Expectations: Part 3 – The Unrealistic 4th Trimester Expectations
You are officially a mama in your 4th trimester. Congratulations! You are probably excited, exhausted, and absolutely clueless about what to expect from this magical time. You, just like many moms before you, made a great list of things to accomplish in the next few months. And, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but you will not accomplish any of them. Unfortunately, you have fallen into the trap of unrealistic 4th trimester expectations! But don’t worry, I am here to walk you through what’s really to expect, and how to mentally and physically prepare for your 4th trimester.
(If you haven’t yet read part 1 and part 2 of the expectations series, I encourage you to do so (Expectations: Part 1 – Managing Pregnancy Expectations; Expectations: Part 2 – Labor and Delivery)
But first, you may be wondering “Why is it called that? I’m no longer pregnant. Aren’t my trimesters over?” It’s called the 4th trimester because while the baby is on the outside, it’s just as helpless as it was on the inside. The baby can’t regulate its body temperature very well, doesn’t know night from day, and doesn’t do well without almost constant contact. Wow, right?
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The truth about the 4th trimester
So what do you expect the 4th trimester to be like, mama? If you’re like a lot of first time moms, you probably don’t know what to expect. You spent so much time preparing and taking birth classes because you’re aware of their benefits. But you probably did not prepare for your postpartum period.
You know your body will change, you can kiss your sleep good-bye, but you still can’t help but conjure up beautiful images of you holding baby while the sun rises over the horizon, kissing baby’s tiny head and reading your favorite books to baby. And, of course, you’ll have those moments. Just not as frequently as you may envision.
You may also believe that your maternity leave will be a great time to get projects done around the house, work out, and catch up on life you’ve been missing while pregnant.
The truth though will most likely disappoint you. Your 4th trimester is not likely to be a time of peace or bountiful free time. You won’t be getting brunch with friends every Sunday, while your baby peacefully sleeps in the stroller next to you. You might get some free moments but you may be more interested in spending those on much needed sleep. After all, as much as it’s a cliché, but once baby comes, you are not doing much sleeping. And what’s worse, you are not sleeping in a way that you are accustomed to, with long uninterrupted stretches.
Here’s what you will be doing a lot of: holding baby. Your baby needs you!!!! And it’s a good thing. Your baby is learning all about this big scary world. And your smell, warmth and heart beat lets them know that everything is OK. Now, if you get lucky and have a newborn that sleeps a lot in their own bed and needs to be woken up for feedings, count your blessings. But also know that this bliss may not last past the initial week or so. Eventually, those babies wake up and demand to be held.
If you are like a lot of moms, the initial month or so, you will only be too happy to snuggle with your baby 24/7. You will be in love and won’t really mind all the closeness. If your support system is strong, that first month you may very well be doing nothing but cuddle and love on baby. But even the strongest support system helps less over time. And you start to become bored and restless if all that you are doing is cuddling baby. But the problem is that your baby still wants to be on you even after a month.
Baby loves to cuddle
I think this is where a lot of new parents run into a wall. They feel (mostly due to erroneous information) that after a month their baby should have had enough of the cuddles and be more independent. At the very least, baby should not need a human body in order to go to sleep. The parents start frantically researching what is wrong with their baby and why the baby sleeps like that. While there are some good quality websites about baby sleep, there is also plenty of garbage out there. And it’s hard to sort through it when you are exhausted and looking for a solution.
But the solution is very simple: cuddle that child to help them sleep. Or put them in the stroller and go for a walk. If you can’t just sit on the couch and rock your baby to sleep, put them in a carrier and go about your business.
Baby Loves to Eat
One other thing that babies do a lot of is eating. Whether from breast or bottle, expect that your child will eat anywhere from 1.5 – 3 hours. If you are breastfeeding, it may mean that some days you will literally not be able to put the baby down (cluster feeding). It will be exhausting. Those are the days when your partner should really be stepping up to help care for you and everything else more. You will probably feel extra hungry, thirsty and sleepy. It will feel as if the baby is taking the last juices out of you but it will pass. Their growth spurt will stop, your milk supply will boost up, and all will return to normal for a little while.
It’s not abnormal and in fact, more common than it seems, that you will be struggling with breastfeeding in the beginning. It can be anything from latch issues, insufficient supply, tongue/lip ties that will make breastfeeding feel like anything but normal or natural. That’s why it’s important to reach out to a lactation consultant to help figure out solutions to your issues as soon as possible. Most issues can be resolved.
