By Morgan Michalowski, CNM, WHNP-BC, IBCLC
Your first few months as a brand new mother are filled with joy and wonder … but also stress and confusion. There are remarkably few resources designed to make the fourth trimester easier to navigate, and the ones that are available often urge mothers to “prepare” by buying truckloads of stuff, a strategy that’s utterly useless when your baby is screaming in your arms and you don’t know what to do. Mixed and confusing messages from mainstream media can make those first months of motherhood feel disastrous. (Especially if you’ve only got 12 weeks of maternity leave!)
At Gravida, we want to support mothers at ALL stages, so we’ve created a series of posts that cover the ins and outs of the fourth trimester. In this article, we’ll explore what to expect during month 3 of your postpartum life, and offer some coping strategies for the unique challenges of this tumultuous four-week period!
(Looking for help during months 1 or 2 instead? Here you go! How to Survive the Fourth Trimester Without Losing Your Mind: Month 1 | How to Survive the Fourth Trimester Without Losing Your Mind: Month 2.)
Month 3 of your fourth trimester: The tearful goodbye
As a quick reminder, the fourth trimester starts the moment your baby is born and lasts until she’s three months old. It’s a period of significant change and development for both you and your newborn since you’re both adjusting to your baby’s new world outside your womb.
The cruel joke of month 3 is that your baby leaves the fussy stage, smiles for the first time, and actually desires interaction when maternity leave runs out at 12 weeks. (One of many reasons we need longer leave for new parents!) You’re just starting to enjoy her and get to know her personality, but now you have to go back to work. It blows. If possible, find someone who can bring your baby to see you at work. And don’t feel guilty about asking your boss to see your baby during the day. Seeing your baby during the day makes you more productive and engaged at work. (It’s true!) If you need inspiration from companies who treat their working parents well, look to Patagonia or Rent the Runway.
If you’re grappling with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, baby blues, or just feeling like you could use extra support, connect with a mental health therapist. Your friends and family should be there for you, but having a “paid friend” whose job is to listen to your worries can be a huge relief! To find one, check out Psychology Today or The Postpartum Stress Center.
When the countdown to work is on and the pressure is high, create a 5-minute self-care ritual. Here are a few ideas:
- Wash your face, and hold a warm washcloth to your face for a few seconds. Then apply a totally indulgent moisturizer.
- Take a unique beverage to enjoy in the shower.
- Add a few drops of tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender, bergamot, or lemon oil to the floor of the tub during the shower for a relaxing or mood-boosting effect.
Your healing is continuing, but still in-process so you may need some extra support before heading back to the office. To prepare for your return to work, use wellness appointments as an opportunity to practice gentle separation from your baby.
Consider working with a physical therapist (PT) specializing in pelvic floor therapy. (Not sure how to find one? Use the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute to find a PT in your area!) If you’ve had any back issues during pregnancy, labor, or postpartum, work with a chiropractor trained in Webster technique. See an acupuncturist specializing in postnatal care, especially if you’re experiencing discomfort that your OB says is “normal” but that’s still super irritating (think temperature regulation issues or sore joints).
Not keen to be away from home? Hire a massage therapist who can come to your home. Try Soothe or Zeel.
Cleanish is good enough if it means you can spend more time doing something for yourself or enjoying your family. However, many mothers feel that a clean space does wonders for the mind. If that’s your situation, find small ways to keep your place tidy by including baby in household chores (some babies love to fall asleep to the vacuum) or hire someone on Task Rabbit to help you keep things neat.
By month 3 postpartum, your baby is starting to interact and play with you!
- 12-14 hours per day, with 2-4 naps during the day.
- You might find your baby sleeps better when your body is her bed.
- Prepare for a sleep transition around 3-4 months that will bring more frequent night wakings.
- There are pros and cons to sleep training and contact napping.
- Be aware that sleep training is temporary and doesn’t offer long-term results. You can re-sleep train or take the baby’s lead and wait. It’s entirely up to you and the needs of the whole family!
When it comes to napping options, find what works best for you now and as you prepare for your return to work. Here are some pros and cons of contact napping and independent sleeping:
- Contact napping pros: Daytime flexibility (you aren’t restricted to napping at home), longer stretches of sleep, time to bond, easy to breastfeed on the go in the carrier, calm baby
- Independent sleep pros: develop a schedule sooner, more body space and independence
- Contact napping cons: Babies are heavy to hold for long periods, lack of personal space
- Independent sleep cons: Spend your maternity leave trying to get your baby to sleep on her own, restricted schedule during the day, temporary stress while you help her learn how to sleep and stay asleep
- Expect to feed her 8-12 times in 24 hours, on-cue feeding
- Between 1-6 months, most babies take 2-4 oz of breast milk or formula per feeding. Check out our pumping calculator to estimate how much milk your baby needs.
- If pumping, most women pump 1-3 oz TOTAL per pumping session (that’s for both breasts).
- Age 1-6 months: Expect to feed 19-30 oz/day,
- Age 6-24 months: Expect to feed 14-30 oz/day.
- If your baby sleeps through the night, the amount of breast milk consumed during the day will be higher.
Here is what a few other mamas have said about this first months postpartum:
“There is hope! You will get your hair and body back. Patience is key. Pregnancy destroyed my hair and I struggled with postpartum depression as well. It’s ok to ask for help”
“I realized I didn’t want to be a parent the day we came home from the hospital. No one can really help you with that feeling but it helped to be honest with my husband about it. Turns out he was having similar feelings.”
“My baby had silent reflux and screamed all day and night. Everyone acted like sleeplessness was part of the gig but this baby nursed or screamed. 2 friends stepped in at 10 weeks and helped me troubleshoot what was going on after multiple people including my pediatrician dismissed me. Everyone’s attitude was “well this is just motherhood.” This was not motherhood. This was insanity.”
“It was embarrassing to reach for help, and I know I shouldn’t be but I was mortified of people thinking I was a bad mom for needing it.”
The biggest hurdle during month 3?
If you’re preparing to return to work, it’ll definitely be making peach with the fact that you’ll be away from your baby so very soon! You may feel like you’re just starting to get the hang of motherhood when your leave expires, and that can be incredibly frustrating. Know that what you’re feeling is normal, and that you and your baby will continue to bond and grow together in new ways, even if you’re not with her every moment of every day.
My final tip: Remember that the postpartum period doesn’t “magically end” with a postpartum OB visit at 6 weeks, or even when you head back to work! It ends when you feel like life makes sense again. Don’t force yourself to heal or change on someone else’s timeline. Adjust in ways that feel good, and don’t fret if you need extra time to adjust.
Stay tuned, we will cover what to expect during the 5th, 6th, and 7th trimester over the next few weeks. You’ve got this!
Looking for support during month 1 or month 2 of your fourth trimester? We’ve got you covered! Click the links below to read the other articles in this comprehensive postpartum series.
- How to Survive the Fourth Trimester Without Losing Your Mind: Month 1
- How to Survive the Fourth Trimester Without Losing Your Mind: Month 2
If you have questions or are looking for more support postpartum, please click here to reach out to us!
Also, if you are looking for mental health resources, check out Stephen Hays Stigma Podcast!