The Fourth Trimester: It’s Not Over at Birth

Newborn and the mother

Knee-deep in my second pregnancy – OK, waist-deep (35 weeks and counting) – I’m thinking about a lot of things: the sweet, sweet joys of uninterrupted sleep; the way a sip of red wine rolls over the tongue (at least I remember it rolling); and what those first weeks with baby will be like. Last time – five years ago with my first son – I don’t think I struck quite the ideal balance between work and the challenges of bringing a brand new human being into the world. There are pictures of me with babe on my breast, laptop on my lap – cranking away at a deadline – and giant, smoky dark circles under my eyes. Not balanced, no.

This time, I’m doing things differently. You heard it here. I’m going to (attempt to) operate under the fourth trimester model – that is, I’m going to – really – give baby at least three dedicated months to adjust to, well . . . breathing, eating, pooping and generally facing the cold, harsh light of a non-utero existence. This means that I will not be nursing him while I work and I will consider how hard it must be to adjust to the noisy, stimulating experience that is life on earth. As for me, I’m going take those first three months with baby – sometimes called the “fourth trimester” – to indulge my postpartum self. Having a baby is hard stuff. In addition to caring for a tiny, needy little person, a new mama can face aches and pains from birth, hormonal fluctuations, delirium-inducing sleep deprivation, lactation issues (read: nipple pain; ouch!), not to mention massive shifts in her identity. If you were a rock climber and a dedicated wife or a successful lawyer and a passionate stamp collector, now you’re those things and a mother.

My fourth trimester rule book:

–  I will give myself room to feel overwhelmed. I will remind myself that having a baby is a big deal.

–  I will sleep when baby sleeps.

– I will ask for help when I need it. This help may come in the form of lasagna; a night of babysitting for my older child; or an hour of newborn-watching so I can take a walk, nap or meet a girlfriend.

Some fourth trimester resources:

For you: The Fourth Trimester: And You Thought Labor was Hard by Amy Einhorn (Crown).

For you and baby: The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D. (Bantam)