Post-Natal Recovery Plan: Your Fourth Trimester Survival Guide
The fourth trimester – the 12 weeks after you’ve had your baby – is by no doubt a difficult time for all mums. For some, this will be the hardest trimester.
The term is believed to have been coined by Dr Harvey Karp, an American paediatrician. Dr Karp believed that human babies are actually born 3 months too soon because otherwise their heads would grow too big to fit through the birth canal. He concluded from this that newborns are more like foetus’ than babies in the first few months and should be treated as such, by living in conditions that replicate the womb as much as possible. That’s the theory behind the “4th trimester”. Now, let’s get into how you can get through it.
Having just given birth, you will feel vulnerable no matter how pregnancy and childbirth went. Your body has just grown and birthed a whole new human life. You’ve then either given birth naturally or had a c-section. Both take a huge toll on the body in their own ways and it’s natural to feel physically and emotionally exhausted.
Your body then embarks on the journey of recovery, while also tending to your tiny baby around the clock. You are also trying to get on with your partner, dealing with sleep deprivation and hormonal changes. It’s just a LOT.
Without bypassing the realities of this difficult time, there are definitely some things you can do to alleviate the circumstances. These will be offered to you in this post and we hope they help make your 4th trimester a little easier on you.
If you are curious to learn more about how hormonal changes can affect you after pregnancy, we have a blog post that covers this specifically – just click here
It’s common for people to have a birth plan, but what about a post-birth plan?
In the pregnancy world we hear about birth plans all the time. We rarely hear about post-birth plans which seems strange, as that period of time is a lot longer than labour.
Your post-birth plan would smooth out all the practicalities of this time. This is to ensure that all your needs are met while you take care of the baby. This post will go through a list of considerations you might want to include in your 4th trimester plan!
One of the vital considerations for this time is meals. The last thing you want to be worrying about is cooking. Make sure you have something in place to ensure you never go hungry or have to resort to relying on foods that’ll make you feel more rundown.
Ways to get around this are:
- Preparing food – freezer meals.
- Have people bring you food. Friends, family or neighbours. Let people help you. You might even be surprised how happy people are to help. We all like to feel useful and valued!
- Food deliveries – you can try a food delivery service to have meals delivered to you door. These could include complete meals or meal prep services that equip you with all the ingredients you’d need and a quick recipe.
We have a blog post here where you can learn more about post-natal nutrition – click here
Establish a routine with your partner
Discuss with your partner how you might want to share the load postpartum. Tending to the baby, cooking, cleaning and so on – how will you split this load?
As a mum, you will likely be doing more when it comes to the baby, so make sure your partner is picking things up where they can.
You don’t want to wait for the postpartum period to bring in these conversations when there is a lot more pressure and emotions are heightened.
While you might find the routine you choose needs adapting when it comes to it, having something in place anyway gives you somewhere to get started. It lays out the foundation for more of these kinds of conversations.
Ask for help, allow people to help you
There’s no shame in asking for help, for taking up on people’s offers for help, and for paying for it.
Make the most of family, friends and neighbours who offer their support, such as in the form of meals.
Other types of help you can receive include:
- New mum support groups. There are a number of in-person and online support groups for antenatal and new mums around the UK. You can spend time with other women going through the same kinds of experiences. New mums can feel so lonely at times and for this, these groups are highly recommended. You’ll quickly see how not alone you really are and sharing with other mums might help you feel more compassion for yourself, by finding it for others.
- Post-natal personal training. See our pregnancy fitness and personal training page where you can also sign up for a free pregnancy e-book!
- Therapy – If therapy is available to you this is something you also might want to consider. There are therapists who offer shorter sessions so that you can fit these in your busy schedule. Having somewhere to offload on a regular basis could be just what you need.
Prioritise a chunk of sleep
The most important thing you can do for mental health in the 4th trimester is prioritise a decent chunk of sleep. Even if that’s only possible in the day-time, while baby naps, or while someone else is able to take care of them. This is arguably the most important consideration in preserving your mental health.
