When I first heard of the Fourth Trimester I thought it sounded hokey, but in my experience it was very real. The idea is that baby’s first three months on the outside are simply an adjustment period. This is important because baby has just gone from a dark warm buffet, to some wacky bright cold kind-of-scary place. This trimester is all about helping your babe adjust to this world, while you simultaneously adjust to your new role. Easy, right?!
The gist of most fourth trimester guides is “Newborn meltdown? Simulate the womb to calm baby!” For Baby Jupiter, it worked. If he was stressed out Mister Jupiter and I could calm him with some tight swaddling, loud white noise, gentle rocking, food, a dark room, fresh diaper – the combination varied but the ingredients were the same. For this article however, I am not talking about baby, I’m talking about the fourth trimester and how it surprised me; the newly postpartum writer.
Be advised that I am neither a medical professional, nor an experienced mother. I am just here to share what I wish I had known before it happened to me – enjoy!
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What I Wish I Knew #1 – Carpal Tunnel & Tendonitis
Turns out that pregnancy induced carpal tunnel doesn’t always disappear after giving birth. In my case it got worse. By two weeks postpartum (PP) I could barely lift my 7lb babe, and started sleeping in wrist braces.
By four weeks postpartum I was convinced that I had developed De Quervain’s Tendonitis and this was confirmed around eight weeks PP. I was given huge braces to wear when possible – these braces immobilized my wrists and thumbs. Generally I could only wear these in bed because I needed my wrists and thumbs during the day with baby, and at night when I did laundry and other quiet chores. When we had company I could wear them during the day because the guests wanted to hold Baby Jupiter – those days were the best for my very slow recovery because I could actually wear my braces.
At the time of writing Baby Jupiter is four months old and I still have tendonitis. It is greatly improved, but still there. Mornings are the worst because my thumbs are so stiff that I can’t move them if I tried. If I want my hair out of my face I put on a beanie, and everything takes a little longer until I regain mobility. Usually it’s only bad for 20 minutes, sometimes it’s bad for hours. I take my coffee with ibuprofen and glucosamine now.
What I Wish I Knew #2 – Vision Changes
My eyesight suddenly declined close to Baby Jupiter’s due date. Normally I can see well enough to not need glasses at home, but suddenly everything beyond an arm’s length was blurry – what a crappy change! I learned that some women have increased trouble focusing when pregnant, nursing, or both. For me it started late in the pregnancy and continued as I was nursing.
The blurring has improved, but I needed glasses at all times in the first two months. At four months PP I still wear my glasses more often than not, but I can read my laptop screen without glasses again (finally). I haven’t seen an optometrist about this though, so I haven’t completely confirmed that my vision changes have simply been caused by the pregnancy.
What I Wish I Knew #3 – Engorgement
I knew that my breasts would change – that’s generally a given, but not a guarantee. Typically I am small chested and prefer it that way, so I was not pleased when my newly larger chest grew again after Baby Jupiter was born…then started leaking…and started hurting when too full.
None of this is groundbreaking, but I was surprised that I couldn’t lie down or sleep on my stomach for weeks after Baby Jupiter was born. Tummy time for me became forbidden fruit now that I hadn’t been able to sleep on my tum for months. PS – If you’re planning on breastfeeding bookmark KellyMom.com, excellent breastfeeding resource.
The only cure here is time. If you’re not breastfeeding the internet has all sorts of tips like (seriously) placing cabbage leaves in your bra, drinking mint tea, and simply suffering a bit until your body realizes that if the milk isn’t leaving the body then it should stop producing milk. If you are breastfeeding then you just have to wait until your supply regulates for the pain to fade. Supply regulation happens at different times for different people, so don’t expect pain-free magic on a certain day. Four months PP I don’t wake in pain usually, but I sleep with reusable breast pads most nights and they are often damp when I feed the babe in the morning.
Be advised that not all women leak…I wish I was one of them.
What I Accidentally got Right #1 – Get Moving
Getting out of the house with a newborn sucks. They are small, fragile, their immune systems aren’t developed yet – not to mention the challenges of dressing your postpartum body (nothing that fits is seasonally appropriate!). Baby Jupiter was born in the middle of December, and the cool winter air called me. This was the advantage of having a baby in Alabama; winter is mild (I have enough scarves to compensate for jackets that can’t zip closed).
I bundled Baby Jupiter in his pram, and I strolled him to one of two local cafés a half mile away. We started walking regularly when he was about two weeks old, unless it was raining or too windy. A few inches did melt off quickly, but only enough to look four months pregnant (instead of eight, so it was a significant improvement) – but no where near my pre-pregnancy size. The fresh air did me a world of good. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook while walking, but most days I just listen to BBC News or let my mind wander in silence.
Thanks to regular walking my clothes fit better, my mind feels more clear, and Baby Jupiter is easily at home in restaurants and cafés. Exposing him to a variety of normal sounds and situations has seemingly taught him that places that are not home are not scary. He only gets upset if strangers get in his face, and at that point I don’t blame him for crying. Your mileage may vary of course, but I wholly recommend expanding baby’s definition of normal in whatever way works for you. Now that I can sometimes use my thumbs again, Baby Jupiter and I are working on being comfortable in the car, highway, shopping cart, and Target. It’s a work in progress, and short excursions work best for us.
What I Accidentally got Right #2 – Quitting Makeup
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with makeup. I like looking flawless, but never liked the time required to get it right daily. Besides, at 34 I still haven’t found my holy grail concealer or foundation. So if I haven’t found them by now, what do I have to lose by abandoning my search? Nothing!
Regardless, Baby Jupiter and I have a routine that requires me to get dressed ASAP so we can get out the door while he’s in a good mood. If I miss the good-mood window then we just stay in – so the obvious solution is for me to be ready as soon as possible. One day I *gasp* left the house without makeup. Nothing bad happened. Mister Jupiter even complimented me when he got home. So I slowly changed my routine to focus on care versus cover.
Now I do my face at night, just before bed. I wash and pat dry. Then apply my favorite Japanese toner, serums as I please, and finish with a nice hydrating cream. In the morning when Baby Jupiter is waiting on me I only need to wipe my face, and splash on some sunscreen (pro tip = Japanese formulations have a thinner texture and are actually matte). My face feels great because it has recovered in the night, and isn’t getting abused in the day. Now I can glow again because little stands between me, fresh air, and fresh espresso. The glow from within is real y’all. Besides, nobody notices tiny pimples when you have a happy baby with you.
Remember “Those who matter don’t care, and those who care don’t matter.”
This is part of my “What I Wish I Knew About The __ Trimester” series.
Need a different trimester? Here you go!
- First Trimester (weeks 1-13)
- Second Trimester (weeks 14-27)
- Third Trimester (weeks 28-40)
- Fourth Trimester (first three months postpartum)