There was a brilliant piece on Bust circulating earlier this year about why you should skip a baby shower and have a 6 week long Postpartum Party instead. It was mostly popular with my mom friends who had been there, birthed that, and knew how very real this advice was. The postpartum period- also referred to as the 4th trimester- can be REALLY hard, but moms are expected to “bounce back,” host visitors, and be so happy all the time because their baby is such a special gift and they are hashtag blessed.
Some things about having a baby got easier for me the more I did it, but the 4th trimester was never one of those. In fact, it only got harder. My last recovery period was so brutal that I wrote I wished someone would please take my ovaries out and EAT THEM so I would never experience that again. You can read about that here.
I am really glad that by the 4th time around I realized I needed to stand my ground and put up some boundaries when it came to guests, and that I thought ahead to plan out what I’d need in the house to keep me comfortable and occupied. It didn’t shorten the time it took me to get through all of that, but it certainly helped me feel in more control.
Here are some things I recommend you do to prepare for your 4th trimester:
1. Make a postpartum mental health plan
I wrote about this for Today earlier this year, and I have an entire chapter of my book dedicated to it. Become familiar with the signs and symptoms of perinatal mood disorders, and share them with your partner and support people. Be sure they are watching out for them, too. Discuss with your medical provider before you have your baby about what you should do and who you should call if you begin to notice any symptoms.
By the time I had my 3rd and 4th babies, I had prescriptions already written for me that I could go fill because we knew to expect my postpartum anxiety to return.
2. Come up with a plan for visitors
If you have a lot of friends and family that live nearby, you’re probably going to have a lot of people who want to come over as soon as possible to hold your baby. I’m not saying to tell them no, but keep some things in mind:
- You need to keep your newborn baby healthy. If it’s cold and flu season, you gotta be super strict about who’s coming around with the sniffles.
- A happy visit can suddenly exhaust you, and you need to feel comfortable telling visitors you need to go rest.
- Too much time passing baby around and keeping you separated can interfere with your baby sending your body cues to make milk if you’re trying to establish a good breastfeeding routine. At minimum, too much between feedings can make you engorged and uncomfortable.
If you’re going to have visitors over, I highly recommend having some kind of word or phrase you can mention to your partner that will signal to them that they need to come up with a reason to get everyone to leave. This shouldn’t have to be on you. If you discover that you just passed a clot that warrants calling your doctor about, or if you are just suddenly really overwhelmed, you shouldn’t have to tell that to everyone in the room if you don’t want to.
Some guests may even want to come from out of town and stay at your house. No matter what anyone says, no matter how helpful they promise they will be, here’s what I suggest is your test for if someone can stay overnight with you those first few weeks: Are you required to be fully dressed in front of them? Are you okay with them seeing your nipples hanging out? If you blow up at your partner and scream-cry at them because you’re so overwhelmed and exhausted, would that be awkward for them to witness? There are exactly two people in my life who pass this test- my mom and my sister. Those are the two people who get to come stay the night with us in the weeks after I have a baby.
3. Stock your nest
While you’re filling your home with bottles and diapers and anything else for life post baby, don’t forget to think of yourself! Be sure to stock up on the following:
- One-handed snacks and meals
- A great cup or water bottle to keep you hydrated- whatever it takes to get you to drink A LOT of water- this is my fav
- Postpartum undies– you can buy the mesh ones they give you at the hospital, or get some cheapie, cotton briefs in a bigger size
- Postpartum pads
- Supplies to make your own Padsicles (click through for an awesome how-to by Pregnant Chicken)
4. Plan ways to entertain yourself
Fact: Your baby will be the most beautiful baby ever created. Also fact: You will eventually tire looking at them while they sleep/eat. Make a list of podcasts and shows you want to binge and audiobooks you want to listen to. Consider asking for gift cards to your nearest movie theater when people ask if they can get you anything. Once you get the hang of feeding your baby and figure out their nap schedule, you very well could sneak in lots of new releases while your newborn naps and nurses or bottle-feeds through them. (Of course, sit near an exit so you can step out if they start crying.)
5. Stock up on transition clothes
Promise me you won’t let yourself believe you’ll be back into your pre-pregnancy clothes anytime soon. If that happens, great, but it’s not that norm and you should plan for it to take a while. Hopefully some of your maternity clothes will serve you well as you shrink back down. Here are a few more items to see if you can buy or borrow from friends:
- Inexpensive sports bras make great sleep-bras and nursing bras while your breasts are still engorged and leveling out. I like the V-neck ones. They wouldn’t support me in any kind of athletic activity, but they are great for nursing.
- Black yoga pants or leggings are so multipurpose. You could get some really cheap ones sizes bigger than you usually wear, or you could invest in some awesome postpartum leggings, like these from BLANQI, that will stretch and shrink down with you, taking you all the way through that postpartum period and beyond.
- Kimonos and cardigans are awesome to have on hand. You can easily throw them on over a clean nursing tank or regular tank top, pair them with your leggings, and you’re ready to look presentable!
6. Set realistic expectations
I’m not saying that everyone’s postpartum recovery experience is awful and hard, and I’m not trying to be alarmist about this. I just think it’s better to go into it with realistic expectations than to experience these real and valid feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted and like you have no idea what you’re doing, and then wondering if something’s wrong with you.
Yes, your baby is amazing, and yes, you are so blessed and lucky. But also, it might not feel magical, and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be. Feeling like the 4th trimester is in some ways worse than any other part of pregnancy doesn’t make you a bad mom. Hopefully you can spend a little time before you have the baby, communicating with your partner and support team, laying out clear expectations, and then prepare to take good care of yourself in those weeks and months after baby is here.