The 4th trimester, those first 3 months of your baby’s life in the big wide world and your first glimpse at motherhood, is something you’re only going to ‘get’ when you’re right in the midst of it.
When the most precious gift, your long-awaited, crazy beautiful, bundle of joy is sleeping sweetly in your arms for the first time and you feel your heart explode with love.
As you drink in the sights and sounds of your very own creation, the rest of the world kinda pales into insignificance.
But like a slow rollercoaster that finally reaches the top of the first big dipper, there’s only so long you can stay up at the top, admiring the view…
That train comes thundering down at some point; the 4th trimester ride is an emotional one. It’s tough and it can be really rough.
It’s a transition period for baby, who quite frankly would have done a lot better staying put a little longer inside you (hence the term “4th trimester”) but also for you.
If you’re in the thick of it you know this and you’re not alone…
I’m not going to tell you to just “enjoy your baby while they’re small”. That’s just a tiny piece of the puzzle when it comes to surviving the 4th trimester.
In all honesty, that particular ‘advice’ I heard often didn’t help me in the slightest.
I’m going to share with you the harsh realities of my 4th trimester and the things that helped me battle through.
I hope it’ll be of some use.
Was this your vision of the 4th trimester?
Lazy days at home, snuggling on the couch with your gurgling, babbling newborn, quick run while baby naps, followed by some shopping and lunch with a friend…
Off you go with a spring in your step, hair and skin golden and glowing, a sparkle in your eye…passers by oooohhh and ahhhh at your super cute baby, in her matching two-part bunny outfit…
Because you see other moms and babies and they make it look easy, right?
And the reality of the 4th trimester…?
After a few hours broken sleep, you’re trying to attack the mountain of laundry, find something to eat other than toast and biscuits, all with baby in one hand…
Who, by the way, has not shown you any recognition, not even the faintest glimmer of a smile and has literally only slept, cried, nursed or fussed since day dot.
The thought of going out is quite frankly ridiculous… But you gotta get more diapers (seriously, where do they all go).
So you pull on some pants out of the dirty laundry, splash your face with water, rinse the spit-up out of the ends of your hair and scrape it into a bun.
You fill your 20kg capacity diaper bag until you can barely carry it (just in case your 10 minute planned outing takes 10 days) and head out.
Baby screams for the entire 3.5 minutes you can bear to be in the shops, people give you that you-clearly-don’t-know-what-you’re-doing look (at least, you think that’s what it is)…
You vow never to go out again, tears streaming down your face…
Yes, this is a pretty accurate description of one of my first 4th trimester outings…
4th TRIMESTER TRUTH #1: You don’t love every minute
You’re going to love that baby whether she arrives with picture-perfect skin, full of baby chub, giggling and gurgling or red-faced, wrinkled and screaming blue murder (no prizes for guessing which is more likely).
That love will ensure you get up for the 5th time in as many hours at night to feed your baby. It’ll mean you’ll do your damnedest to console her as she struggles to adjust to this crazy new world of the 4th trimester.
It doesn’t mean you’re going to love every minute.
The frustration of those early days and weeks can be overwhelming.
I remember it well.
I remember the cold, angry tone of my voice when I gave my 5 week old a good talking to in the middle of the night – something along the lines of, “What is it now? Why won’t you just stay asleep?”
I said those horrible words to my tiny scrap of a daughter who was battling with the basics of feeding and sleeping.
I remember my utter disappointment at the sound of her piercing cry just as we sat down to eat at the end of a long day. A day of what felt like, back-to-back 2 hour-long feeding sessions (each involving multiple changes of clothes) interspersed with a short nap or two (when she’d only sleep on me).
Utter disappointment often followed by tears of frustration and sheer exhaustion.
Was I being punished for entering into motherhood too lightly? Was I being punished for my confidence and naivety?
I’m not even much of a believer but it felt an attack on me, somehow. Crazy huh.
There are times when it’s as tough as nails. Many, many times.
When you wonder whether you’re cut out for this motherhood malarky as I did (and still do some days).
Am I bad mom for those words of frustration and the angry tears? I don’t think so. I was just dog-tired and fell to some unbelievable lows during the 4th trimester.
