By Morgan Michalowski, CNM, WHNP-BC, IBCLC
When I was just 12 weeks pregnant and heard new moms talk about how hard postpartum life is, I naively thought they were struggling due to a lack of planning. Their complaints sprang from poorly managed time, terrible infant sleep (because they didn’t read the right books), and money constraints.
I wouldn’t let that happen to me. I was going to crack the code. I’d sail through my postpartum period like a pro.
I quickly learned that all my reading and preparation would be helpful at the very start.
My first 5 weeks postpartum were glorious. I knew exactly what to expect, how to care for my baby, how to heal my vagina, how to sleep even when my baby wouldn’t, which healing foods to eat, and how to feed my baby without destroying my nipples. I was in my newborn bubble and loving every minute.
But at 5 weeks postpartum, the story shifted.
My baby felt different. (Hello, developmental fussiness!)
I didn’t have as much support. (Why does everyone stop offering help when the hard stuff is just beginning?!)
The time constraints were real. But more than that, I felt guilty leaving my baby to do anything for myself.
And I didn’t realize that infants simply don’t sleep well because of their immature neurologic and respiratory systems. (Or that nearly 30% don’t respond to sleep training at all. Parents aren’t failing; infants are just tricky.)
When all that came crashing down, I felt overwhelmed and confused, to say the least. And I began to understand where all those gripes about postpartum challenges were coming from.
Before I had my baby and lacked this valuable perspective, this is what I heard:
They said: I don’t prioritize working out.
I thought: Solution: workout in the morning before your baby wakes up!
They said: My baby doesn’t sleep. We must be doing something wrong.
I thought: Why not read a book? Work with a sleep consultant?
They said: We don’t go on dates anymore. It’s too expensive.
I thought: Can’t family or friends watch your baby for free?
But here’s what those new parents were really trying to express (that went way over my head):
“Working out is hard to do because I have to find someone to watch my baby. I feel guilty paying for time away so I can work out, but if I try to do an at-home workout, I get interrupted all the time. It feels like a lose-lose situation.”
“My baby doesn’t sleep despite working with several sleep trainers. T baby wakes up 3-4 times a night still, but only wants me. My partner tries to help, but my baby screams and won’t settle down until I’m the one holding or breastfeeding.”
“How do I maintain a relationship with my partner when we are both tired and working so hard every day? We skip dates because our baby doesn’t do well with a sitter, we’re exhausted, and it doesn’t feel worth the trouble.”
Once I’d had my baby and gone through it all myself, I realized then that postpartum doesn’t end at 6 weeks. That’s only the beginning.
And honestly? It wasn’t until I was 6th trimester postpartum, 8 months later, that taking care of my baby started to feel like a reflex, like she was truly part of my routine.
After 8 months with my baby, getting out of the house became easier. Finding time to take care of myself felt possible. My abs weren’t as weak and mushy, so I could move around a bit easier.
If you’re entering your 6th trimester postpartum, even if you’re just entering month 7, you are likely to have some similarly positive experiences. Hopefully, you’re over the toughest parts of your postpartum period, and you might see the sun shining for the first time in a long time. It’s going to be OK. I promise.
Here’s what to expect as you move into your 6th trimester postpartum.
Month 7 of your 6th trimester postpartum: A.K.A. A part of my routine
Depending on your own postpartum symptoms, your baby’s unique development, and your support system, you may finally be starting to get in a groove. You’ve still got challenges, but tasks and worries that scared you to pieces in your 4th trimester are second nature now!
Look for the word “should” as a clue that you’re setting superhuman expectations for yourself. You’re juggling a lot, and that means some balls are going to drop. If you’re thinking you “should” be working more, seeing friends more often, getting more exercise … but you’re just too tired, listen to those signals.
Also be confident in setting boundaries around your needs. It’s OK if you need to leave work on time to put your kid to bed, or to request that your child care provider only contact you at work if there’s an emergency. Moving at your own pace and letting things slide doesn’t make you a bad parent! It’s all part of the awkwardness of experimenting and learning.
If you’re getting back into your regular exercise routine and find that you leak urine, feel a heaviness in your vagina, or have persistent pelvic pain, it’s time to see a physical therapist for some pelvic floor work.
These visits should be covered by insurance, just ask your OB or midwife for a prescription! Kegels and pelvic floor therapy can go a long way toward reducing the occurrence of vaginal farting, leaking of urine, painful intercourse, and prolapse. Because it can be difficult to know if you’re doing Kegels correctly, try the Elvie app to track your progress!