If your are having trouble connecting to a lactation consultant in your area, I have partnered with Rachel Da Silva, RN, BSN, CLC, founder of Mommy Did You Know and became an affiliate for her wonderful breastfeeding courses. She has 3 tiers of courses: Milk Minutes Free Breastfeeding Class, The Milk Minutes Breastfeeding Crash Course, Milk Minutes All About Feeding Your Baby (Premium Version). She has a variety of helpful resources on her page, including an online consultation to answer your postpartum related questions and live online classes. If you are interested in checking out and purchasing any of her courses, click here.
And here’s a discount for her courses and her shop: use the code MILKMINUTES10 to receive 10% off any of the paid courses. And use the code MILKMINUTES for 15% off in Rachel’s MDYK Store. She has adorable baby clothes and beautiful clothes for moms, as well as different breastfeeding accessories, and baby items.
Baby takes over
If this installment is about expectations for motherhood, you may wonder why it’s so heavily baby focused. And I’ll tell you why. This is what your life looks like when baby comes. Everything revolves around them and their needs. And I’m not talking about this from the perspective of being a selfless martyr. No, I actually think that adjusting your life to your infant’s needs is exponentially easier, than trying to “break them in” to a schedule you want. While there will be some easy going babies that will go with the flow, most will not. And they will make your life living hell if you don’t heed their needs.
So, in a lot of ways, adjusting to your baby is being selfish. It preserves their sleep, which in turn preserves your sleep. And believe me when I say that in the 4th trimester, sleep trumps any and every other desire you have.
Since, I am not a medical doctor. I will not go into the many bodily changes that you (mama) will experience postpartum. Just know that there will be a lot, and you won’t recognize your body for a while. And even when time passes, your body will not be the same. But your body, just as the rest of your life will find a new normal. And it will eventually feel right.
My final piece of advice for a smoother 4th trimester is to be flexible and forgiving. You and your partner will make mistakes, baby will cry no matter what, and life will feel overwhelming. Try your best to adjust to this crazy new world, and be kind to yourself and your partner. After all, neither one of your lives will ever be the same!!!!
PMADS (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders) The Unfortunate Bed Fellow in the 4th Trimester
Roughly 20-25% of mothers will be affected by PMADS according to the National Perinatal Association, with roughly 11-17% of mothers showing symptoms postpartum. That is a huge number. So, unfortunately, postpartum mood disorders have to be something mothers and their families need to prepare for in the 4th trimester. It is even more important for those mothers that have a known history of any type of mental health disorders.
It’s important to create a plan with your doctor about what to do in case you suspect that you are suffering from a postpartum mental health issue. You and your partner need to know the symptoms (you can find symptoms and risk factors in Post Partum Depression – How to Get The Help You Need) and be prepared to seek medical help immediately. You should not feel guilty or ashamed is you suffer from mental health issues postpartum. It is not your fault. You have not done anything to cause this. And it does not mean that you are not fit to be a mother (all the thoughts that will often bombard you when you’re suffering from a mood or an anxiety disorder in your 4th trimester).
Just be prepared for the possibility of it happening. Don’t live in fear of it. And treat it promptly. Therapy and medication help. They will allow you to have the motherhood that you deserve.
And in the meantime, you can start healing yourself with my FREE PDF Guide “Your Motherhood Story”. Take a journey through 30 self-discovery prompts created specifically for mothers. And then write your ideal Motherhood Story, as a way to visualize what you would like this part of your life to look like.
The Isolation of the 4th Trimester Due to the Pandemic
As you can tell, this is a new addition to the article. While being isolated in your 4th trimester has, unfortunately, been a common problem before the pandemic, it has become a reality for almost every new mother during the pandemic. Where new parents could rely on relatives to help in the past, they may choose not to do so in the current environment. Given how little is known about COVID and its effects on small children, parents of newborns may forego seeing any relatives or friends during the delicate 4th trimester period. And this takes a toll – both physically and emotionally.
There can be so many different things that go awry during the 4th trimester – PMADS (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders), issues with breastfeeding, issues with postpartum healing, health problems for baby, not to mention the physical and mental exhaustion of carrying for a newborn around the clock. And the best way to get through the 4th trimester has always been with the outside help of friends and family. And that choice has been taken away, for now.
So, one of the expectations you can have for your 4th trimester period, is that you can only rely on yourself and your partner. It will be lonely and isolating. PPD or PPA is more likely to occur due to the forced isolation, and you and your partner should be on the look out for symptoms. It may also be more difficult to make it to your postpartum check-up appointment, as most OBGYN offices will no longer allow you to bring your baby with you to the appointment. It may also be more difficult to have access to medical professionals who can help you ensure successful breastfeeding and bonding. (That’s why I recommend Rachel’s online services. She will be a fantastic support in your postpartum period).
And while it’s all very grim, it’s important to realize that this is the current reality. And new parents need to adjust for it. So, make sure you factor in the new COVID challenges into your 4th trimester expectations.