The term ‘fourth trimester’ is used to describe the postpartum period in the initial months following birth. It is a time where your small and snuggly baby is wholly dependent on you to meet their every need, a time where you are rediscovering your new identity as a parent and a time where extreme emotion and sleep deprivation is matched with unconditional love and intense joy. The reality roller coaster that is parenthood starts here.
During pregnancy, an expectant mother is placed in a protective bubble where self-care and slowing down is actively encouraged and your mind is fed with positive tales of the wonder that is yet to come. Yet, following the birth of your baby, when you are at your most vulnerable, the positive tones changes and the truth telling begins. For you, everything has changed. You are met with the unrelenting pressure of providing round-the-clock and undivided attention to a newborn baby and you may be met with more opinions than I care to mention. Initially, we may feel able to deal with this as those initial weeks are often teamed with kind friends dropping over home-cooked meals, a partner or relative around the house attending to your every need, a living room awash with new baby cards and cute little outfits in fancy boxes. Yet the weeks roll on, life returns to normal and reality begins to sink in – slowly and without really realising what happened, your partner may have returned to work or may soon be returning to work, the cards and well wishes have stopped arriving in the post but some eager visitors may still want a slice of your moments of downtime and relaxation with your new baby.
When tirelessly attending to the needs of your precious baby, it can be difficult to identify your own needs. If there were a quote that I have repeated to new mothers time and time again, it is this: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
As a parent, failure to attend to your own needs will eventually lead to burnout which will leave you overwhelmed and unable to care for your baby. Caring for you is caring for your baby.
But, where to start? Should we aim high and plan for the ultimate spa day with no expenses spared, posh nibbles, herbal teas and more smoothies than you can shake a stick at, or do we adjust our expectations to something a little more realistic? So, as a midwife and a mother, let me take you by the hand and show you the way…
Start with the basics!
Check in with yourself. Are you being kind to yourself by ensuring that you get the basic things you need to thrive? It is so easy to slip into the stereotypical role of a tired mother; the mother who survives countless sleepless nights, runs on coffee and has shares in a dry shampoo company. The mother who is all the while feeding her baby on demand, providing her toddler with healthy meals and vitamins, ensuring everyone is up to date with their medical checks and making sure that age-appropriate mental stimulation has been received. Self-care does not need to be some great gesture; it is simply providing yourself with the care that you provide to others. So, fill up your water bottle, take your vitamins, allow yourself to stop, apply your sun cream, eat well and remember to look after you too!
Mindset and internal dialogue
The path you plan to walk when you envisage parenthood and the path you take are often very different. Naturally, we always want the best for our children so we try our best! But, we should not beat ourselves up if we cannot achieve these ideals. In the face of moments where we may feel as though we have fallen short, it is time to apply the same rule of compassion to yourself as you would towards another person. If you have a habit of using cruel words to yourself in your own internal dialogue, then try shifting your mindset and talk to yourself as you would your best friend in the same situation. You deserve the kindness you give to others.
Little and often
Having a baby can cause a huge shift in your perception of your own identity. You may feel lost in this new world of parenthood and unsure where you fit in; relationships change and your self-esteem might have soared or plummeted to your boots. Firstly, it is important to accept and acknowledge these feelings as they will lead you back to finding your sense of self again. Are you someone who thrives from the buzz of a spin class? Do you feel whole after a brisk walk in the fresh air or is your mind reset after having a quiet cup of tea on your front step away from the distractions of modern tech? Set yourself small, achievable goals that can be incorporated into your day-to-day living. Celebrate what I like to call a little ‘mum-win’ – no matter how small it may seem. Remember: you are doing the best you can!
Take your time
The birth of a baby is a major life event; allow yourself time to get to know your baby and evolve. Welcome the support from others with open arms but also implement boundaries with well-meaning visitors if space is what you need. Never be frightened to cancel plans if the thought of them overwhelms you. The fourth trimester is a crazy, yet beautiful phase that needs to be approached one day at a time. Stay present and embrace the moment. Feel empowered by the knowledge that you are doing everything in your ability to do the best for your baby. It is true what they say, ‘the days are long but the years are short’. Keep going Mama; you’ll be sipping fizz on that spa day before you know it!