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.
We love our kids with a fierce passion, but let’s be brutally honest. Kids do the dumbest sh*t, throw tantrums over nothing, and can be generally difficult to live with sometimes. Do you feel like you are ALWAYS saying things like no, stop, and please don’t put the keys in the toilet? Especially these days, when the only people you get to hang out with are your kids and significant other, and it’s easy to start fantasizing about starting a new life alone on a beach somewhere.
Let’s start by reiterating that we all lose our sh*t sometimes with our kids, and that sometimes is definitely more frequent during a global pandemic. If that perfect chick from high school constantly posts pictures of her smiling family of four with captions like “live laugh love,” just remember she probably didn’t get to poop alone today and definitely counts down the minutes to bedtime. Kids make you lose your mind, and that doesn’t make you a bad parent—but you don’t want to get into the habit of always saying no and killing all the fun.
Now that we’ve reiterated that we are all superstars regardless of how our kids act sometimes, let’s get to some actionable steps to try to be a little less of a buzzkill when kids do their best to ruin the vibe daily.
Options Are King
Kids love feeling like they are real people that make very important decisions, even though they literally have no clue which is their right hand or how to count to 15, and definitely won’t contribute to society for a solid 20 years. Instead of telling them they need to brush their teeth, ask if they would rather brush their teeth or put their clothes on first. The choice makes them feel in control, when in reality you’re just taking the opportunity for them to say no away.
Redirect Before It Turns Into a Tantrum
Does your kid seem to lose it every time the TV gets turned off? Redirect to the next activity before they can work themselves up too much. Bring out their favorite activity and ask them to do something creative (“what do you want to build with the Legos today?”). It may work 90% of the time or 20% of the time depending on how stubborn they are. Either way, one less tantrum in a day is a win in my book.
Validate Their Feelings
Tantrums are going to happen, it’s a normal part of development. Kids just don’t understand how to cope with all those big emotions. The past year has been hard on everyone, can you imagine not knowing how to express how you are feeling properly? When your kid flat-out falls on the floor in agony about their pancake being too hot, try to react as calmly as you can. Let them have their moment, because nothing you say or do during the tantrum is going to get through to them. Get on their level and validate their feelings (“I understand you’re frustrated and it’s okay to feel that way, I’m here for you”). By doing this, you’re letting them know that they can feel safe to express themselves around you and that you love them no matter what. This may happen over and over for what feels like forever, but it’s getting through to them and they’ll learn how to communicate with you someday.
Don’t Give In
It’s tempting (especially in a public place) to give in to tantrums to mitigate the sheer embarrassment that your kid is a nutcase. During these times, remember that most people understand that kids in general are a handful and that it has nothing to do with your parenting. And the others can kindly f*ck off because they either don’t have kids or it’s been an eternity since they have. So please ignore the old man that grumbles at you on the plane and the lady who offers unsolicited advice in the cereal aisle. Giving in to tantrums won’t teach your kids how to properly manage their emotions, and may unfortunately make the next outburst worse.
Remember that you’re still a great mom, even when you say no, yell, and tantrums happen on the daily. It’s a stage that will pass, and you simply showing up every day is proving to them that they can feel safe with you and are loved, which is all a kid really needs. And let’s be honest, as soon as they hit their preteen years, you’ll be a total buzzkill no matter what, so embrace it.
Images: Alvaro Reyes / Unsplash; Giphy