Ah, friends, this is such a bittersweet post to write! We have well and truly emerged from the ‘fourth trimester’; those sweet first hazy months of out-of-womb but not-quite-fully-in-the-world sweetness…and I can’t believe what a marked difference there already is in our wee 6 month-old chap who is more independent, curious and hilarious by the day.
As those first three months merge into a bubble of constant cuddles, cluster feeding, middle-of-the-night changes, tiny hands and first smiles, here are ten thoughts on the fourth trimester.
1. YOU are what your baby needs.
Forget the shiny equipment, complex manuals and detailed play accessories. All your baby needs is warmth, food, and comfort. Your baby needs YOU. That is a HUGE responsibility but it is also a tremendous joy.
2. You are the expert.
People mean well, but ultimately I really do believe that only you have the answers. Midwives, books, friends and family will all have helpful advice and anecdotes, but at the end of the day, listen to your instinct: you know your baby best (turns out carrying him for 9 months means you’re pretty tuned in to each other!)
3. Cocoon cocoon cocoon.
Particularly in the first 6 weeks, hem yourself in and enjoy getting to know your little one and finding your groove. Stay in your pyjamas or stay in bed if you want to. Coo and cuddle and do little else. You don’t need to see ALL of your friends and family in the first month. (We only saw immediate family for the first 4 weeks, I think. A note on that – adrenaline keeps you going the first while but it is completely normal to crash and feel more tired around week 3. Remember it gets better). You don’t get these precious moments back. Guard them selfishly. And prioritise healing and rest. This piece on Pulling up the Drawbridge is so good.
4. Hold your baby.
I’m so excited that Baby B has now learned to lift himself up and roll and is so interested in the world he sometimes forgets me, but I have to say I already miss those days of constant cuddles. Not only is holding your baby a great hormone-booster for both of you (and helps with feeding if you’re nursing them!), it is demonstrably SO good for your baby’s development. And you will NEVER regret it. Cuddle them as much as you can. Let them sleep on you. Buy a sling and keep them close. There’s no such thing as spoiling a baby. You will not regret it. (And don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to people who ask to hold your baby if you’re not ready/comfortable yet. There is plenty of time for that and you have a precious bond to build.)
5. Let go of expectations.
Expectations, I find, are the enemies of peace and joy. Let them go. Has your baby not slept through the night yet? Did you not make it out for dinner during their first week? Has your body not ‘bounced back’? Have you yet to master that Earth Mama feeding-in-a-sling stance? Is your house a mess? Did you have cereal for lunch? Let it go. You, and your baby, are doing what is right for you right now.
6. Sleep is developmental.
I closely studied a few books on sleep and sleep schedules before Baby B was born. BAHAHAHAHA. I am going to burn them shortly. Your baby will sleep when they are ready to sleep. There is very little you can do, other than setting up the right environment and opportunities like a calming bedtime routine and an appropriately comfy cot. Sleep will come. We have found the Wonder Weeks developmental research to be so helpful in understanding what stage Baby B is at and just how mental development works. And remember, babies are not designed to sleep through the night. When they wake, they need you. That’s normal. And lovely when you think about it. Each time you respond you teach them that they can trust you despite how dark, unknown or scary the world may seem. But also, sleep deprivation is SO. HARD. Cut yourself some slack, and…
7. Forget the housework.
The cleaning will wait. The dishes won’t do themselves but really, that’s ok. Let the washing pile up. Soon, you’ll have more energy and time and you’ll get things in order. Til then, downtime is for REST, and waketime is for getting to know your little one. Enjoy it. (And for when you really need to get things done, bring baby with you in a sling or bouncer. Batch-cook, tackle one task at a time, celebrate the little things you can do.)
8. Accept help.
While you should forget the housework, there are others who will happily help out – our mums kept us stocked up on nutritious meals for over a month, dads moved car loads when we, at 4 weeks post-partum, moved house, sisters unpacked boxes, friends did dishes. If someone offers help, take it.
9. Keep your camera close.
You definitely have made the cutest baby in the world. There is no doubt about it. (Although my dad recently told me he remembers thinking I was a beautiful baby and then questioning himself when looking back at photos. Hah!) Capture every little expression and mannerism. Take a video the day Baby rolls over for the first time. Make sure you and special friends/family are in the pictures. Capture sounds. You’ll want to remember it all. Videos and photos we have of Baby B are already treasures we’ll keep forever (and I already watch them back when he is asleep 🙈).
10. Laugh a lot.
If you’re like me, you will feel a wide range of emotions way more strongly than you did before – a combination of lack of sleep + big life moments + hormones readjusting will do that to you! This is great when you’re happy, but the hard moments are hard. Really hard. When you can, I’ve found it help to laugh. Sometimes, you just have to appreciate the absurdity of fretting so much about someone else’s bowel movements. Or after a sleepless night, read over your texts to your partner (“were you gonna Swiss sidle?” is one of my best.) Or enjoy the fact that you asked him to bring you socks because your feet were cold, but he produced your son’s ‘I ❤️ DAD’ booties instead. (Please get help if things seem unmanageable or you feel hopeless.)
So enjoy this time – it is wonderful and you won’t get it back. But as you do, remember to cut yourself some slack: it’s flipping hard work. But guess what? You’re doing it. You’re amazing. And it gets easier (while all the best bits get even better!)
PS: Mamas, the fourth trimester is for you, too – whatever kind of delivery you had, your body needs time to heal and recover. You and your partner also need this time to adjust to a whole new human in your life. Practice self-compassion and work together to find space in which to pause and breathe (even 15 minutes is great!) This is a major moment in your life, too.