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Pregnancy is filled with its to-do list items, but the Fourth Trimester (the first three months of your baby’s life and your first few months as a new mom) often remains this vague, unknown territory. In those early months, everything is brand new. But a little preparation beforehand goes a long way in making sure that you are taking care of you!
Here's what our Matrescence team includes as the "must add" items on your Fourth Trimester To Do List:
1. Prioritize Sleep
Let’s face it, “sleep like a baby” should have been called “sleep like someone who doesn’t have kids.” Babies wake through the night which means so do you, mama. Those early days of waking every two hours can make you feel like you’re going crazy. Before the baby arrives, set up your plan for a sleep support system. You can hire a night nurse, or ask a family member if they can take over some of the middle of the night feedings, or agree to split those nights with your partner.
When my daughter was little, I went to bed after her last nursing session of the night, while her dad stayed up to do the 1:00 a.m. bottle session and then went to bed himself. I was up again for the 4:00 a.m. feeding, but that long six hour stretch was a game changer for me! Remember, it might feel wild in those early days, but it’s not forever. You will sleep again!
2. Ask Directly for the Help You Need
I know, I know, this is so hard. But it’s crucial. Learning to accept help can be a tough thing for many of us. I’ll never forget when my youngest was a few weeks old, my husband’s 90 year old grandmother came over to help us. She couldn’t do much at her age, but she loved the idea of giving back - and she just so happened to find it weirdly comforting to fold laundry. My husband ran several loads of laundry and for hours she sat happily folding in silence while we cared for our daughter. It was such a huge gift.
To make it easier to ask for what you need, keep a running list of to-do tasks on the fridge. When people ask how they can help, direct them toward the list. It might include things like folding the laundry, buying specific grocery items, taking out the trash, or scheduling a doctor’s appointment.
3. Schedule Time for Self Care
Make sure that every day you are scheduling a break for you. 30 minutes of alone time while you run a bath, a short walk or light exercise, or even just running a quick errand alone. (You’ll never be so eager to run to the grocery store for some quiet time!) We all need breaks to recharge and reset, and the early days of parenthood can be so demanding.
4. Set Some Rules Around Visiting Hours.
In those early days when you’re recovering, setting boundaries is crucial. Setting ground rules ahead of time as what kind of precautions you want to take when it comes to holding your baby, when to visit, and more can avoid uncomfortable situations later. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, call on your support system to help. I love that my husband has a big, supportive family. But I distinctly remember a crowded hospital room feeling smaller by the minute as more and more people piled in. I was hot, I had to pee, and really I just wanted to sleep. Luckily, he saw my stress level rising and had no problem saying “visiting hours are over.”
5. Drop the Guilt
It’s easy to feel guilt as a new mom. But remember that mothering was never something that was supposed to be done by one person and one person only. You are parenting in unprecedented times. After all, all throughout history, children have been raised by a village of people.
It’s crucial to recognize that it’s okay (and normal) to struggle. If you’re feeling guilty and overwhelmed? Think about what forms of support feel safe to you. Would chatting with a postpartum doula or lactation consultation virtually help? Do you need an online moms group? Do you really just need a few moments to yourself? Pinpoint a few forms of support that would help and try to put them into action to lessen your load.
6. Don’t Wait to Reach Out if Your Mental Health is Struggling:
You need a community now more than ever. Talk to your partner, family member, or friend so they can help understand what you’re going through and provide support. Feel like you need some professional support? Up to 20% of women experience postpartum depression/anxiety or another mood or anxiety disorder in new motherhood, and about 80% of new moms experience “baby blues.” It’s totally normal, and can happen for the first time even if it’s not your first pregnancy. You wouldn’t try to fix a broken leg yourself, so don’t be ashamed to call on professionals to help you navigate your hormones. Find a professional here.
All in all, remember that your changing body and mind is a reminder of the amazing things you are capable of, mama - including growing and nurturing this new beautiful life you brought into the world.