So, you may already know about the fourth trimester. You may have heard how significant these first three months postpartum are for your baby. And how re-creating a womblike environment for your baby can help ease her adaptation to the outside world.
But did you know it’s just as important to re-create the womb for the parents too?
Stepping into the role of parent—for the first time or the fifth time—is, obviously, a huge life transformation. I mean, even your brain changes during pregnancy! All beautiful and amazing, to be sure…but possibly just a little overwhelming.
For the new parent, the fourth trimester, or traditionally, the first four to six weeks, is time to rest as much as possible (which may or may not take the form of actual sleep—yeah, I know). It’s time to recover from and process your baby’s birth, and time to get to know your baby, to hold your baby, to feed your baby. Time to tap into those parental instincts that are there, I promise you. This in a space that’s safe and warm—womblike, if you will. Such as your bed. Or a big, comfy chair with lots of pillows, a foot rest, and a table with snacks, warm drinks, Netflix, and anything else that brings you peace, joy, and nourishment.
You need time. To soak it all in.
To sit with what you just went through…and with what’s going on right now.
The fourth trimester is the time for others to be taking care of as much of the household stuff as possible: the picking up, the laundry, the preparing and serving of warm food, the taking care of any other children. It’s the time for someone to massage your head or feet, or wear your baby while you take a long shower or get a little sleep. Or show you how in the world to get one of those multilayer cloth diapers to fit the baby perfectly. Or introduce you to the game-changing pleasure of breastfeeding while lying down. Or listen to you tell your birth story, several times, if you want.
All of this resting and nurturing increases your oxytocin big-time. Which in turn makes it possible for you to better care for and bond with your baby. It can also decrease the chances you’ll develop postpartum anxiety or depression.
Does it sound like a fantasy? This is how postpartum is done in so many other cultures around the world.
And how it used to be done in North America…like when your great-grandparents gave birth! (Er, minus the Netflix.)
What you don’t need during the first several days or even weeks is a steady stream of visitors eager to see the baby…unless they’re just dropping off food (or putting in a load of laundry). You don’t need to read the conflicting advice in all those baby care books sitting on your shelf. You don’t need to worry that you’re spoiling your baby by holding her or breastfeeding her on demand (you’re not). For the most part, you don’t even need to leave the house (unless you want to).
It doesn’t help that our culture does birthing parents a disservice by tending to revere those who are out of the house running errands two days after giving birth (“She’s superwoman!”), back to prepregnancy size at six weeks postpartum (“Wow, you look great! Like you were never pregnant!”), and in the case of our American neighbours, back to work at two or three months postpartum (if you’re lucky to get that much leave).
It’s not that making a grocery run or returning to work almost immediately is inherently bad; in fact, it may feel completely right to you. (And in some cases, alas, you might not have much choice in the matter.) If, say, jogging is your go-to feel-awesome thing, you’re an experienced runner, and your doctor or midwife has given you the all-clear, then by all means go ahead and start easing into it again shortly after giving birth. Or if you’re totally stir-crazy, yes, bundle up your baby in a wrap carrier and go out to your favourite café. It could do you both worlds of good.
But what if you decided to reserve those first six or so weeks as a sacred, precious period of time?
A time when you’re truly held and nurtured, while you in turn hold and nurture your baby? Regardless of how exactly “held and nurtured” looks to you? A time of reflection, of wonder, of less thinking, of more feeling? A fourth trimester that can set the stage for a happier, healthier parenting journey. Imagine it.
See my doula tips for planning for a nurtured fourth trimester that is uniquely yours.