You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.
The Fourth Trimester: Dealing with Postpartum Feelings
Some people—accurately—call the first several months of motherhood the “fourth trimester.” The reason that’s such an apt description of this tumultuous time is that you’re still stewing in a hormonal brew; you’re exhausted and possibly overwhelmed; and your body is still not even close to yours again. Here are common postpartum feelings, so you know you aren’t alone:
Exhaustion: Okay, being more tired than you ever thought possible before isn’t exactly an emotion, but the kind of bone-weariness common to new motherhood triggers other feelings. It’s hard to cope with the emotional and physical demands babycare when your mind and body are screaming for rest. In this fourth trimester, the most important thing you can do, not just for your own wellbeing but for your baby’s sake, is to prioritize sleep as best you can. If that means handing the baby off to your partner, mother, or friend, do it. Sleep whenever you can; all other pulls on your time and attention can wait.
Anxiety: Wait, what? You’re just sending us home with this baby by ourselves? If that’s what you thought when the hospital staff wheeled you and your newborn to the door and waved goodbye, you’re hardly alone. You have so many questions! Can I swaddle the way that awesome nurse did? What if the baby won’t latch on without that wonderful lactation consultant by my side? What if I don’t fall in love with my child? If you’re experiencing anxiety, it helps to know that no one is a baby expert right out of the gate, and that bonding is a process, not a lightning bolt. And even fragile looking newborns are far heartier than they look.
Confusion: You may feel an internal struggle between your emerging identity as “someone’s mother” and the person you were before. Even though intellectually you’re well aware that you’re not going out for cocktails with your girlfriends quite yet (instead, you’re a baby cocktail bar yourself!), don’t be dismayed if you stare at your baby in certain moments and wish she would just sort of disappear so you could sleep late, putter around your house, read a book, see a movie, or enjoy a leisurely dinner, a shower, a conversation… anything. Don’t hold these feelings in; talk to your partner or a sympathetic friend.
Joy: It’s true! You will feel pure bliss bubbling up in these early weeks, no matter how grueling the rest of the time might be. Sure, those happy interludes will probably take place when the little one is (finally) peacefully asleep, and you can stare at his sweetly composed face with understandable awe. But even more amazing will be the times – and we swear, they’re coming – that your baby looks into your eyes, smiles, coos, laughs, and the joyful moments will happen more often and stretch out for longer.
Doubt: Did I do the right thing by offering the baby I swore I’d exclusively breastfeed a few ounces of formula, so I could sleep while my husband fed her? Was the woman at the grocery store right and I should have put a hat on him (or, you know, not put a hat on him)? Should I have started saving for college when my baby was still an embryo? And heck, should we have done this whole procreating thing at all? Doubt and second-guessing are part of the landscape now, as you’re finding your parenting feet. To counter the worst of it, remind yourself that you, like every mother in the history of time, are doing the very best you can.
Sadness: This one is tricky, and can be serious. Sadness in the immediate postpartum period is very common, and part of its cause is hormonal. All those pregnancy hormones plummet after you give birth, throwing you into a muddle of chemical confusion for a few days or even weeks. Then there’s the sleep deprivation, which heightens and intensifies all emotions, particularly negative ones. This is what you’ve heard called the “baby blues,” and for most women this emotional jumble of zig-zagging between joy and tears gradually dissipates. But please take note: If your sadness overtakes you, if it lasts longer than six weeks or includes any of the following symptoms, please talk to your doctor right away:
Postpartum depression is not in your head, and it can be treated. For more information, Postpartum Support International.
Conduct a search of “ways to prepare for baby,” and it’s hardly a surprise that most info out there is aimed at moms-to-be. The reasons are as obvious as, well, a big, pregnant belly. But as Father’s Day just came and went on June 17, let’s spare a thought for how dads-to-be can get in fighting shape for the earthquake-level shift from regular dude to committed dad.
So here you go, soon-to-be fathers: Here's our top eight things to think about, talk about, and do before your baby comes:
1. Spend time alone with your partner. You probably already know that couple's time is going to shift pretty far down the list once the baby is here. Instead of bemoaning that fact, take advantage of the time you have now—not in a sad or wistful way, but deliberately. Be intentional about “storing up” some fun and romantic memories that you can savor later. Be romantic. What you do (go to the fanciest restaurant in town, binge-watch a TV series, take long walks) is less important than that you make the dedicated time to share.
2. Hash out “who’ll do what” details. The thought here is to sidestep some typical resentments that can crop up between new parents by discussing those details beforehand, without making assumptions. Discuss whether your partner is planning to nurse exclusively or if you’ll be handling some bottle feedings. Agree on a “baby visitor” policy, so you’re not caught seething when you anticipated just-you-three when she’s readying the guest room for her mom. Talk about sleep (will you co-sleep with the baby? Are you sharing night soothing duties?), sex (yeah, no, not for a while at least, but you should still talk about it), housework, cooking, and all that good stuff.
3. Read some parenting books. Catch up not just on books about fatherhood, though those can be a good bet. Browse the parenting shelf at the library or bookstore, and ask other dads for titles of the most enlightening or helpful books they read. Check out anything that makes you feel more competent and confident and less alone.