It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of love.
I clung to the minutes of joy among weeks of dispair. These moments came when she was curled up on my chest, calm and contented. When she napped anywhere but me. When she only woke up 4 times a night. When I drank an entire cup of tea before it got cold.
Do I love being a mom now? Absolutely. I wish we’d started sooner, I wish we could have more kids.
But it was a long time getting there.
PATIENCE, MAMA, PATIENCE
Be patient with yourself – cut your self some slack.
Be patient with the slowness of the days. Be patient with your baby.
And don’t forget to stop and smell the roses
Drink in those magical moments. Cherish each and every one.
Stop all your other thoughts and watch this tiny human, your amazing creation, snuggling and snoozing on your chest.
Stop and smell those roses.
4TH TRIMESTER TRUTH #2: Things don’t “come naturally”
Being a mom comes naturally or so I was led to believe.
The love thing, yes. The other things… maybe, maybe not.
Breastfeeding is meant to be the most natural thing in the world.
The concept is simple: offer boob to baby, baby latches, drinks milk for a while (maybe up to 45 minutes in the 4th trimester) and then is done. Tummy full, happy baby.
But simple does not always mean easy.
Breastfeeding was so much harder than I imagined
The latching was hard. The positioning was hard. The drinking of milk for my dear daughter looked hard. She gulped in air, she pulled away, she spat-up. Then we’d have another go.
I don’t know who found the breastfeeding more difficult; her or me. But nothing felt natural about it.
We did get it in the end… Sometime in the midst of the 4th trimester we managed to get it together, but it wasn’t quick, it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t natural.
I had no clue why she fussed and cried – I had no ‘instinct’ that helped me
I knew when she cried that something was wrong, that’s pretty much where my ‘instinct’ ended.
She fussed, she screamed in pain, she spat up a lot, she didn’t nap for longer than 20 minutes in those early 4th trimester days and weeks and nearly always on top of me.
It was work. It was work to help ease her gassiness. It was work to fix her reflux. It was work to get her sleeping.
But get there, we did.
PATIENCE, MAMA, PATIENCE
Be patient, with yourself and with your baby.
This 4th trimester is one crazy steep learning curve.
Give yourself half a chance.
Grit and determination is what you need, in spades. Sheer bloody-mindedness is another phrase that springs to mind.
Whatever it is that you and baby are struggling with, keep at it.
There’s nearly always something you can do to help your fussy newborn.
Gassiness, reflux, the witching hour – we had it all during the 4th trimester.
Read, research, get professional advice, book in to see your pediatrician.
And check out:
- Got a GASSY BABY? 16 Common causes & remedies to fix them for good
- Is my baby sensitive to DAIRY or something else I’m eating?
- Baby got COLIC? Colic causes & remedies (yes, there ARE some)
- 7 steps to put a stop to the WITCHING HOUR
CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK
You’ve tried your hardest and it’s still not happening. Recognize this. Recognize when it’s time to let go of your plan and that ideal and move on.
Maybe breastfeeding is just not right for you; it’s not for everybody.
Maybe you’re going to have to try some reflux medicine when all else fails.
Do what you need to do to get through the 4th trimester.
Cut yourself some slack.
4TH TRIMESTER TRUTH #3 Comparison can steal away your joy
This desire to do the best for our babies means a constant urge to compare with others.
Try not to get hung up on what someone else’s baby did when or what you manage as a mom versus someone else.
All babies are different; they struggle with different things, they respond to the same tactics differently. Your baby will smile, roll over, take a long nap, sleep through the night at a different age to your best friends baby.
It’s not a race.
Likewise, it’s just not helpful to compare yourself to other moms.
“What am I doing wrong?”
The question that continually plagued my mind.
“How do all those other moms make breastfeeding look so easy?”
“How do those moms make it out the house and look so organised? And how do they manage to enjoy it?”
Was I doing anything ‘wrong’?
Other than the messaging in my head, I don’t think I was.
I was comparing myself and my baby with a completely different mom and her completely different baby.
I was comparing my horrific early 4th trimester days and weeks with someone else’s showpiece moments. I was comparing my first outing with another mom’s 35th.
