The baby is finally here, and mom is completely exhausted. Surely she has reached the finish line.
Sadly, no. Her work has just begun. For one thing, her infant isn’t fully developed yet. Unlike other species, human children are all born about 3 months ‘early’ and have a little trouble with such basics as breathing and digesting.
That’s why people often call those first three months the ‘fourth trimester'.
It’s when your baby is finishing the development process. Additionally, your body has to adjust to no longer being a walking incubator. You don’t just snap back into your old patterns after something like that. All your hormones are still in flux, and major organs have been rearranged. Then there are all the adjustments that you have to make to your life due to the new baby that you could not have even anticipated needing to make.
With all these factors, the first 3 months after giving birth are some of the craziest in anyone’s life. It is easy to forget things and find those things coming back to haunt you later. Like ignoring that annoying rattle in your car for too long, skipping certain steps costs an awful lot in the long run. In the spirit of making your life easier, here is a list of things for your to-do list that will make these 3 months smoother.
15 Get The Checkup
I know, you thought you were done with the marathon of hospital visits, but the postnatal checkup, a checkup done 6 weeks after an uncomplicated V-delivery, is important. It gives your obstetrician a chance to see if anything down there is still swelling and if you are still bleeding. She will also want to monitor the hormone fluctuations that are normal after giving birth. If you had health issues during your pregnancy, you will need help with your recovery, and there are problems that can crop up after you give birth. You definitely want to catch these problems early, because being sick when your baby needs you 24 hours a day is not an option.
And oh yeah, call your doctor before the postnatal checkup if you have any of the following symptoms: headaches, dizziness, excessive mood swings, sharp and persistent pains in the stomach, excessive fatigue, thoughts of harming yourself or the baby, or swelling that lasts longer than 2 weeks.
14 Feed On Demand
There are people out there who insist on scheduling everything, including their headaches. If that works for you, that is great, but pediatricians are telling you right now that it will not work for your baby in those first 3 months. Their teeny little tummies fill up very quickly so they can eat only enough in one sitting for 2 or 3 hours worth of growth, and they will need to top off even sooner if they are growing extra fast that hour. Finishing fetal development takes a lot of energy, and trying to put them on any reasonable schedule that will accommodate their needs will be impossible.
Then there is the trust aspect. At base, when your baby declares he is hungry and you feed him, you are communicating that you are there for him. He should trust you to take care of his most basic needs. This is the beginning of a secure bond that will hopefully last a lifetime.
13 Make Baby Burritos
Infants are accustomed to being held very snuggly in the womb. They were gently rocked to sleep while warm muscles held them comfortably in place. Once the kid is born, it can be hard for the baby to get used to all the space. They keep accidentally waking themselves up or startling themselves when their limbs move. This can be very unsettling for them, and they may feel more comfortable snuggly wrapped up like a burrito. Consequently, one of the most effective ways to soothe an infant is to swaddle her up in one of those baby blankets. This is a skill, so queue up the YouTube videos and practice until your baby looks like a taquito with a head (personal note: when the baby Yongewa was born, I could not bind her up in a blanket very well, so I covered this failure by sliding her into her dad’s knit cap after bundling. Worked like a charm).
12 Get In On Skin-To-Skin Cuddling
There are hospitals now that call themselves baby-friendly because they don’t whisk a newborn off to the neonate’s room after birth, but rather lay the infant on the mom’s bare skin. They do this because the skin-to-skin contact is not only very soothing to the infant, but it encourages the infant to latch on for breastfeeding. It encourages bonding between mother and child and lets them get a big whiff of you, which the very nearsighted baby will appreciate.
Bare skin snuggling is a boon to you, too. You will get a big boost in the love hormone, oxytocin, and a significant drop in the stress hormone, cortisol. These will help you bond with the baby and chill you out, both of which are healthy for everyone. Not just emotionally, either, but physically as well. The lower heart rate will improve your health.
