Tips for Thriving in the 4th Trimester

Nurturing Both Baby and Yourself

By Chelsea McMann - The Mama Coach October 5, 2023

The 4th trimester, the period immediately following childbirth, is a unique and challenging time for new parents. It's a time of adjustment, recovery, and getting to know your newborn. If you are pregnant or have had a child you know firsthand how well-intentioned everyone’s advice for the fourth trimester is but in reality, no one can prepare you for what it is actually like to have a newborn. It is by far the most life-changing event you can go through as a parent and a partner. While it can be overwhelming, there are several tips that can help you not only survive but thrive during this crucial period.

Prioritize Self-Care: While this seems like a no-brainer it is actually SO hard to do when you have a very tiny human who needs you what seems like every second of every day. However, if you are the birthing parent it is absolutely critical that you take care of yourself. You are recovering from major trauma to your body and you need adequate rest, nutrition, and hydration to heal. Self-care can look different in the postpartum period. For me personally, self-care meant prepping meals in pregnancy to have easy, one-dish, freezer meals ready to go so I didn't have to think about or spend time cooking but also had a healthy meal everyday. It also meant booking a house cleaner to come and clean my house so I didn’t have to spend the time or energy cleaning instead of resting. Self-care can also mean simple things like taking a warm bath or savoring a quiet cup of tea. There is also the mental health side of self-care that cannot be ignored. Having time in the day to do something for yourself, to feel like yourself, is an absolute necessity. Stretching, deep breathing, time outside, a hot cup of coffee, whatever it is for you, make sure you communicate it with your partner or support team so they can help you prioritize it throughout the day. My husband and I ask each other each morning, “How can I fill your cup today?”. It’s a simple question but it makes all the difference! Some days it is just a hot shower, sometimes it is an hour alone. No matter what we make sure that each other gets what they need so that we can be the best parents and partners we can be. Caring for a newborn is exhausting, so don't forget to take care of yourself. Rest whenever you can, and ask for help from friends and family. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. So fill your cup however you need to mama. 

Accept Help:

Don't hesitate to accept offers of assistance. I cannot express this one enough! Whether someone offers to cook a meal, babysit for an hour, or run errands, these gestures can make a big difference in your daily life and well-being. When someone asks how they can help, tell them. Do you need groceries picked up? Do you need someone to walk the dog or take your older child for a playdate? Do you need someone to hold the baby so you can go on a walk alone? Do you need a hot home-cooked meal? Whatever it is that you need, be specific and tell them. People really do want to help and when they ask to, let them! If I could go back to my first postpartum period I would absolutely accept more help. So many people asked to help and I brushed them off because I didn’t want to be a bother. However, I really did need help and I wish I could have told them exactly what I needed. The second time around if someone asked, I gave them a specific thing I needed without guilt and it was the best thing I did for myself.

“Nap When the Baby Naps”:

I absolutely despise this advice but it does have good intentions. How can you sleep when the baby sleeps when there are dishes to be done, laundry to do, self-care to take care of, and a partner to connect with? However, sleep deprivation is a common challenge during the 4th trimester. Obviously one of the most practical tips is to nap when your baby naps but this is so much easier said than done. A much better solution to combat sleep deprivation is to talk to your partner about developing a sleep plan that works for both of you. Sleeping in shifts can be extremely beneficial in ensuring you both get an adequate stretch of sleep each night. Have a discussion with your partner about how much sleep you need while taking into consideration that you do have a newborn who will require frequent feeds in the night and the number of hours you would like and need are going to be different. Map out the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. and when each of you will sleep since newborns have a later bedtime. It will look different for every couple because every couple has different needs. For myself, this looked like going to bed at 8 p.m. after nursing the baby. My husband would stay up until 1 a.m. and give a bottle around 11 p.m. when she was hungry. He would wake me up around 1 a.m. when her next feed was and then go to bed. I was then “on duty” from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. when my daughter woke up. While it wasn’t ideal, that 5-hour uninterrupted stretch of sleep was restorative for both of us. Find a rhythm that works for you and your partner but also ensures that you both get at least  four hours of sleep each night that is uninterrupted. 

