When I was expecting my first child, I was so gripped by the excitement of delivering my little guy and bringing him home that I gave little thought to what would come next. My body had already been through so many changes that I was convinced my biggest concern for myself after coming home from the hospital would be dropping the 40 pounds I had gained during the previous nine months.
Little did I know that the first three months after delivery are like a fourth trimester. Not only did I feel like a bloated dairy cow, but my emotions left me reeling between incredible jubilation and uncontrollable weepiness. The postpartum period can be taxing on a new mother, but knowing what to expect can help.
Those pesky hormones
You’re initially so blown away by the sheer joy of becoming a mom that you don’t really notice the fragility of your emotional state. However, after about two days of little to no sleep, constant worry over latching and burping, and the undeniable epiphany that you are responsible for another human being’s every need, you start to feel your emotional constancy become shaky.
Keep in mind that what goes up must come down. In the early days of your pregnancy, your body’s surge in hormones wreaks havoc on your emotions. Just as your body adjusted to its prenatal state,it must likewise adjust to its postpartum state. Once your baby is born, pregnancy hormones begin to taper and return to normal levels, a process that takes several weeks.
Be prepared for mood swings similar to those you experienced during your first trimester. You may go through bouts of euphoria followed by periods of worry, anxiety and irritability. Tears might flow more easily than usual, and everyday occurrences can unexpectedly become the subject of heated, sometimes irrational disagreements. Rest assured these mood swings will ebb a little more each week.
The importance of sleep
Exhaustion is a hazardous factor to add to the equation of raging hormones, but unfortunately, sleep deprivation and new babies go hand-in-hand. It’s important to take advantage of every opportunity to rest. If help is available to you, don’t be afraid to accept it. Grab a nap while a friend or relative visits with your baby. Graciously accept offers for food or playdates for siblings. You can spend the extra time catching some Zs.
You will repeatedly have people advise you to nap when your baby naps. The concept seems simple enough, but new moms often feel obligated to clean the kitchen when they have a few minutes to spare. Stop, breathe and indulge yourself. Actually put the old adage into practice and rest while your baby is sleeping. You can even snuggle on the couch with your little one and squeeze in some bonding time while you’re relaxing. The extra sleep will be beneficial to your mind and body, especially when it’s time for baby’s midnight feeding.
The adjustment of expectations
Those you love most will understand this time is a unique mixture of joy, novelty and apprehension. Set boundaries and don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to call before coming over. When my firstborn was 2 weeks old, I found myself locked in my bathroom in near hysterics while 10 relatives sat out in my living room. I was so concerned about accommodating others’ requests that I forgot to prioritize myself and my new family. Find your voice and use it to ensure you don’t become overwhelmed.
Most of all, don’t be afraid to give yourself over to your emotions when you need to. No one expects a new mom to have it all together. It’s OK to cry from frustration or vent your worries to your husband or a trusted friend. It’s OK if the laundry room is overflowing with dirty clothes. It’s even OK if you don’t get to shower for a couple days. Give yourself permission to be a bit of a train wreck. You won’t feel so derailed forever.
That loving feeling
In all the chaos of adjusting to life as a new mom, try to remember to drink in every second you can. Nursing gives a mom a great excuse to slip out of the room for a few stolen moments with her newborn. Let baby’s first milky smile serve as a reminder that what you are doing matters. Yes, you are completely responsible for this little person’s well-being. And yes, that can feel overwhelming. But what you get back when you slow down and let yourself be present is worth every minute of trepidation those first few months bring.
You’re never going to be able to disregard the other responsibilities in your life and stare lovingly into your child’s face all day. But your instincts will lead the way in the first several weeks while you realign priorities to make room for this gift who holds your heart completely. And trusting those instincts will become easier as you find your footing in the journey of motherhood.
The light at the end of the tunnel
By the time your baby is 3 months old, you will begin to feel like a new version of your old self. Your baby will have developed some sort of routine at this point, and you will feel more comfortable in your new role. You’ll begin to reconnect with the world around you, and will hopefully begin to reconnect with your partner as well.
The passing storm of the fourth trimester is something every new mother has to weather. Lean on friends and family when you need to, try not to take yourself too seriously, and focus on all the little joys a new baby brings. The best is yet to come!