How I’m preparing for the fourth trimester

With just 2.5 weeks (ish) to go until baby boy is earthside and now that I’m feeling a genuine sense of excitement and curiosity instead of fear about what my body is about to go through, I’ve started to look more into what to expect AFTER baby is here.

One of the benefits of being late to the child-bearing game (aside from all the hand-me-downs!) is the great wisdom other mamas in my circle of family, friends and social connections have to share about their experiences, and one thing I’ve heard a lot about recently is the fourth trimester.

The fourth trimester is essentially the first three months after you baby is born, where you are still healing and recovering and baby is adjusting to life outside the womb. In almost all other cultures, the first 40-60 days after a baby is born is known as a “sitting-in” period or “sacred window”, where the new mother is either cared for by her female relatives at home or at her mother’s house, and the focus is on the new mother feeding and bonding with her baby and resting as much as possible so she can heal while family and friends take care of housework and preparing meals. Sounds amazing, right?

It’s too bad this is no longer a mainstream practice in Western culture. I feel like new mothers would heal much faster both physically and emotionally if we actually let ourselves slow down for a month or more, not worry about “bouncing back”, and not be afraid to ask for help. When I first heard about this kind of postpartum care, I thought, well that sounds amazing but indulgent and uncomfortable having all your female relatives look after you… we don’t live in close-knit family units anymore and we’ve been raised to be independent women who can do it all and figure things out for ourselves — this seems excessive and inconvenient! This kind of mindset is probably why most new moms don’t reach out for help or end up hiring a doula instead for postpartum care. I never really understood the purpose of a doula until I started reading more about labour, delivery and postpartum care and what kind of support is actually required to help you and your partner get through it. I understand not everyone has the resources or support available to get this kind of help, but it would be amazing if the practice of “sitting-in” was more normalized at least.

Curious about what “sitting in” might look like in North American culture in a nuclear family unit who wasn’t planning on hiring a doula (they’re pretty costly), I picked up the books The First Forty Days by Heung Ou and The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson. One is a cookbook based on the Chinese practice of zuo yuezi, or “sitting out the month”, with nourishing recipes for the new mother to help restore her vitality (or chi), and the other is a holistic guide for preparing for the postpartum period based on traditional postpartum practices in other cultures. (Once a student of anthropology, always a student of anthropology I guess!)

In The Fourth Trimester, the author lists five universal postpartum needs shared across all cultures. These are:

  • an extended rest period,
  • nourishing food,
  • loving touch,
  • the presence of wise women and spiritual companionship, and
  • contact with nature.

While being cared for by your female family members for a whole month (in the Chinese practice of zuo yuezi, new mothers are given sponge baths and are not allowed to shower for a whole month!), having family and friends cook nourishing foods for you every day, getting daily massages from your partner, being supported by / in contact with your female friends and family every day and being in nature is not possible for everyone — especially in North American culture where some women and their partners barely get maternity and paternity leave — there are some aspects of this I’d like to try to adopt in the first 40 days after baby Cawsey is here.

  1. Realize that doing the bare minimum is enough. I have an extremely hard time going an entire day without accomplishing something; even when I’m home sick with the flu I think “this would be a great time to do my taxes” instead of actually just resting on the couch and doing nothing. I think it will be hard for me to prioritize rest, so I need to shift my mindset to believe that sleeping, eating, feeding the baby, changing his diapers, and keeping him healthy, mostly content and alive is good enough and a huge accomplishment. I’m fully expecting to shed tears, have baby blues, be overwhelmed, exhausted, etc., but hopefully not over the fact I wasn’t able to unload the dishwasher that day.
  2. Only go out or see visitors when I’m feeling ready. This will be a big one for me. As an introvert, I get my energy from alone time and I’m not sure how I will feel having a baby needing my constant attention 24/7. Again, I plan to lower my expectations about when I’m ready to go on our first outing or how often we plan to visit with family and friends in those first few weeks, especially while we’re trying to figure out breastfeeding. If I’m feeling good and want to go out, awesome. If not, that’s more than okay and pretty much expected during the postpartum period in every culture but ours.
  3. BUT, don’t get too isolated. As easy as it always has been for me to be on my own, I know the importance of openness, social interaction and support in the postpartum period, even if it’s just checking in with friends via text. I’m super lucky that I have a great network of support (neighbours, girlfriends, coworkers also with babies/expecting babies, family) so I know this part will be easy for me. If you don’t have that kind of a network in person, search for some non-judgemental new mom Facebook groups or even feel free to connect with me!
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Knowing I want Matt to also spend time getting to know our little one and to give me the time and space to shower and rest, I’ve asked our house cleaner to come every two weeks at least until the end of October to take the majority of the chore burden off our plates. I know everyone does not have the money to do this, but I just could not bring myself to ask people to help clean our huge, dog-hair ridden house, haha! We will, however, gladly accept food drop-offs 🙂 My bestie Janine suggested we leave a cooler at the front door so she can leave healthy meals a few times a week, which is so amazing.
  5. Prioritize nutrition, connection and self care (after baby’s needs are met). I’m not quite sure how I will manage this one, but my hope is that we’re not grumpy with each other, unshowered and eating Kraft Dinner most nights of the week because we’re too tired to care. I mean, I want to keep my expectations low, but I hope Matt and I can still manage to be connected and get through this postpartum period by adopting some of the above mentioned tactics, making nourishing meals from the cookbooks I bought, and taking time to get outside for walks with the baby and our dogs. Hopefully this will allow for proper rest and healing so the next stages of motherhood are manageable.

So tell me! Have any of you mamas tried this approach? Am I totally out to lunch in wanting to try aspects of this practice (should I lower my expectations)? Are there any other postpartum tips you have to share that you found helpful?

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Postpartum products I’ve stocked up on