11 Embrace The Postpartum Diaper
An under-discussed aspect of giving birth is just how much fluid keeps coming out of you after the baby is officially out. It isn’t unusual to bleed for up to 3 weeks after giving birth, for one thing. And there are the other excretions to deal with, too. Your V and the surrounding muscles have just been stretched well beyond their accustomed shape, and they have weakened. This makes going to the bathroom an adventure for a while, and it means that you will leak a bit.
There are postpartum diapers to deal with the mess if it gets out of hand, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to use them. Better to wear a diaper than constantly scrubbing your pants. Most women can get away with using extra thick pads, and you should always pick what looks most comfortable for you as far as padding goes.
10 Prepare For The First Flow
The bleeding that you do after you give birth, called lochia, is heavy. It can last for up to 3 weeks. Your actual time of the month, however, may return between 6 to 8 weeks after you give birth, provided you aren’t breastfeeding. If you are breastfeeding, the hormone prolactin can delay menstruation for a very long time. Still, unless you are very rigorously and exclusively breastfeeding, you will probably see Mother Nature’s gift return sometime within the first couple of months.
This round will be a little bit different than other times because of how tender your nether regions will be. There may have been some tearing of the perineum and some of the other recently stretched regions, which leaves you open to infections from tampons. If you start menstruating in these first months, you’ll probably want a supply of pads on hand.
9 Rock The Post-Baby Look
Now that you have given birth, you will note that you are still about 40 pounds heavier than when you started this pregnancy. There are parts of those extra pounds that are sagging, and there other parts that are bulging. Don’t fight this, you are one hot new momma, rocking all those newly earned curves. In order to celebrate this new look, buy clothes that fit your new life. If you are breastfeeding, there are some very chic nursing blouses and shirts to try on. They have slits to allow the baby easy access to your breasts. You will also find that new nursing bras fit quite well.
As a practical matter, you will probably want to ditch any old duds that fit your pre-baby body or required a lot of maintenance. You’re not going to have either the spare time or spare cash for dry cleaning, and babies tend to spit up on anything moms wear. You will definitely find a new appreciation for comfortable clothes too, though that does not mean that you have to forgo looking sharp. You will just want to be comfortably sharp-looking.
8 Watch That Lochia
As has already been said, women often bleed as though they are menstruating heavily for a bit after they give birth. This is because the placenta is attached to your uterus by an area with open blood vessels. When the placenta detaches, blood drains into your uterus and out your V. Your uterus should contract, pinching off those blood vessels, over the next couple of days. Some blood, sloughed off bits of the uterine lining, and bacteria will continue to dribble out of you over the next 10 days, gradually becoming less bloody and more yellowish, and then petering out over the next couple of weeks.
Everything in that first paragraph assumes that nothing goes wrong. A sure sign that you should call the doctor is if the lochia keeps coming 3 or more weeks after you give birth, or the bleeding gets heavier instead of lighter. You should also call the doctor if it is still bright red 4 days after you give birth, as this means that your uterus did not contract properly. If the lochia stinks and you develop a fever, this is a sign of infection, and you should call a doctor. And if you saturate one of those heavy-duty pads or postpartum diapers in under an hour, you could be having a late postpartum hemorrhage that requires immediate medical care.
7 Work The Baby Treadmill
The Back To Sleep campaign has made plenty of babies sleep easier, but it has also left their wee legs a little un-toned. Their floppy limbs kick into the air, meeting no resistance. A fun way to counteract this is to exercise the baby’s legs. This is nothing intense. You take their calves and gently move their legs up and down in a motion resembling peddling a bike. This resembles crawling, so your infant will be toned and ready when they are trying to get moving.
Another baby exercise is Tummy Time. Starting around the third month of life, start putting the baby on his or her stomach for an hour a day. This will let him or her practice lifting his or her head. Remember, an infant’s head is huge compared to the rest of the body, and head lifting will take time.
