Expectations: Part 3 – The 4th trimester
This is the 3rd installment of the Expectations series and it reveals the truth about the 4th trimester. Click here to read part 1 and part 2 (Expectations: Part 1 – Pregnancy; Expectations: Part 2 – Labor and Delivery)
Mama, you survived pregnancy and labor and now you’re holding your bundle of joy next to your heart. Congratulations!!!! Your journey as a parent continues and has entered a new stage known as the 4th trimester.
Why is it called that? 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’re a bit confused on what to expect. 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. You may also think 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 cliche, 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 hearth beat lets them know that everything is ok. Now if you get lucky and have a newborn that sleeps a lot in the beginning 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.
The 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 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 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!!!!