“Why is she coping so much better with her baby who’s waking even more than mine?”
Another question I put to my other half of a mutual friend of hours. To which he answered, “you are two completely different people.”
Straight up, obvious answer.
Everyone’s coping mechanism is different.
What one person can manage with, another can’t. What one mom believes to be important, another won’t.
I’d seen overtired babies and cranky toddlers and I wanted to avoid that. I’ve always believed that sleep is a biggie, worth focussing on.
But, early on, it was more about me: I’m hopeless without sleep. I needed to improve things for me as well as for her.
So after sorting the gassiness and reflux, sleep was the next thing. (I used these 10 no-cry sleep tips).
You need to do what you need to do.
PATIENCE, MAMA, PATIENCE
Go at your pace. Go at your baby’s pace.
There’s no hurry.
Have the courage and confidence to do what you need to do. A way that fits your personality, beliefs and values and keeps you sane.
There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to the 4th trimester or to kids and parenting in general, just a lot of different ways of doing things.
There’s certainly no perfect.
And don’t forget to smell the roses…
4th TRIMESTER TRUTH #4 Your relationship takes the strain
The test of a strong relationship is not marriage or buying a house, owning a dog or having the in-laws over for the Christmas break.
Ok, those are tests, but nothing compared to the arrival of your first baby.
Starting a family is exciting. It’s natural. It kinda made my mind boggle at how crazy amazing it is when you think you’ve actually made this tiny person together.
But it’s certainly not easy.
It’s easy to bring out the worst in each other
Both sleep-deprived and a little clueless, my husband and I were not all that kind to each other. In all honesty, the fault was more mine.
I was quick to criticize.
“No, not that one! That pink flowery babygro is way too small.”
“Why have you brought me white toast when you know I only eat brown?”
“What on earth are you doing with her? That’s never going to work.”
“She doesn’t like it like that, do it the way I showed you.”
My husband is very calm and quiet and totally unphased by most things. I managed to rile him a lot.
I was also not so secretly jealous of his ability to get up and go to work. Leave the house without a struggle. A full 10 hours with no crying baby in his ear.
But he also suffered many a sleepless night. He was also adjusting to this new chapter, trying to figure out what part he played in this whole conundrum. He was also trying his damndest to do the right thing.
More out of necessity, I started to give him a bit of free reign. So I could shower, eat, do those things I was desperate to do as soon as he got home from work.
Okay, sometimes they didn’t work out well… Like the time he decided to change our firstborn’s diaper while I was breastfeeding. (There was a lot of clean up!)
But we laughed and lived to tell the tale.
Then, after we’d got a little into the swing of things and baby was mostly in some sort of a routine (this sleep schedule is the one we followed, very loosely!), we found our ‘us-time’. A little beyond the 4th trimester we managed a date night once in a while.
Steps that helped get us back on track.
PATIENCE, MAMA, PATIENCE
He’s learning too; help him out and be patient. Show him what you’ve been doing, what’s been working.
If you’ve decided the only way to settle baby is waltzing to Mozart (is that even a thing?) and you want him to do that, you need to tell him.
HAVE CONFIDENCE IN HIM
You might think it’s nuts, but unless you foresee something going drastically wrong, give him half a chance.
You will also have different strengths as parents. Let him find his.
And take some time out while he does just that. This parenting thing is tough enough without trying to do it alone; hats off for all those moms who have to…
PERSEVERE to make time for each other.
Don’t leave it too long.
Share in the awesomeness of your snuggly but challenging creation and laugh at those parenting fails together.
Don’t forget to smell the roses…
More tips here on keeping your relationship healthy with kids.
4th TRIMESTER TRUTH #5: Time just for you is necessary
You may feel anxious about leaving your newborn in someone else’s care for more than 60 seconds in those early days. I get it.
But you got to get over that and find some time just for you.
I couldn’t have made it through the 4th trimester without frequent breaks
My daughters’ naps were hit and miss for a long old time. Rarely did it feel like a break; I was constantly on high-alert status.