Without proper sleep your body cannot recuperate hormonal balance or serotonin levels and your mood will deteriorate, so do your utmost to make sleep your first priority.
Mental health check in
With or without a therapist we can all take the time for a mental health check-in. Simply carving out a moment to notice how you’re actually feeling, what’s actually going on for you, could keep you from what feels like a downward spiral.
It’ll also help you notice the good moments as you see variety in your moods. Our brains tend to latch on to negative experiences so without this you might find yourself feeling like it is always terrible and so hard and not remember the moments you actually enjoyed.
So, take a moment, some paper and a pen, and ask yourself questions like:
- How am I feeling today?
- What’s one thing I could do for myself today?
- Who or what has been supporting me lately?
- What was the hardest part of my week and how did I get through it?
- What was the best moment of this week and how did it make me feel
These are just some examples to get you going! You could even just choose one of these questions. Whatever feels best to you.
Make taking care of yourself as easy as possible by creating a self-care kit so you have everything you need right in one place, ready for you. If and when a moment does arise, you don’t have to spend a second figuring out how to spend it or looking for whatever it is you need.
Some of things you might want to include are:
- Nipple care
- Breast pads
- Nipple covers (to allow sore nipples to heal)
- Nipple cream
- Cooling pads
- Perineal spray
I would also recommend bookmarking a quick yoga flow or post-natal workout, as well as a short meditation so that these are 1 click away if you do catch a moment. These kinds of tools can take just minutes to make you feel completely different and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Make it as easy for yourself as possible by having them ready for you.
Fresh air, sunshine, nature, even that’s just from a small park near your home.
This is vital for mental health and also an opportunity to work on post natal fitness.
Walking is one of the most under-rated forms of exercises and walking with a baby with proper posture is a great opportunity to work on core strength (required to stand up straight), postural alignment (which is compromised in pregnancy by gravity with a baby bump and then breastfeeding) and basic cardiovascular fitness.
Spending more time outside is proven to be good for mental health too. All of us spend too much time inside and we all suffer for it. So take the baby and get out there!
Have everything you need by your bed
Make getting ready for bed as easy as possible by putting everything you need by your bed.
At this extra challenging time, it can be tempting to deny some of your own basic self-care needs that you never would have ignored before, like showering, putting on fresh clothing, brushing your teeth and taking out your contact lenses.
So, create a little altar of all the things you need right by your bed so even if you’re falling asleep, you can get those contact lenses out! Include fresh PJs here too.
Don’t feel guilty for not loving every moment or doubting yourself
Don’t feel bad because you feel so exhausted and fed up that you want to crawl a hole forever, or wish someone could take baby off you for a while so you could fully recover, or have thoughts about whether you’re cut out for this at all. First of all, you are. Second of all, you’re exhausted and these thoughts are totally normal!
It’s normal to feel this way sometimes and there’s nothing wrong with you.
As mentioned before, attending a new mum group can also be beneficial. It can help show you that you’re not alone and that other mums feel the same way you do. Even if they’re not sharing these kinds of experiences with everyone, or on social media because of the social stigma around it.
And don’t compare yourself to others – especially fictional people in movies or TV. Mum life is as raw and real as it is beautiful and sacred. It’s both, and that’s okay.
It might take a while to bond with your baby, and that’s okay too
This is a common experience that is still stigmatised, and leaves mothers feeling guilty, ashamed, and lonely. It shouldn’t because it’s normal and there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling this.
For some mothers, they’ll feel bonded with their baby at birth. For others, it’ll take months. It’s all okay.
The best thing you can do to bond with your baby is take as best care of yourself as you can. Your brain can’t do much for you if it is utterly depleted so try to get some sleep, a decent plate of food, brush your teeth and take a deep breath. You got this.
Written By Bea: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal