those early days when she tended to fall asleep while breastfeeding!

While this was by far the most helpful product for me, Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC, and Lactation Director, Motif Medical recommends a few others as well. 

“Cotton, reusable breast pads are always on my list,” she says. “These are great to include as gifts for baby showers, as moms sometimes leak colostrum before the birth, and will almost always leak afterward. The second must-have for any lactating mom would be a good nipple balm. Something that melts nicely into the skin to protect the skin barrier from frequent pumping and nursing sessions, but also with an antifungal property to protect from inflammation and thrush.”

And while you’ll probably have an electric pump covered by your insurance, Georgakopoulos recommends a hand pump as well. “Hand pumps are a smart investment. They can help relieve clogs, and fit into the diaper bag or purse in case an unexpected expression is needed.”

I personally loved the Haakaa hand pump, which is great for catching extra milk. 

Breastfeeding Might Be Uncomfortable, But It Shouldn’t Be Mind-Numbingly Painful.

While wincing in pain every time your baby latches on doesn’t mean you won’t figure it out eventually, it isn’t normal. “Pain, as in wincing and visible damage happening-type pain, is not something that just goes away or improves without help,” says Georgakopoulos. “Lactation professionals, preferably an IBCLC credential, will be crucial in navigating that, along with helping achieve optimal comfort with positioning. Rocks in the shoe happen. What’s not normal is leaving the rock in the shoe.”

Your Baby Will Need To Breastfeed A Lot. I Mean, A lot.

 

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You mean nursing doesn’t come with a manual?

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Feeding the baby every two or three hours doesn’t sound too bad, and it isn’t—but the reality is that they often need to eat even more than that at the very beginning. My daughter would go through growth spurts where all she wanted to do was nurse, and I had to just go with the flow. 

“When we hear or read things like, ‘infants feed every 2-3 hours,’ we tend to want to schedule things out to that, not realizing that it’s an average, and certainly doesn’t account for cluster feedings that normally occur,” Georgakopoulos says.

The most important thing to keep in mind on your breastfeeding journey? It will all be okay. I’ll never forget the most helpful thing my lactation consultant said when I met with her, and it had nothing to do with breastfeeding positioning or latching advice: “A year from now, you’ll be celebrating her first birthday and this will all just be a distant memory.”

She was right. And as hard as breastfeeding was at the beginning, I’m so glad I stuck with it—because it ended up being just fine.

Images: Dave Clubb / Unsplash; betchesmoms, nottheworstmom / Instagram