The Fourth Trimester: Caring For The New Mom

In the birth world, we like to call the first 3 months or so after a birth, The Fourth Trimester. This term signifies that in many ways, life is still not back to normal for the new mom. Before the baby turns 3-months-old, he/she is still very clumsy, delicate, and wholly dependent on people taking care of them. Likewise, the mother’s body is recovering from the physical, mental, and emotional demands of childbirth while in a heightened state of fatigue. What can we do as friends, family, and doulas to come alongside and care for these new moms in our lives?

Before going to her house, check-in with the mom ahead of time to see if she is okay with a visit. If she declines, don’t get offended. You can easily send her a card in the mail so she knows you’re thinking of her. Slip some cash in the card along with a list of restaurants that UberEATS delivers to her house. She’ll be just as thankful and will get back with you when she’s ready to see people. 

If she accepts a visit, never come empty handed and never stay long. Bring a healthy and dense meal for the entire family to enjoy after you’ve left. Wash your hands as soon as you enter the house but don’t be offended if she won’t let you hold the baby. Find little jobs you can do without her noticing. When you go to the bathroom to wash your hands, wipe down the sink and maybe give the toilet a quick scrub. When you take the food into the kitchen, wash some dishes or empty the trash can. If there’s a basket of laundry on the couch, fold it while you and the mom talk. If the mom looks tired, offer to take her older children for a walk while she takes a nap. Most of all, don’t expect the new mom to entertain you. Don’t let her lift a finger for you. You make the ice water or tea, not her. 

In planning a meal to bring the family, note any allergies or food aversions beforehand.  Whether you cook or pick up from a store or restaurant, make sure the meal is warm and dense. A favorite dish of mine to bring to new moms is homemade chicken pot pie with a large green salad and some sort of chocolate dessert. The meal is both satisfying and nutritious. I also like to bring a little high-quality dark chocolate just for the mom. It feels really special when she gets something she doesn’t have to share with anyone. Bring the food in disposable containers so that she’s not burdened with returning your dishes. 

If you would like to bring the new mom a gift, try to get something that maybe no one else has thought of. Since she’s spending most of her time wearing pajamas, maybe a brand new set of beautiful and comfortable pajamas would be a welcome gift. Or maybe you can be the person to set up the meal train so that she never has to cook. Maybe a couple bottles of nice wine would be appreciated by a woman who has missed her now and then drink. If she has mentioned any problems she’s having ahead of time, think of a gift that could alleviate that issue. For instance, nipple cream and a paid hour with a lactation consultant if she’s having problems breastfeeding.

The Fourth Trimester can be a wonderfully exhausting time for the mother. But in some situations, life is less than ideal. She may be developing a postpartum mood disorder, which affects about 1 in 7 women. She may be in a lot of physical pain that has her feeling debilitated. The birth may have been harder than expected or even traumatic. She may have little or no support at home. Breastfeeding may be terribly hard. Or she might be having feelings of guilt or regret. It’s best that we, as support people for new moms, learn to recognize when the new mom needs help. If she needs help, let’s try to get it to her. Sure, being a new mom is hard. But it doesn’t have to be impossible. There are many trained people who can help us help the new mom. Offer to pay (or find another person who could) for any outside services she may need. It takes a village to raise our children. Be the person in the new mom’s life that rallies for her health, happiness, and recovery. This new mom deserves that and so much more.