4 Tips To Thrive In The Fourth Trimester
As I almost come to the end of the fourth trimester with my third child, I have been thinking about what a sacred and special time it is and how we can best survive (and indeed thrive) during a period which can be equal parts bumpy and confusing as it is blissful and fulfilling.
Heng Ou describes the fourth trimester perfectly. The first twelve weeks after giving birth are intensely raw and emotional, where tears flow with breast milk and the mother is enveloped in a mix of oxytocin soaked, heart aching love and bliss as well as extreme physical exhaustion and a state of hyper vigilance as she adapts to this new way of life. Tending to the needs of a new born is a task of monumental proportions and breast feeding is like an extreme sport. It is one of the hardest jobs you could sign up for, requiring 24/7 vigilance and unwavering dedication. There are lots of occupational hazards, like sleep deprivation, chapped and bleeding nipples and teary arguments with your partner about who is more tired. Is it normal to feel this exhausted, anxious or afraid?
The fourth trimester allows you the time and space to soften into this new role as mother and slowly but surely navigate this new chapter in your life. It holds you as you recover from pregnancy and birth and as you begin to learn about your new baby. It is a safe cocoon in which to take pause before the long journey of parenting begins.
It is the great inhale after the great exhale.
My top 4 tips for holding the greater world at bay and creating a safe space to recover physically, rest deeply and psychologically integrate the transition into motherhood include —
1. Embrace The Fatigue
You are going to be exhausted. You just completed the most intense physical event of your life, followed by a flood of powerful hormones and emotions combined with learning how to care for your new baby. Try not to be too hard on yourself. This is all normal. Don’t expect yourself to be zipping around in the first few weeks — acknowledging your limitations can bring some ease. Slow down. Slowest is the new fastest. Try to be mindful of performing every baby care task with ceremonial like slowness and take the time to connect with your baby. Know that even if all you have done for the day is feed your baby, change a nappy or (if you’re lucky) sneak in a nap — you have achieved something wonderful. Embrace the fatigue. Rest when your baby rests — the washing can wait. If you can’t nap easily or find sleeping during the day difficult (as I did) then just try getting horizontal and have some active chill time. Listen to a guided meditation, lie in a hammock or do some deep breathing. Go to bed early. Even if you are not asleep, some wonderful advice I received as a new mother was to try and be in bed from 8pm — 8am. This is sometimes difficult but if you try and go to bed earlier, it will make the night waking for feeds easier.
2. Meal Train
Set up a food roster or have a friend organise a meal train whereby friends and family bring you food for a few weeks — best thing ever!! During the forth trimester you will be so tired and all consumed by caring for your new baby, that cooking dinner will be the last thing you feel like doing. Kind friends can organise to deliver family meals on a roster and you will be surprised how many people will be happy to help when you give them specific instructions. Ask them to consider warming, nourishing and iron rich foods. Beets, bone broths and grass fed red meat are all helpful for recalibrating your system after birth and all the iron loss from the lochia. Slow cooked foods like soups and bone broths are easy to digest and wonderfully warming and nourishing. Fish is the superfood for recovering mothers; try to get three servings per week. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, at least 2 litres per day and more if you are breastfeeding.
3. Treat Yourself
Even if it feels uncomfortable or as though you don’t deserve it — YOU DO!! This is the time in your life to really soften and surrender into a place where you are comfortable receiving. Let others care for you and help you. It makes them feel good too!! Treat yourself, if possible, to a restorative therapy like yin yoga or acupuncture. Ask someone to take care of the baby for a couple of hours so you can go get a massage or a facial. You really need these sessions to help you relax and to restore your nervous system. If it is impossible to get out (and sometimes it is) there are some great apps like Yoga Glo or Yoga Studio and you can squeeze in some short yoga or meditation practices at home. Some other tips for self care (which is basically treating yourself) — don’t entertain visitors, limit your social media postings, be happy saying no to people and social events and develop JOMO (joy of missing out)!
4. Consider Placenta Encapsulation
Now I know this might be a bit out there for some, and I definitely did not consider it with my first two babies, but this time around has been different. My beautiful doula offered placenta encapsulation as part of her service in conjunction with the lovely Amy of @mamasmedicine and I have to say, it was a game changer. Now I know there is no solid scientific evidence, but many ancient cultures ingest their placenta as do many animals and there is something very powerful and magical about the placenta. Sustaining life for your baby during your pregnancy, it has many essential nutrients, vitamins and hormones that you would otherwise lose at birth. At most hospitals now, you can ask to take your placenta home and the encapsulation can be performed in a very professional, sterile and timely manner. I started taking my placenta pills the day after giving birth and for weeks I noticed increased energy, good mood and excellent breast milk supply. I also found my hair, skin and nails were extra strong, which I attributed to these magical pills. Some women save the placenta capsules in the freezer for when they are feeling ill or rundown, when their period returns or even menopause. What a beautiful, incredible, life giving organ.
The fourth trimester offers a crucial moment to soften, surrender and sink, gradually and gracefully, into your new role as a mother. It is a safe haven, a sacred and special time, where a new mother can recover from what she’s been through and begin to make her way toward what waits ahead.