Your Home and Work
How’s it going managing home life with a baby? Are you and your partner sharing responsibilities at home? If you need help figuring out what’s fair or how to get the support you need, let’s do this together!
Here’s what others have found helpful:
- Continue to be vocal when you need help and support. Some people in your life may start to act “impatient” with your request around this time, so remember to be confident. You are still learning and healing, and shouldn’t do everything yourself.
- If you feel an imbalance of caregiving tasks between you and your partner, address it sooner rather than later. Resentment can build fast between new parents, and it’s better to nip it in the bud! Ask your partner to take complete ownership of certain workloads (bath time, emptying diaper pails, laundry) so you can trust they’ll get done.
- If you feel constantly behind schedule, work with your partner to make a daily timetable. That way, even if tasks get skipped, you’ll know what they are and how many. That can help fight overwhelm.
- Consider doing a little work from home, if your employer and job allow it. You might not be as productive as you are at the office, but just being near your baby can help you feel more balanced and grounded.
“Good” infant sleep is primarily based on 20th-century research focusing on the bottle-fed, solitary-sleeping infant. So if your baby still isn’t sleeping through the night by your 6th trimester postpartum, I’m sorry — but you’re not doing anything wrong!
Biologically normal infant sleep looks and feels different than you’d expect. Infant sleep ebbs and flows and rarely moves in an upward trajectory. It goes up and down through the first and second years of life, making it incredibly hard to predict.
Here are a few things that might affect your baby’s natural sleep-wake cycle and feeding habits:
- Your daily activity, including your work schedule. If you work long hours or get home late at night, your baby might “hold out” to see you or demand to be breastfed frequently overnight, something called reverse-cycling.
- Your baby will go through developmental leaps, like when they learn how to grab their toes or realize that you’re on the other side of the door. These new skills may wake them up more overnight! Fun for them, if a bit exhausting for you.
- Your baby’s growth, including many calories they need to consume each day, can impact how often they wake up to eat.
- Your baby’s personality may also impact the sleep-wake cycle. Just as some adults sleep lighter at night, some babies do, too!
I know that’s a lot of variables, but don’t fret! Here’s what you can do to get a bit of shut-eye:
- Sleep- and mood-regulating hormones are higher in breast milk at night! Feeding overnight helps your baby get brain-boosting amino acids, allows them to establish a circadian rhythm, keeps them in a better mood, and protects against SIDS! If you pump, label the breast milk you pump in the evening or overnight and remember to give it to baby during the evening.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “that infants sleep in the parents’ room, close to the parents’ bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants, ideally for the first year of life, but at least for the first 6 months. There is evidence that sleeping in the parents’ room but on a separate surface decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%. ”
- If room sharing is working for you, keep going! If you notice you and your baby are having difficulty sleeping close to each other, experiment with new sleeping arrangements.
- Try sleep nudging. In the second half of your baby’s first year, your baby is more receptive to sleep nudging.
- Create a predictable bedtime routine (bath, books, songs, breastfeed?)
- Nudge toward shorter breastfeeding sessions by gently breaking the latch and letting your baby use your finger to suck on until she falls asleep.
- Have your partner or a family member practice the bedtime routine while you’re out running errands.
What to do:
If you’re pregnant, as you Pinterest away ideas for your baby shower, ask guests to write down 3 things they didn’t know to expect their first year postpartum and one thing that helped them through. In addition to playing the guessing game of “is it baby poop!” add in #parentfail. Ask guests to write down a funny mishap that happened during their first year of parenting and try and guess who did what!
If you’re postpartum, you can’t outsmart a mood disorder. And they can show up anytime during that first year postpartum. If something doesn’t feel right, reach out to a doctor or therapist, or ask for help getting a referral. Sometimes it’s normal postpartum hormones or matrescence (think: adolescence for moms), but if symptoms persist it could be a mood disorder. And that’s not something to ignore. It’s not your fault if you find yourself here. Your brain and hormones changed significantly! Be gentle with yourself, and get the support and help you need.
The biggest hurdle in month 7 of the 6th trimester postpartum?
Postpartum periods. They’re back. Or about to come back. And your menstrual cycle may feel different now that the baby has arrived. Some women notice that their periods are heavier or lighter after childbirth. Others find that the blood is a slightly different color, that they are passing more clots than before, or that abdominal cramps are more intense. This is all very natural, since your uterus is still returning to its normal size, and breastfeeding is impacting your hormone levels. Different is normal in this case!
Looking for support during your 4th or 5th trimesters? We’ve got you covered!