I needed proper switch-off time came when I was out of earshot. It wasn’t enough for my husband to go to my baby – I could hear what was going on, it was not a ‘break’.
Thankfully, oh so thankfully, we live very close to my mother-in-law, as in 50 yards.
She became the go-to 3, 4, 5 times a week, for an hour or so.
As a side, I introduced a bottle early, just one a day, so that there was never a feeding emergency: Hack #4 in this post: 24 Game-Changing Newborn Hacks For First-Time Parents
So my brain could finally rest. My emotions could reset.
CONFIDENCE, MAMA, CONFIDENCE
Have confidence in yourself that this is important.
Find that someone, have confidence in that someone – your partner, your mom, your friend – that they will manage.
Have confidence in your baby.
Have the confidence to walk away, to get out of earshot and just be.
You need this time. Find it.
4th TRIMESTER TRUTH #6: Things are ‘on hold’ during the 4th trimester; not lost forever
It can feel like the freedom of your life pre-baby has been ripped away from you. The variety, the spontaneity, your career, your social life gone in a flash.
Even if you’re prepared for it, those changes can have more of an effect than you can possibly envision.
The monotony of the days, the weekends that feel little different to weekdays, the ‘holidays’ that are no break from the relentlessness of the 4th trimester…
Will you ever find your pre-baby self again? How are your dreams and aspirations going to mesh with a never-ending string of mom duties?
But it’s rather that things are ‘on hold’.
Things have changed, for sure. But you can still have ‘your thing’, give your kids an awesome upbringing and be the mom you’ve always wanted to be.
What’s more, this whole motherhood thing could well stretch and reshape these dreams into bigger, better ones.
Now with 2 toddlers, I have ‘my thing’, but it took a while to get there
Having kids for us came at the same time as other major life changes – moving halfway across the world to the beautiful but harsh environment of Africa (elephants on the way to town are the norm, decent internet not so much!)
Having a family and being a mom has always been part of my vision. I love being a mom more than anything else in the world, even more than I imagined.
Now, with two toddlers in tow, my dream to do the best for them and be the best mom I can have become more important.
But I still want other things out of life.
My ‘thing’ is my blog right now. It’s my chance to do something just for me.
I’ve put my heart and soul into this blog; it gets me up early on a Sunday morning while everyone’s still sleeping (like now).
It challenges me technically, intellectually, emotionally and creatively in a different way to the mom thing. (Bar, technical ones, I also meet those challenges daily when problem-solving the woes of two toddlers close in age!)
It gives me that extra something that without doubt makes me better as a mom. (If only I could put my finger on what.)
But it has taken time and not always been easy. I’ve had to make choices and compromises and keep confident in the face of it all.
PATIENCE, MAMA, PATIENCE
Keep those dreams alive and make sure you persevere to make them a reality.
And don’t forget to smell the roses…
What really helped me through the 4th trimester
So that’s a whole lot of insight into my 4th trimester ride. It wasn’t pretty and I’ve put to paper some things I’ve only recently admitted to myself, let alone to the big wide world.
I’m a little ashamed of those feelings.
But that’s all they were, feelings. Feelings that came and went and didn’t reflect me as a person, just the hole I was in.
I’m not a patient person by nature. But patience is what you need. (I’m sure you’ve got that message now!).
You’re also going to have to dig deep and persevere. The sheer bloody-mindedness came more naturally to me.
You also need confidence. It took me a while to find mine. You can find yours.
What also saw me through was this ‘vision’. I clung onto this vision of what I wanted out of life and part of that was being a mom. But more than that to love being a mom, in a happy home, with happy kids.
I clung onto that more than anything else.
Many a moment I wished away. Stopping to smell the roses was hard, but necessary. I focussed on those snuggles and cuddles, the teeny tiny improvements from one week to the next, the 3 night wakings instead of 5 and that incredible day when we only went through 3 outfits…
I got there and you will too. And you’re really not alone.
And I’m all ears if you need someone to share in your frustrations. But if these lows drop to feelings of hopelessness, severe anxiety and detachment from both your baby and the rest of the world, you may be suffering from postpartum depression. This is not uncommon and the good news is it’s fixable. Please seek professional help asap.