The Fourth Trimester: A Time for Nourishing the New Mother
- September 28, 2021
The first few weeks after birth are an especially important time for new mothers. It’s a period of healing, adjustment, and bonding. It’s also a time to establish breastfeeding and learn how to take care of your baby.
At the same time, it’s a time of sleep deprivation, hormonal shifts, and body healing. While most experts recommend that mothers rest as much as possible during these first weeks at home, it’s not always possible or supported.
Think about how many prenatal support appointments you had leading up to your labor and delivery. Now compare that to how many postpartum appointments you have, and it’s a significant difference. Add lack of postpartum follow-up care to the messages of “bouncing back” and jumping back into work without enough maternity leave, and it’s no wonder that women can feel burned out even from the very beginning.
Many cultures consider the period right after birth to be a sacred one. Some require that the mother stays in bed while family elders do everything for her. Others focus on the ritual of tending to all the mother’s needs so she can stay home and rest with her new baby. She’s well taken care of and has a community behind her, so she doesn’t feel isolated.
Since research also suggests that postpartum depression and anxiety are linked to sleep deprivation, taking care of the mother in this way can positively impact her mental health. Lack of sleep can make you feel even more tired and overwhelmed, making it difficult to get enough rest or enjoy your time with your baby. And lack of support and loneliness can further a mother’s emotional distress.
Not all of us are in a situation where we have a village of women to take care of us after giving birth (although how wonderful would it be if we all did). But there are things you or your partners and friends can do before or after you deliver to set you up to feel emotionally and physically supported:
• Create a meal train. Friends and family can sign up to deliver homemade or take-out goods. This is so helpful for the weeks following birth when the mother can’t cook or go out. Have a few friends and family members sign up to bring dinner a couple times each week, so you don’t have to worry about cooking for a little while after giving birth.
• Accept help when it’s offered. If a friend or family wants to do the laundry or go to the grocery store for you, let them! You don’t always have to do it all yourself.
• Call in the experts. Trouble breastfeeding? You don’t have to struggle on your own. Make an appointment with a lactation consultant (find one here: https://uslca.org/resources/find-an-ibclc/) or ask your doctor to refer you. The same goes for mental health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are therapists and support groups (online and in-person) for extra love and support.
• Set boundaries. It’s also okay to limit visitors or to disappear to take a nap when family is visiting. If there’s ever a time to put yourself first, it’s now. If you don’t feel comfortable creating these boundaries, try to talk to your family and friends about your needs and expectations..
A new mother needs to be nurtured, protected, and allowed to rest as much as possible. She should also be surrounded by love and receive support from her family members, friends, or community.