Welcoming a baby into the world, and into your everyday, is the mother of all harrowing life changes — particularly in the beginning. Sure, you had nine months to get ready, give or take, but how much did you do to prepare for the fragile, magical, fraught and taxing first three months of baby’s life — a time also known as the fourth trimester? (Spoiler alert: Buying adorable onesies and painting baby’s nursery, while necessities in their own right, won’t be of much help during this time.)
“The fourth trimester comes with so many changes due to lack of sleep, hormonal and body changes and dealing with healing from birth — all while navigating new family dynamics,” explains Dr. Megan Pallister, an OB-GYN in Houston and Lansinoh clinical advisory network member. “It can be challenging to navigate breastfeeding/feeding baby, relationship issues, postpartum complications, as well as other issues that may arise for both parents and baby while recovering from birth.”
This, she explains, is why knowledge and preparation are key. From items to stock up on beforehand to baby comfort tips, here are 10 expert-backed tips for surviving — and maybe even thriving! — during the fourth trimester.
Fourth trimester self-care survival tips for parents
During the fourth trimester, according to Pallister, “baby is learning to adjust to life outside of the womb, and parents are learning to care for a new human. It’s a learning experience for everyone.”
“This is also the time period that mothers are physically recovering while contending with emotional stresses of a fragile, dependent newborn,” says Dr. Kecia Gaither, who’s double board-certified in OB-GYN and maternal fetal medicine and the director of perinatal services/maternal fetal medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx.
All this said, new parents can use all the help they can get. Here’s how new moms and dads can ease the transition of the fourth trimester.
1. Prepare postpartum supplies in advance
Figure out what you’re going to need (or might need) and line it up before baby arrives. By doing this, you’re avoiding impromptu trips to CVS, which — trust — are far more stressful when there’s a baby involved.
“Preparing postpartum supplies in advance is key,” says Pallister, who lists the following as must-haves:
- Pads for postpartum bleeding.
- Hemorrhoid treatment.
- Pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Pallister also notes that “birth parents should include their partner as much as possible in birthing classes and prenatal,” not only so they know what to expect during childbirth but so they can help with postpartum recovery.
2. Enlist — and use — help
Ever heard the saying “it takes a village”? It’s true, says Pallister. “Surround yourself with as many loved ones and friends as possible,” she says. “Accept meals, gifts or any offerings you are given to ease into life as a new parent.”
“New parents without familial support can also get in touch with a social worker, who may be able to connect them with local support systems,” adds Gaither.
To that point, Pallister also suggests researching lactation consultants while you’re still pregnant if you plan on breastfeeding. “This way, you can call them — or your OB — with any concerns,” she says.
3. Pick other parents’ brains
“It’s smart to talk to friends who have already given birth or have kids,” Pallister says. “By doing this, you can try to anticipate as many struggles as you can and prepare for them in advance.”
This is exactly what Sarah Moyle, a mom of two in DeKalb, Illinois, did before giving birth to her first child. “I was always asking my friends what they thought I needed to know or prepare after coming home from the hospital,” she says, noting that, through friends, she learned she’d need to stock up on pads, nursing bras, nipple cream and witch hazel spray, which can help with postpartum soreness.
“I also got a bunch of show recommendations,” she adds. “I watched so much middle-of-the-night TV when I was nursing!”
4. Meal prep
Another gem Moyle discovered in talking to others? Preparing — and freezing — meals in advance, so the dreaded “what’s for dinner?” question was never an issue (something that, like clockwork, tends to coincide with baby’s dreaded witching hour!).
5. Set — and keep — realistic expectations
“Remember, there’s no expectation for you to be a super-parent,” says Dr. Joanne Armstrong, chief medical officer of Women’s Health and Genomics at CVS Health. “Make sure not to demand too much of yourself and know that your experiences — whatever they are — are valid during this time.”
6. Take care of yourself
“Care for yourself” and “care for a newborn” may sound like an oxymoron when uttered in the same sentence, but doing the former is so, so important for your mental health and it will help with the latter.
“In addition to staying connected through activities such as a parenthood support group, make sure to get enough rest, eat healthy food and devote some time for your own interests,” says Armstrong. “Doing this will help you navigate this period of life and you’ll be able to love and care for your child to your fullest.”
And don’t shame yourself if your self-care is pretty pared down during this time; the key is not letting yourself, and your needs, completely fall to the wayside.
“Every day when my husband came home from work, I handed him the baby and went for a short walk,” says Lauren B., a mom of one in Verona, New Jersey. “I needed the break, and it was a time where I collected my thoughts and let out a few loud breaths.”
7. Seek professional help, if need be
It’s important to remember that it’s OK to admit that you’re not OK, says Armstrong.
“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure, but is often essential to navigating this phase of life,” she continues. “Having good mental health supports in place even before pregnancy is the best way to prepare for the mental health challenges that often arise after birth — and stay connected to the resources and mental health supports you’ve already been using before childbirth.”
“Most OB/GYNs will see you about two weeks after baby is born and you should be thoroughly evaluated for signs of postpartum depression and anxiety,” Pallister says, adding that signs of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety include:
- Intrusive thoughts.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Lack of desire to do the things you used to enjoy.
- Lack of appetite.
- Suicidal thoughts.
Fourth trimester baby care survival tips for new parents
Here, tips that will help you care for baby during the first 12 weeks.
8. Gather health information
Before birth, Pallister recommends finding a pediatrician you gel with, and then asking them “what to expect regarding caring for baby in the hospital and when you get home.”
“For example,” she continues, “find out who you should call after hours if you need to speak to your baby’s pediatrician, what shots baby will receive in the hospital and how long after being discharged from the hospital baby needs to see the pediatrician.”
According to Pallister, “knowing the answers to these questions will help you prepare for caring for your baby and ease the transition into parenthood for both you and baby.”
9. Cozy up
There’s a good chance you’ll google “how to soothe a fussy baby” at some point during the fourth trimester. According to Armstrong, one way to do that is to “swaddle them or place them in a swing, which will help keep them comfortable and content.”
She also notes that “swaying them or carrying them” can also help.
And not so ironically, “oftentimes activities that can help your baby feel more secure during this time can also be beneficial for your own health,” she adds.
“Taking your baby on a short walk in a carrier can be refreshing for both you and your child,” notes Armstrong. “If you need to free up your hands to participate in something, try placing them in a wrap or sling so they can still be near you.”
10. Do what works for you and your baby
From sleep schedules to feeding, there’s a good chance you’re going to see an influx of advice from well-meaning folks during the fourth trimester. But the best advice of all, says Moyle? Do what works for you and your baby.
“I asked for advice and got so many different answers when it came to sleep, feeding and schedules,” she says. “I tried a few different suggestions, but ultimately wound up doing my own thing and it worked and everyone was better off for it.”
In other words: It may take some trial and error, but ultimately, trust your gut. Because nobody knows your situation better than you.