To All You New Mamas - Let's Talk About the Fourth Trimester
Posted on Feb 13, 2019
You did it! After 40 (give or take) long weeks of carrying your baby, your little bundle of joy has finally made his/her grand debut! The hard part is over right? The pregnancy, excruciating pain of labor, the actual delivery … I’d like to tell you that it’s smooth sailing from here on out, but you are soon going to realize that is far from reality.
Don’t worry though - we’re in this together. I’ve been through it, many of your friends and family have been through it, and you will get through it too! This phase they call postpartum, it’s like an unexpected guest. You don’t really hear about it much, and then one day it comes knocking on your door and decides to stay for a very long, often uncomfortable and difficult visit.
While pregnant you were too busy, well, being pregnant! Between the nausea, back pain, keeping up with your other children, preparations at work to go on maternity leave, doctors’ visits and getting baby’s clothing and nursery together, you may not have had time to think twice about what’s to come once baby is actually here. And, usually no one bothered telling you.
That’s what this letter is for - to give you a look at what’s ahead. Maybe it will help you plan your postpartum journey better, maybe it will help you in the moment when you’re the only one up at 2 a.m. nursing your baby to sleep while trying not to fall asleep yourself. While I can’t cover everything in one letter, hopefully this will help you understand a little bit more about the fourth trimester, and the care you need to show yourself and your baby.
The Rhythms of Nursing and Feeding
Speaking of nursing… let’s start with that. If you choose to nurse your baby, just know that it’s going to be a process, one that’s going take up a lot of your time and energy. It didn’t come naturally to me, and I had to learn to let others help me if I wanted to keep my sanity. Nursing my baby for at least one full year was a decision that I was really persistent on as soon as I found out I was pregnant.
I had made it a priority to breastfeed and to do so I needed to stop putting myself down and stop myself from thinking that I was a bad mom for not getting this right from the get go. This should be a natural bond, I thought to myself as both my daughter and I struggled to get her to latch on. What I wasn’t telling myself was that both of us were new to this. Baby and I were both trying to work together to achieve something we’ve never done before.
In fact, the best thing I ever did for myself during this phase was to take advantage of the lactation consultant in my hospital. She observed me nurse, gave me tips and words of encouragement, and introduced me to a nipple shield that changed my life! This little piece of plastic helped my daughter latch on and made my experience more rewarding and enjoyable.
You will soon realize that nursing is a full time job. You’re going to feel as though your entire day revolves around baby’s feeding schedule, and the truth of the matter is - it will. From scheduling pumping sessions to physically nursing, it will take you a while to adjust to this new routine. Take some time to see what works best for you and baby and work with what makes you both most comfortable.
Nursing and Latching Resources:
- La Leche League USA
- Your guide to breastfeeding.
- Kelly Mom - positioning and latch resources.
- Kelly Mom - How can I find breastfeeding help?
I started out by having a set schedule. I even had an app to remind me when to nurse, and it would time my nursing sessions to help me keep track of how long I was feeding baby and which side I ended on. I became obsessed with these tracking measures, and they started to consume me. I would stress if I forgot to track a feed, or if my alarm went off and I wasn’t able to feed at that exact moment.
I soon realized that the only schedule that worked for me and my baby was the one we both put together ourselves. I learned her hunger cues and was able to figure out when she needed to feed and when she was feeling discomfort. I let her be my guide. Although my priority was to breastfeed, I also wasn’t afraid to introduce her to a bottle. I would pump in between feeds and keep a stock pile of bottles in the fridge for the day. This came in handy and allowed me to take naps and get some sleep at night while someone else fed my daughter.
Around four months old, my daughter’s appetite spiked, and I wasn’t producing enough breast milk to keep her full. Although I continued to breastfeed until she was one, I supplemented nursing with formula in order to keep her nourished and ensure she was meeting her developmental milestones. Don’t be discouraged if your plan to breastfeed doesn’t go the way you envisioned. You may choose not to breastfeed at all, and that’s fine too. Whether you breastfeed, bottle feed or a combination of both, keeping your baby full and healthy is what matters at the end of the day.
Bottle Feeding Resources
Let’s Talk Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression and getting the baby blues is very real, something I thought I would be immune to because I was surrounded by my family and was blessed with plenty of help.
I was very wrong.
I don’t think anyone is immune to the drastic hormone changes your body goes through after giving birth. My mind would wander off during those late, long night nursing sessions when everyone was sleeping except my daughter and I. In those moments, in my dimly lit bedroom and in the still silence of the night, I felt very much alone. That is when my mind would race and thoughts would fill my head.
I felt like I was a bad mom for not thinking that my daughter was the most beautiful baby in the world when I first saw her. I felt guilty for not feeling that unconditional love at first sight that love that makes you take a bullet for your child. Yeah, that doesn’t always come instantly. I felt scared about my daughter’s future and things that were out of my control, like kids bullying her in school or the childhood innocence she will lose as she grows up.
I felt scared about my own life and started to value it more than I ever did before. I wanted to always be there for my daughter. If it wasn’t for the support I had around me, I think I would have fell into a much deeper hole. If you feel like you are going through postpartum depression, please talk to someone and seek help from a professional like your doctor.
Baby Blues and PPD Resources
Struggling with Body Image
Finally, I want to talk to you about body image. Just take a moment to think about all of the drastic changes your body has gone through over the past 40 weeks. Those stretch marks - they are your body’s way of reminding you that you’ve housed and nourished a human inside of you for the past nine months.
That deflated, saggy, cottage-cheese-textured belly you’re left with? Just think of how big it was when baby was inside.You can’t expect all those muscles to retract back into place like a rubber band overnight. And, your body didn’t just stop at birthing a baby. It’s producing milk on demand for you to be able to continue to nourish that precious little human that is cuddled in your arms.
Nursing or not, your body is also adjusting to a new, insane sleep cycle where you are getting very little sleep, and the sleep you are getting is coming in short spurts. This is another thing your body has to adjust to. Easing back into an exercise routine can help you achieve your weight loss goals, but there are some important things you should keep in mind:
- Don’t start any form of diet or exercise routine until you’ve been cleared by your doctor (usually at your six-week postpartum check up).
- Don’t underestimate the power of walking. This can be a simple, yet effective.
- Cardiovascular workout and can also be done with your baby in the morning or evening around your neighborhood.
- Remember, it took nine-ish months for your body to house and nourish your beautiful baby, not to mention the delivery and the changes it goes through while breastfeeding and stress we experience from sleep deprivation. So, give it at least that amount of time (some doctors even say up to one year) to adjust back.
Body Image and Postpartum Resources
Trust me, I know it’s not that easy to think of all these things and truly appreciate the miracle that is our body. Believe it or not, I still have days where I am bothered by it. Even now, my daughter is two years old and my belly is not where it was before I got pregnant. But hey, I’m working on it, and I’ve come to accept the fact that it may not ever be that flat-toned belly I used to have.
But you know what? That’s ok! Because that “perfect” body I used to have didn’t birth an amazing little human I get to call my daughter, this one did - and for that I am eternally grateful.
Your friend and fellow Mamma,
Danah is wife to Kareem and mama to their daughter Kinzah (aka Kiki). She was born and raised in Charlotte, NC, and loves all things food, fashion, photography and home decor. After having Kinzah, she created her blog, Mother of Pearl, where she shares a glimpse into her life as she navigates motherhood and hopes to build a safe space for other mamas to connect. You can follow her on Instagram.