How to Survive the Fourth Trimester with Sanity Intact

The short answer: you don’t. I’m kidding, of course, but when you’re deep in the trenches of taking care of a crying potato it feels like you’re slowly losing your mind.

While I definitely struggled (and as a first time mom the struggle continues to be real), these are my tips for making it to the other side of the fourth trimester.

But before we go any further, we should probably address exactly what this time period is and how it got its name.

The fourth trimester is the name given to the time between the birth of your child to about 3 months old. This is a time for huge transition for both you and your baby. Your newborn goes from an environment where they always feel cozy and warm to the complete shock of being out in the world.

As scary as it is for you at first, realizing taking care of your infant just got a lot more complicated (and more rewarding at the same time), I imagine this is downright terrifying for them. Our babies need comfort now more than ever. Like many people will tell you: you can’t spoil a newborn.

This is a huge transition time for your entire family and your latest addition. It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed as you approach your due date or as you’re starting off in those first few weeks. It truly is survival, but hopefully the following tips/tricks I learned and researched will help you on your own adventure.

Recovering in the Hospital

I’ll start from the beginning. Labor and delivery is a whirlwind once you start pushing. Literally one second everyone in the room is yelling all sorts of encouragement, and the next you’ve got a screaming, bloody baby planted squarely on your chest.

It’s overwhelming. I remember sobbing about how beautiful she was and just staring down at her in shock. I didn’t even notice the nurses cleaning me up from where she pooped on me!

That first hour of skin to skin (provided there are no health issues for either of you) is amazing.

And then the pain and confusion kicks in. Hopefully you have an awesome support system like I did and your husband/boyfriend/family help take over the majority of the care in the hospital.

A few pieces of advice I can impart on you are:

  • Use those padsicles if you delivered vaginally. They really are worth pestering your nurse for.
  • If you react to pain medication like I do, try to get down to taking Advil/Tylenol as soon as possible. The hydrocodone made me so tired I could barely keep my eyes open.
  • Make sure your husband/whoever has that carseat base ready to go at least before the last day in the hospital. We waited until the last minute and he had to install the base while also suffering from sleep deprivation and a stomach bug he caught while in the hospital.
  • Take those stool softeners. If your nurses don’t bring it up, ask them. It helps SO much for that first poop. Honestly this part terrified me more than giving birth, but in reality it wasn’t as bad as I expected. All I can say is take it slow. And for the love of God, don’t push hard.
  • Leaving the hospital, you’ll probably be more confused than anything. I would get conflicting advice from every nurse I had. Just do what feels right to you and ask a lot of questions even if you get different answers from different people. Error on the side of too many questions.
  • Take advantage of the offer of the nurses watching your baby for a few hours that second night. You will be absolutely useless and dead dog tired if you don’t. This is your last chance to have a “break.”

The First Few Weeks

Honestly, this is the real test. It is go time. It’s you and your partner against the world, but that doesn’t mean you guys shouldn’t feel comfortable asking for help.

I used to always think that “it takes a village" quote was lame and I never understood it. I do now. You can’t do this on your own, and you shouldn’t try to. Married, dating, or a single mom -- know who you can count on when you need help.

Even if you rolled your eyes at me when you read that, keep it in the back of your mind. I’m guilty of pushing myself too hard and taking on more than I could handle. And my mental health and relationship with my partner suffered for it. I took on most of the care until I resented my partner a bit and honestly felt a bit nutty.

Real talk: your partner isn’t a mind reader. They don’t get it if you don’t voice your needs. Tell them explicitly you need a break. You don’t have to be mean about it, but you do need to communicate well. Communication is one of the areas that suffered in my relationship after our daughter was born.

On that note, your relationship with your partner has completely changed. It’s okay to mourn your old life together. Even mothers with the most wanted and very much planned babies will miss how things used to be. Having a baby is hard. It makes every aspect of life harder. Day-to-day life, grocery shopping, date night, and finances just to name a few.

“Let yourself mourn the old and it will help you to better embrace the new.”

If I can only give you a few pieces of advice for this stage, they would be as follows:

  • Ask for help if you need it. First off, you just delivered a tiny human into this world. It hurts. You will hurt for awhile.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care is the number one thing you need to strive for every day other than keeping everyone alive. Try to get at least an hour by yourself every day. Take a shower, make up a sitz bath for your stitches if you have them, just do something that relaxes you and makes YOU happy.
  • Fed is best. If you struggle with breastfeeding or even if you just don’t want to breastfeed (me, by the way)… Don’t! I know breastfeeding is the big thing especially in recent years, but formula is just as good in my opinion. And if you’re worried about PPD I would forgo breastfeeding. I’m part of a few mom subreddits and I see a huge correlation between breastfeeding and PPD. Keep in mind, these are just my observations. You do what works best for you and your baby no matter what it is.
  • Listen to that obnoxious advice -- “sleep when the baby sleeps.” That phrase seems to universally be annoying to hear, but it’s kinda true. Sleep deprivation is the worst part of having a newborn. Changing dirty diapers has nothing on being so tired you could fall asleep standing up.
  • Follow your instincts. Listen to the advice of others, but ultimately trust your gut. If you’re worried about your baby, don’t be afraid to ask their pediatrician all the questions and get a second opinion if you think you need one.

At almost 5 months postpartum, I’m only a little bit out of that fourth trimester, so I’m definitely no expert, but I learned a lot going through that time period. Believe me, all those sleepless nights are worth it. My girl has been sleeping through the night since 3 months old, and it feels like I’ve ascended to a new plane of existence. I hate being tired, so that part has honestly been the worst for me.

So when you’re up at 3am with a crying baby that can’t seem to figure out what they want, know that it gets better. I mean, I’ve heard it gets worse again when they’re a toddler, but I’m taking this day by day.

I think 3 months really was the turning point for me. It’s been more fun, she smiles at me, coos and babbles, and at 5 months now she laughs!

Just know this fourth trimester doesn’t last, but do try to appreciate it as best you can. Your child is only this small once.