This post was written by Abi.
When I think back to the days, weeks and months before I gave birth to my daughter, and, more specifically to the careful preparation I put in beforehand, a few things spring to mind. The excruciatingly detailed pram research, the books read over and over on all things birth, the meticulously planned wardrobe and the antenatal classes that I treated like an exam to study for, the birth of my baby being the final paper.
But, as pregnant mothers, how often do we think about our recovery after that baby is in our arms?
The idea of the fourth trimester is often so focused on the baby entering the world, that it seems to have forgotten that mothers need time to adjust into this brand new world too, together. Meanwhile many cultures have adopted a thirty to forty day recovery period of rest and nourishment for new mothers, and continue to do so.
Whether it’s your first baby, second or even fifth, the importance of taking care of oneself at this time should not be overlooked. In fact, I would argue that it is even more important when you have other children who need their mother too.
Pregnancy and birth lead to many changes for our bodies, and, no matter how you gave birth, it is something that should be recovered from carefully and slowly. And I know that self care – time to recover, heal, gain in strength, and slowly grow into your new identity – can feel like an insurmountable task with a newborn baby in tow. But even though it’s hard, it’s important. I believe that if you gift yourself that time, if you are gentle and kind to yourself at this juncture, then you are protecting your future self from burnout and also setting a precedent for yourself in this new season of motherhood: that you are important too.
As has been said on this blog before, self care is not selfish. It is vital, well deserved, and ultimately allows us to show up in better ways for our new baby, ourselves, our partners, and in wider ways too.
If you are currently preparing to meet your new baby, I hope that you can use a few of the tips below to install a postnatal self-care plan, much like a birth plan, ready for the days following birth. And if you are reading this as a new mother in the thick of it all, treat yourself with the utmost kindness, you have done and are still doing an incredible thing.
Tips for a nurturing fourth trimester
- Put boundaries in place, and ask others to make sure these are respected for you for as long as you need. These boundaries can be set out – from anything from not wanting visitors to staying in bed – before you give birth, and changed and adapted as you move through the postnatal period. I like the general rule of “a week in bed, a week on the sofa” for new mothers.
- Create a nest for you and your new family. Bathe with your baby, cuddle up in bed with them, hold them skin to skin and just love them. That oxytocin rush can be so powerful, and your nest can be something you come back to when your baby is four weeks or four months. This might be a bed or a sofa, with a table nearby loaded with water, snacks, a phone charger, a light book or magazine, nipple cream, breast pads, muslins, and baby changing essentials; the aim is to not have to keep getting up and down, especially when your partner goes back to work.
- Rest. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” if you can. Any and all sleep that can be snatched back is good sleep! But if you can’t, then rest is good too. Cuddling the baby while reading a good book or binging on Netflix, or just lying alone in your room in silence or taking a bath while someone else you trust holds your baby can feel incredibly restorative.
- Carry a bottle of water with you, everywhere you go. Being caught underneath a sleeping baby while thirsty is never nice, and if you’re breastfeeding you will be thirstier than you’ve ever been before!
- Feed yourself well… Good food is so good for the soul, but nutrition is also important for recovery, especially if you are breastfeeding. Stocking up on freezer meals beforehand is always a good idea, but if you haven’t there are a few delivery services that will bring them to your door or put to use those visitors with a request for a home cooked meal. Stock up on all of the snacks, too!
- … and nourish yourself in other ways too. Reread your favourite books, watch your favourite films, laugh deeply, light your favourite candles. Take time to reconnect with those things you love and that make you feel like “you” at a time you might be feeling a little at sea.
- Reconnect with others. Five minutes to really listen to your partner and vice versa is not long but can be all you need. Or use the time that the baby sleeps to simultaneously fill your cup along with your other children by doing something you all love to do together.
- Do what you need to get through each moment, forgive yourself and carry on.
- Ignore the housework. Hiring a cleaner or post-natal is obviously the dream, but if you can’t then try and ignore it – shut the door on the kitchen, banish the hoover from your mind, ask others for help. And if you really can’t ignore it, then prioritise and do only what you can see from where you sit (preferably in your comfortable nest). Straightening the rug and cushions and clearing the coffee table is sometimes enough, truly.
- Get out in nature. If you feel up to it, a walk with your baby in the fresh air can be oh so good. It resets and clears your mind, sends most babies straight off to sleep, and a run around outside for any other children often results in calmer times when you get home.
- Revel in the small luxuries, whether that be your cosiest socks or a nice slab of chocolate.
- Write it down. If you’re having a moment, a rambly paragraph in your journal or your notes on your phone, or an honest rant to a friend over text can get it off your chest and give you perspective. The same goes for the overwhelmingly beautiful times too.
- Take time to breathe. I often found breastfeeding as the best tool for responsive parenting, if only because if when my daughter was crying it gave me the headspace to breathe, calm down and really think my way through it. Those little pockets of calm made me a far better parent.
- Move your body gently, walk, stretch, dance to your favourite songs while wearing your baby. Do what feels good.
- And most importantly, be kind to yourself. This radical kindness and forgiveness for yourself is not only good for you, it’s going to be witnessed by your children as they grow. I can’t think of many better things for a child to be witness to.
And for the second, third, fourth time mother…
Having a new sibling can be a difficult time for children, the time balance has been skewed, life has taken a different turn, it can be confusing. Some children may seemingly regress into babyhood, while others may turn a cold shoulder. As much as your child may love their new sibling, this can be hard. Be gentle on yourself, and on them.
Things will get easier and easier, and in the meantime while their days might be full of far more television than you would hope for, fewer books may be read and your words may be sharper than you intend, you are still the best mother for your children. Remember that days full of movies and fish fingers are probably in their top ten, and those smallest of moments when you can be truly present are those that matter. And, ultimately, never forget that you have given them the most wonderful gift of a friend for life.
If you’re currently looking forward to welcoming a new baby, here are some brilliant books on pregnancy, birth, and the fourth trimester you might enjoy.