Finding joy in the fourth trimester: resting and recuperating
Lucianne Hughes, (@TheSunshine_Doula) is a postpartum doula, a wife and a mum to two girls. Here she gives helpful tips on how to to find joy in the fourth trimester
Your body has grown and carried a baby for nine (give or take), long months. It has created a tiny little human. Whether you gave birth vaginally or by Cesarean section, you have basically trained for and completed a marathon. Your baby is here, you have him/her in your arms.
Understanding the “Fourth Trimester”, the first 12 weeks after your baby is born, makes the transition into parenthood so much easier. The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the Mother by Heng Ou is a must-read. Contrary to the common assumption (in Western society) that mothers should ‘bounce back’ straight after their baby is born, this book explains how the Fourth Trimester is a period of rest and recovery. It’s like an extension of our pregnancy – a time when the baby is fully dependent on us and we need to mind ourselves and our bodies.
I want to share some of my learnings from my own postpartum experiences along with some tips to help you make the most out of your Fourth Trimester.
However you are feeding your baby, support and guidance are key. If you have a hospital birth, ask the midwives to help you with bottle or breastfeeding your baby, ask them to check your baby for tongue-tie. If breastfeeding, you can ask if there is a lactation consultant or a midwife that could support you before you leave the hospital. A good start can make all the difference.
If you wish to breastfeed your baby, read and learn about breastfeeding before the baby arrives without overloading yourself with too much information. There are lots of incredible breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants on social media: Nicola O’Byrne @nicola_lactationconsultant, Katie Mugan @nursingmama.ie and many more who all offer so much information on their pages, along with antenatal breastfeeding workshops and breastfeeding support.
However you are feeding your baby, support and guidance are key
The first few days after your baby arrives can be intense and there’s a steep learning curve as you, your partner and your baby learn about each other. Having lots of visitors into your bubble during this time can add unnecessary stress so unless people are coming to provide practical help, my advice is to take it really slow.
I spoke to Rebecca McGrath, midwife and lactation consultant in NMH Holles street who says “The positive side of this virus is that the postnatal wards are calmer and quieter, babies are more settled and mums are getting more time to rest and bond with their babies. In our antenatal clinic, it’s lovely to witness women chatting and supporting each other more than ever. I often hear positive support being shared amongst them and friendships beginning, which is wonderful since meeting new mums is particularly difficult in these challenging times. Our Digital Learning Group has put together a fantastic free educational resource for pregnancy and beyond www.nmh.ie/elearning, which is proving to be very helpful especially for first-time Mums.”
Take these first 12 weeks to rest and recuperate as much as you can, your body needs time to heal. If you are breastfeeding, your body is using more energy and resources to produce milk for your baby. I remember my husband saying my only job was to feed the baby and sleep when she was sleeping, he would feed me and do everything else. This is a lot easier to accomplish with the first baby, than with second & subsequent babies; the rest period is definitely less, but you can still take it slowly.
Whether you had a vaginal birth, a Cesarean section, no tears or 3rd degree tears, I would highly recommend seeing a women’s health physio to ensure that your pelvic floor and its surroundings are working as they should be. This involves an internal exam which is totally fine (let’s face it, our nether regions have been seen by plenty of birth professionals at this stage!). I went to Elaine Barry @elainebarryphysio after my second baby. I felt so empowered and informed after my appointment, Elaine is a true professional and amazing at what she does.
Take these first 12 weeks to rest and recuperate as much as you can, your body needs time to heal.
Mental Health & Support
Going through pregnancy, birth and having a new baby under normal circumstances can be a really difficult time . With the restrictions currently in place for Covid-19 it is beyond difficult. Having babies was never meant to be like this: it takes a village to raise a child but right now, there is no village. While the usual support groups cannot take place in-person there are many virtual options – coffee mornings, seminars and chat groups. Try to get as much support as possible, talk about how you are feeling to your loved ones & ask for help. Hold onto the silver linings – for many, the restrictions mean that their partner is working from home and may have greater flexibility to provide support during the day
Postpartum doulas are another option; providing emotional, practical and compassionate support with a focus on mental health. We are basically fairy godmothers to mothers and families with newborn babies. We offer non-judgemental support and evidence-based options. We want to support you through the early months so that you and your family can thrive.
Remember: You are good enough
Just like pregnancy, a new baby brings a lot of unsolicited advice and questions from well-meaning friends and family – and strangers! While no harm or insult is intended, to an overtired, ultra-sensitive new parent, that advice and questioning can induce a huge amount of anxiety. When we are at our most vulnerable, this can make us question our greatest tool as a parent, our gut instinct! Always remember that you are the only person who knows what is best for you baby. Believe in yourself and remember that you are good enough, you will always be good enough.