Establish a Routine:

Speaking of sleep, babies thrive on routines, and establishing one early can help both you and your baby feel more secure. This doesn't mean rigid schedules but rather creating some predictability in daily activities. A short morning routine and a short nighttime routine are enough to begin to create a rhythm for your baby. Part of your morning routine should include 10 minutes of daylight outside before 10 a.m. This simple routine can actually help you and your baby sleep better at night. The morning sunlight exposure helps to regulate babies' circadian rhythms and since they do not produce their own melatonin until somewhere in the 3rd month of life it can also help increase melatonin production at night making it easier for them to stay asleep. Simple routines give your baby the security and predictability they thrive on and can allow for better sleep and adjustment overall. 

Feeding Support:

If you're breastfeeding, seek out a lactation consultant or join a support group. There are both in-person and virtual options and these can be incredibly beneficial in both supporting your feeding journey but also in finding a community of other moms going through the same journey as you. Breastfeeding can be challenging, and getting the right support can make a world of difference. If you are bottle feeding there can be challenges with bottle refusal and latch just like with breastfeeding and it is equally important to seek support. A lactation consultant can help with bottle feeding. Many feeding issues are commonly mistaken for sleep issues. If you are struggling with sleep I would highly recommend seeking out lactation support as there very well may be a feeding issue as the root cause. 

Bonding Time:

After feeding, changing, burping, calming, bathing, and doing housework it may seem like there is no more time in the day to do anything above and beyond that. However, this time goes by so fast! I know you have heard that before but it really does. The days may seem endless but the weeks and months are a blink of an eye. Be sure to spend quality time bonding with your baby. Skin-to-skin contact, gentle massages, and cuddling can help strengthen your connection. Doing tummy time while laying on you, skin-to-skin can be a great way to spend quality time together. Newborns do not need toys or anything fancy to be entertained. They simply need time face to face with you, close to smell you, and feel secure outside the womb. These small quiet moments are mutually beneficial in bonding for you and your baby. 

Healthy Eating:

Nutrition is vital for postpartum recovery and for providing nourishment to your baby if you're breastfeeding. Ensure you're eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated. Adequate nutrition can also combat the nasty feelings of sleep deprivation. Planning ahead by meal prepping or setting up a meal train can ensure you are eating well each day. Relying on delivery is a great way to survive that initial postpartum period but be sure you are ordering a balanced diet. 

Connect with Others:

Joining a new parents' group or reaching out to friends who have recently had babies can provide a sense of community and understanding during transformative times. Mom groups are becoming more and more easily accessible. There are playdate groups, walking groups, exercise groups, postpartum support groups, and more. All of these are great ways to meet and connect with fellow moms who understand exactly what you are going through. 

Communicate with Your Partner:

Maintain open communication with your partner. Share your thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Supporting each other as a team can make the 4th trimester more manageable. It is important to remember that your partner is going through a transformative period too. They are also becoming a parent and sharing your struggles through this experience can strengthen your relationship. 

Seek Professional Help if Needed:

Postpartum depression and anxiety are real concerns for some new mothers. If you're struggling with your mental health, don't hesitate to seek professional help. There is no shame in reaching out to a therapist or counselor. You can read more about Postpartum Depression and ways to seek help HERE

Remember, You're Doing Great:

Whether you are a first-time parent or bringing home your last baby, it's easy to doubt yourself as a parent but remember that nobody has it all figured out. Trust your instincts, and don't be too hard on yourself. Every baby and every parent's journey is unique. You are absolutely the best parent on the planet for your baby. In the very hard moments, tell yourself this, “this too shall pass”. I have it written on my whiteboard in the kitchen so I can see it every day. It is a gentle reminder that while this moment may feel hard, it will pass.

The 4th trimester is a profound transformation, filled with joy and challenges. Embrace the journey, cherish the moments, and lean on your support network. By taking care of yourself and your baby, you'll survive and thrive during this special time of your life. If you are struggling in the postpartum period please reach out for help at Feeding, sleep, and newborn care concerns are real and valid. You do not have to struggle alone.

I am Chelsea, The Mama Coach. A Registered Nurse in Private Practice dedicated to making parenting easier by supporting you from Prenatal to Potty Training and all the milestones in between. Parenting support is profoundly lacking and I am here to help.