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5 ways to help yourself manage the fourth trimester

Updated: 6 days ago

couple with newborn baby

What is the fourth trimester?

The fourth trimester is that intense first few months of your baby’s life. There’s a lot going on for you and baby. For you, you are recovering from birth, dealing with sleep deprivation and learning to care for this brand new person that depends on you for every element on their existence.

For baby, they’re adjusting to life outside the womb. Where they were previously constantly nourished by the placenta, now they are experiencing hunger and thirst for the first time. Where they were warm and suspended in water, now they experience sudden changes in temperature, air moving past their skin, clothes and nappies. Where they felt snug and close to you, now they’re being put down on a flat surface on their own.

You can see why a baby might find this transition quite difficult and want to be close to you at all times.

Modern parenting manuals often given the impression that there’s something wrong with our babies if they cry whenever they’re put down or if they want to feed 24/7. There are even some ludicrous mistruths put out there by so called ‘parenting experts’ that your baby is trying to manipulate you.

The truth is, this is all normal newborn behaviour. They are completely hardwired to search for safety and you are their safe place. Their stomachs are tiny and the composition of human breastmilk shows us that it’s completely normal for newborns to feed frequently.

So that’s all very well but it doesn’t make it any less intense. So here are my top tips for surviving the fourth trimester.

1. Manage your expectations about normal newborn behaviour

mother and newborn baby

Looking after a newborn is so much easier when you know what to expect and when you understand what’s normal. I highly recommend reading up on newborn sleep. There is a fabulous book called ‘The Gentle Sleep Book’ by Sarah Ockwell-Smith which perfectly sums up what you might expect from babies (at all different ages), why they sleep like that and then some practical tips for supporting your baby and yourself. A couple of great Instagram accounts to follow for tips are @lyndsey_hookway and @charmaine.walters.

The same goes for breastfeeding. Understanding things like cluster feeding and feeding on demand in advance can really help to prepare you for the initial weeks when all your baby wants to do is feed. There are some great books like ‘The Positive Breastfeeding Book’ by Amy Brown plus there are some fantastic Instagram accounts like @nomilklikemamas.

In my experience, understanding typical newborn behaviour is the key to acceptance. And acceptance will more likely bring you peace.

2. Write a postnatal plan

woman planning with notepad and pen

We’ve all heard of a birth plan but I also recommend spending a bit of time on a postnatal plan, whether that’s a typed document or just some scribbled notes on the back of an envelope.

The idea of the postnatal plan is that you take the time in pregnancy to consider those immediate days and weeks after birth rather than trying to make decisions when you’re in the trenches and consumed with caring for your newborn baby.

Things you may want to include in your postnatal plan:

  • visitors – who, when, any ground rules you want to set out

  • food - a list of meals you can batch cook in advance and pop in the freezer

  • support - the things you might need support with and who could help you with them e.g. household chores, childcare for older children, breastfeeding support, emotional support

  • partner - expectations around your partner’s role, much better to have this conversation now

  • self care - measures you intend to set time aside for e.g. sitz bath, a daily walk, 5 minutes to drink a hot cuppa

3. Invest in a sling

mother with baby in sling

A sling is one of the few essential newborn purchases in my opinion. I love a stretchy wrap which takes a bit of practice to tie initially but after a few goes it becomes easy. You can pick them up really cheap on Facebook Marketplace. I could be a good idea to seek support from a sling consultant to ensure you have baby in a safe and comfortable position. One you master a sling, it can be a real gamechanger.

Babies like to be close to us and you can’t get much closer than snuggled in against your chest. They love the physical contact, your smell and the reassurance of your heartbeat. Being this close can also help regulate their temperature and heart rate. Plus they can be rocked to sleep while you get on and do things – hands free!

4. Go to bed early

woman in bed

This was my secret weapon with both of my babies. Waking frequently throughout the night is completely normal but it doesn’t make it any less exhausting.

So what you really want to do is think about how you can maximise your total sleep in a 24 hour period.

Now I’m not one of those people who gives the advice to “sleep when baby sleeps”. For a lot of new parents whose baby will only sleep on them, that advice is pretty irritating.

My preferred way of maximising sleep is to go to bed really early. I’m talking 7 or 8pm. Now this does require you to sacrifice your evening chill time for a few months, but in order for you to feel more human, it can be well worth it.

5. Find your parent crew

two women smiling and hugging

Finding yourself a mum squad or others going through the newborn days at the same time can feel like a lifeline. Meeting up to share how tired you are or having someone to message in the middle of the night can be invaluable.

A good place to find your gang is at an antenatal course, baby groups or even strolling in the park. If you find these situations tricky, you’re not alone and lots of people feel like that.

Other options available these days are apps like Mush or Peanut which allow you to find and connect with local mums with similar age children or shared interests.

So there you have it, my 5 ways to help yourself through the fourth trimester. It can be a really challenging part of parenthood but just remember, nothing lasts forever. On tough days, you might find it useful to repeat the mantra “everything is a phase”. It’s true what they say, “the nights are long but the years are short”.


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