6 Fight Against SIDS
Pacifiers are justifiably called baby plugs: they soothe many children and keep their mouths occupied so they don’t decide to chew on random objects that happen to be within their reach. However, pacifiers also seem to help babies in a more life-or-death way. A 2005 meta-analysis of 7 studies of pacifier use found that it was associated with a significant drop in the risk of SIDS, especially when the pacifiers were given to the infant at bedtime. This was replicated in a 2012 study, too. I couldn’t really find a reason why this may work, and I honestly wouldn’t want to venture a guess as to why. If you are worried about the oft-touted nipple confusion, where the kid confuses your nips with a pacifier, pediatricians recommend introducing the pacifier after the first couple of weeks, when the nip's identity is firmly established.
5 Build Your Entertainment Queue For Breastfeeding Sessions
The first couple of times that your kid latches on and starts sucking, you may be content to gaze at him lovingly, but after a while, you will realize that you are trapped in a seated position for at least fifteen minutes and can’t reach the remote. Boredom will set in. Also, infants snooze 15 hours out of every day during the fourth trimester and during that time, you will be somewhat restricted in where you can go and what you can do. Do your sanity a favor and subscribe to your favorite podcast, queue up the Netflix, and gather your favorite book series. You will need something to do that is loosely connected to the outside world during the time that you spend trapped in one spot or you will lose your mind. Set them up in your preferred feeding spot if you can so that you don’t have to hunt for them while your baby is yelling for food.
4 Prepare For The Postpartum Hair
During pregnancy, a superfluity of estrogen makes your hair extra thick by preventing it from falling out at its natural rate. Now that the hormone is returning to normal levels, your hair may start shedding like a long-haired dog in June. This will require a new hairdo.
Even if your hair does not thin out after giving birth, your new life may require you to update your haircare routine (and get a nice new 'do.) You will not want to be spending hours fiddling with haircare products or taking a million steps to get your hair perfect, so get yourself a low-maintenance hairdo and streamline your hair rituals. You’ll look fabulous and have more time for other things. A lot of new moms get bobs or pixie cuts for these reasons.
3 Eat Like You Are Still Pregnant
If you are breastfeeding, you are going to be out at least 200 extra calories every day. Even if you aren’t producing the milk, you are going to be taking on a million new responsibilities. Now isn’t really the time to think about dieting. You will need plenty of energy throughout the day, so go ahead and eat as much as will keep you going. And don’t forget to keep hydrated. Breastfeeders are producing a lot of liquid during the day and they need water to keep the pumps full. What should you be eating? Pretty much what you ate during your pregnancy: normal healthful meals plus a bit extra.
If you can, arrange to have someone deliver meals. You might not have the time to cook, and you will get very bored of sandwiches slapped together every couple of hours. If a friend offers to stock up your refrigerator with ready-to-heat meals, take her up on it. This is a friend for life.
2 Get Social
Our society is woefully unsupportive of moms. Oh sure, people show up in force to shove cards and flowers at us on Mother’s Day, but where are the people when you are crying from another hormonal beat down or desperately in need of a break from the wailing, colicky baby? Nowhere, that’s where. They disappear like Grandma’s special cookies. Your sanity will absolutely require you to find a new mother support group and to get out into the world within these first 3 months. And I mean your literal sanity: it combats the mild baby blues that many moms feel and provides an early warning system for more serious postpartum depression by providing a place to compare notes. Even if this is an unofficial get together with some other new moms you met in the Lamaze class, it will do your soul good.
1 Care For Your Girls
Your girls have been going through some stuff lately, and they are going to need some tender loving care. If you are not breastfeeding, you will have to get supportive bras and avoid rubbing them so that they stop leaking. If you are breastfeeding, you may find the nips sore and cracked. This could mean that the infant isn’t latching on correctly, so you might have to get some help repositioning the kid. A little lanolin applied after a feeding can help, too. Remember not to apply soap and to dry them after a feeding with nursing pads.
You can get blocked and suffer from infected ducts if the milk doesn’t drain properly all the time. Loose clothing and regular feeding will help prevent this. If you find a hard, hot lump on your breast during this time, it might be mastitis or a blocked duct, so contact your doctor if you find one.
References: babycentre.co.uk, utswmed.org, whattoexpect.com, webmd.com, pregnantchicken.com, hypehair.com, mayoclinic.org, thebalancedlifeonline.com, healthline.com, pediatrics.aappublications.org