We’re all familiar with the three trimesters of pregnancy — but the learning and adjustment doesn’t stop there. There’s a fourth trimester, which refers to the 12-week period after giving birth (and is, thankfully, shared with the dad so you don’t go through it alone).
This term was coined as such by paediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, who feels that both baby and mother go through such an intense period of adjustment during the first three months partly because the baby is not used to life outside — and recreating the conditions of life in utero would greatly help.
I only came across the term when I was fervently Googling ways to calm my baby down. He had started screaming louder and longer. It was a stark difference from when he was a calm infant who slept and fed like clockwork; so much so that I once naively thought, “This is so easy and I’m a natural!” Well, I soon found out I was not, though I dare say no one is.
But eventually, I found ways to make it easier for me.
This includes preparing ahead for night feeds. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning to feed your baby when you’re already running low on energy can feel dreadful. To make getting out of bed a little less painful, I filled the baby bottles with formula powder before bedtime. This means all I needed to do for each feed was to fill the bottle with warm water and stir. If you don’t have a warm water dispenser, fill a thermos flask with hot water so you don’t need to boil water each time.
Another thing that helped me was baby-wearing while doing chores. This allowed me to get the tidying out of the way while he was awake, allowing me to sleep when the baby slept. I know this advice may irk parents who have not been able to incorporate this practice due to their baby’s fussiness in a carrier, but I urge new parents to at least give it a go for selected nap times. Think about it: that’s the only chance of a (relatively) peaceful shut-eye you’ll get as a parent!
Of course, I did have to make some adjustments. I did things at a slower pace. But soon, I became an expert in putting away dishes, watering the plants and even vacuuming with one hand. As my baby got older, I faced him out so that he was able to enjoy the view. Babies are easily amused and they will learn a lot about their new environment as you take them through it!
In hindsight, there are also things I wish I had done to “survive” my fourth trimester, such as inviting friends over for company. Adjusting to my new life was stressful, and having some interaction that was not centred around the baby would have refilled my emotional tank. If you haven’t heard from your friends, give them a call – perhaps they are giving you space to adjust and are waiting patiently for you to be ready.
Here are more tips from fellow parents on how to survive the first few months postpartum, and how to keep your sanity.
#1 Get a baby bouncer or an equivalent
A bouncer is great for when you need more freedom of movement, or to avoid backaches from constantly carrying your baby. With the bouncer, you can have your baby in full view and within reach while you go to the bathroom, wash the dishes, eat, load the washer or get on a call. The soft bouncing motion also keeps the baby less fidgety, while its colourful attachments entertain him or her. It’s also light enough to carry around the house.
— Arthur W, parent to a three-year-old girl
#2 Prep for bathtime early
Bath time can get a little messy, and holding on to a wriggling, slippery baby while you bathe and dress them is tough. It helps when you prepare the change of clothes, diapers, lotion/balms, and towel beforehand. Don’t forget the soaps, bathtub and getting the right water temperature, too. I do these before I even pick up my baby for bath time.
— Nu, parent to a three-year-old
#3 Get some fresh air
Having four months of maternity leave is great, but it can get frustrating when everyone is out at work and you have no one to talk to. One day, I decided to go for a walk and realised some fresh air made a world of a difference. When I gained some confidence, I ventured out to nearby malls to shop for groceries and do some window shopping. It made the days go by a little faster.
— Yvonne L, 38, parent to two toddlers
#4 Pamper yourself at home
I always felt like a mess during postpartum because suddenly I didn’t have the time to wash my hair or do my skincare. My husband knew this and treated me to a home manicure while he took my newborn out for errands. It felt good to have some time to myself and to take care of my appearance. I did some home massages, too, though sometimes I still prefer to leave the house to get them. My point is, some pampering will maintain your sanity. I still do it now even though my boy is all grown up!
— Jannah M, 34, parent to a five-year-old boy
#5 Hire some help
It’s a privilege to be able to afford a nanny. I wasn’t able to afford the high fees for one, and was lucky to be able to save some money because my mum-in-law cooked my confinement meals for me. No doubt, if I could hire the full package, that would have been easier. But once in a while, I did hire a cleaning service for items I hated cleaning like the windows, fan and bathroom. A good deep clean once in a while helped a lot.
— Kayla N, mother to a 6-month-old