4. Handle some practical tasks. Get busy and cook as many freezable meals as time allows. Deep-clean your home. Grab that baby-stuff list and go shopping, making sure (if a baby shower didn’t cover it) that you have enough supplies for the early weeks, such as small-size diapers, wipes, and enough onesies and crib sheets and burp clothes that you won’t need to do laundry every day. Be sure your bills are up to date, and set up auto-withdrawals for regular expenses if you haven’t already. If you’re taking time off from work—and we hope you are—get things in order there, preparing lists and instructions for whoever’s filling in for you. Oh, and put together all the baby furniture now, while you're still able to get some sleep at night.
5. Talk to other dads. Think about the fathers you’re closest to. Whether that’s your own dad or brother or best friend, find one or two new or veteran dads you can count on to be really honest. Avoid the guys who’ll tell you it’s all horrible (no one needs negativity right now); you want a straight-up picture of the things you can expect to see, do, experience, and feel.
6. Go to parenting and childbirth classes. If you were thinking for even a second that you didn’t need to attend these classes with your significant other, you were thinking wrong! Even if childbirth doesn’t go the way you prefer or imagine (or have seen in every sitcom ever), the various options and outcomes will be covered in a good childbirth class. Ask questions. Make lists. If your hospital or another outlet, such as a library or community center, offers parenting classes, sign up. Trust us, you can use all the how-to's and what-to-expect's you can get.
7. Learn some new skills. Never held/changed/fed a newborn before? So you feel less all-thumbs, ask people you know—the coworker who just had a baby, the neighbor with the twins—if they’ll show you some basic skills: how to swaddle soothe a baby, how to heat up a bottle, how to fold and unfold your new stroller. Another good tip: Contact your hospital or local fire department and ask about the correct way to install an infant car seat in your car.
8. Get ready to fall in love. Bonding isn’t always instant, but it does happen. If you’re worried you won’t go head over heels, stop. You will. See you next Father’s Day!
Before you had children, your Mother’s Day wishes to your own mom (or mother figure) might have run more toward the generic: heartfelt, but perhaps a little one-size-fits-all: “Thanks for all you do for me…”
But now you’re a mother, and the picture has changed. If you’re a fairly new parent, you might be going into this holiday with your eyes just a bit more open when it comes to your mother. Raise your hand if, at various points during your motherhood journey so far, an image of your mom dealing with the same issues and annoyances popped to mind and you thought: How on earth did she do all that?! I can barely hold it together!
She probably hoped you’d one day walk in her shoes. Well, that day has come. This Mother’s Day, we asked some moms what they have found they appreciate more about their mom now that they themselves are mothers, and pulled together their best mom-appreciations:
1. She fed you, every day. Over and over. And over. As soon as one meal is cleared away, another looms, and the week stretches ahead, filled with as-yet- unplanned meals. If you’ve already made the seemingly obvious but somehow still startling realization that these kids need to be fed every day (really?!), then you know what we mean. The realization garners respect for the woman (even if it wasn’t always her cooking and she didn’t always cook from scratch) who made sure there was food on the table.
2. She listened, or faked it pretty well when she had to. She tried her best to answer every question, from where do birds go at night to why doesn’t he like me? Try to think about that the 456th time your toddler pipes up with a “but whyyyyy?”
3. She shopped, sometimes a lot. And mostly before the Internet! If you needed new shoes or gym clothes or a birthday gift for your best friend, what did she do? She put aside work and other tasks to go shopping—at stores. There was no Amazon she could use to stock up on diapers and wipes with a few lunch-hour clicks.
4. She tolerated your phases. Your mom went along with the time you wore your Halloween princess costume for three solid weeks at age 6. She gritted her teeth and let you paint your room (or, okay, just the one wall) deep purple when you were 15. She nodded and sighed through your vegan phase at 17, even if she did—because she’s really quite savvy—tell you it was up to you to shop for and cook your own meals.
5. She taught you things. Some moms shared their knitting skills or how to debone a chicken. Others were the driving instructor, or the one who taught you how to put together IKEA furniture, weed a garden, score a great bargain, or balance a checkbook. Even if she never sat you down to teach you specific things, you learned. Think about it.
6. She laid down the law. Not every mother’s set of rules and regulations was the same (and you may remember that your friends had far fewer rules to follow than poor little you), but chances are she made clear that there were some lines you were not supposed to cross. Knowing that now, as you’re navigating your own discipline principles and rule-setting scenarios, you have to appreciate how tough it must have been to look at your adorably pouty face and say, no, it actually is time for bed.
7. She pushed you harder than anyone else would dare to, or care to. It’s a rare mom whowants her children to reach three-quarters of their potential. The same way you want to see your sons and daughters succeed and live a fulfilling life—however that may be defined—that’s what she wanted for you. If she shoved you a little harder than most? It may be better to reframe what at the time felt like nagging into an extra-fierce dose of love. She believed in you!
8. She was herself. Think about this the next time you feel stressed and guilty about working—or the opposite, when you feel you’re maybe not the best role model for staying home: Are you doing the best you can to be the best possible parent to your children? Chances are excellent she was doing the same and trying, in whatever way she knew how, coming from her own unique background and in her own spot in history, to be your mom but still be herself. Your mom may not always have given you what you wanted at the time, but she likely brought plenty to the table (besides dinner!): a goofy sense of humor, storytelling chops, an uncanny ability to find the missing soccer cleat five minutes before the game, her memory for reciting Shakespeare sonnets or baseball stats, the way she knew when you needed to talk, or preferred to remain silent. She brought herself.
What do you appreciate most about your mom?