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The 4th trimester refers to the first three months after baby’s birth.
We call this time the “4th trimester” because it really is an extension of the pregnancy.
This is because a newborn is still very dependent upon mom’s body for his physical and emotional development.
In addition, it takes mom’s body the full three months to fully recover from pregnancy, labor and childbirth.
When we view this postpartum season, or 4th trimester, as a time of transition for both mom and baby, it helps to set our expectations appropriately!
Looking Ahead to the 4th Trimester!
By the time you reach the 3rd trimester, you are probably looking forward to no longer being pregnant!
This is a certainly understandable.
For one thing, most moms can’t WAIT to meet their baby!
Not only that but, by the 3rd trimester, the majority of expectant mothers are so SICK of being pregnant!
You feel like you have been pregnant FOREVER!
Am I right?
You long for the day when you can go for a walk around the neighborhood without waddling or stopping to pee every 20 minutes!
Your back is achy, your hips creak, you can’t sleep more than a couple hours without using the bathroom, and you may experience digestive “issues” such as heartburn or constipation.
You tell yourself that once your baby is born, you are going to get back in shape or get back to your “normal” life again.
Well… I have news for you…
It will take a few months for things to feel “normal” again!
… and that’s okay!
The Importance of Rest During the 4th Trimester
The greatest gift you can give to yourself during the 4th trimester is to give yourself permission to rest and bond with your baby!
If you don’t take any other advice from anyone, I hope you will heed these words…
YOU REALLY NEED TO REST DURING THE 4TH TRIMESTER!
Your body needs time to rest and recover from pregnancy, labor, and childbirth. If you had a cesarean section… then all the more!
Healing the Wound in the Womb!
Did you know that after childbirth, the uterus now has a large wound where the placenta was once attached?
That wound is approximately 8-1/2 inches in diameter. That’s the size of a small dinner plate!
Most people don’t realize that.
If you had a wound that large on the outside of your abdomen, it would be easier for everyone to understand your need to heal. You would also take the advice to rest more seriously, right?
Well, even though you cannot see this wound, it’s still there and needs time to heal!
This is why it is so very important to rest and recover after childbirth!
Lack of postpartum sleep and rest, puts you at greater risk for postpartum complications.
Read this post to learn more.
Rest and Emotional Recovery
In addition to your physical healing, you will also be adjusting emotionally to all the hormone changes.
Many women are surprised by the roller coaster of emotions that they often feel after having a baby… joy mixed with relief, fear, elation, exhaustion, anxiety, gratitude, sadness, grief or even guilt.
It’s perfectly normal to feel gratitude and joy one minute and sadness or guilt the next!
Your postpartum hormones may really play games with you, but most of this is perfectly normal.
All these hormonal changes can cause all kinds of weird symptoms including night sweats, mood swings and extreme exhaustion!
We often refer to these post-baby symptoms as “Baby Blues”. It is quite normal for the first 2 weeks as your hormones adjust back to a more stable level.
The more you rest and prioritize sleep, the better you will feel both physically and emotionally!
In fact, if you want to avoid postpartum depression or anxiety, you absolutely MUST get good postpartum sleep!
No, it’s not a guarantee. But in many cases, prioritizing sleep can actually prevent postpartum mood disorders!
You can read more about tips for emotional adjustment to motherhood in this post.
Why It’s So Difficult to Get Good Postpartum Sleep
If this is your first baby, you may be thinking… “how can it be so difficult to get sleep?”
The main reason is that your newborn will be waking often to feed during the night.
Your new baby will need to be fed every 3 hours around the clock during the first couple weeks, if not more.
Here is what that looks like in reality:
A typical night feeding during the first 2 weeks takes about 1 hour… diaper changing, feeding, burping, diaper changing again, more feeding… burping, soothing fussy baby back to sleep…
By the time you use the bathroom, grab a snack and get back to sleep, you only have about 2 hours to sleep before the next feeding.
You will see that in order to get 8 hours of sleep, you will need to keep going back to sleep after each feeding. It takes 3 hours total to get 2 hours of sleep… if you’re lucky.
If you do the math, this means that it will take 12 hours for you to get 8 hours of sleep each night.
When you are recovering from childbirth and establishing a good milk supply, you really need more than 8 hours of sleep, too!
Most new moms don’t get that sleep during the overnight hours, so they need to rely on daytime napping.
When you factor in doctor appointments, visitors, caring for other children, and other unexpected interruptions, many moms simply don’t get the daytime napping that they so desperately need!
13 Ways to Prioritize 4th Trimester Sleep!
In order to avoid sleep deprivation and get the postpartum sleep that you will need during the 4th trimester, you need to be strategic!
If you are pregnant, you still have time to plan ahead.
Having a postpartum recovery plan and sleep plan can make a world of difference!
If you implement these 13 tips, you WILL get good sleep.
But, in order to do so, you will need to PLAN AHEAD and make it a PRIORITY! It’s really up to YOU!
1. Set Realistic Expectations for the 4th Trimester!
First of all, remember that this is a very temporary season.
It is vital that you try to adapt to your current situation and learn to let things go!
There are no household tasks that are more important than your health and recovery.
If you are a control freak (like I was) then make sure that you plan enough help when creating your postpartum plan.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you will just “wing it” or that people will magically appear out of the woodwork to help you out. You could be setting yourself up for major disappointment!
Try to delegate household tasks such as laundry and meals.
This means you will need to reach out for help. If there is nobody around to help you, try to let those things go.
Give yourself permission to rest during the day and let the dishes (and emails) pile up, if necessary.
Since you are waking for night feedings, you will need to get the extra zzzz’s during the day.
2. Plan a Postpartum Baby-moon
Have you ever heard of the term, “baby-moon” when it comes to postpartum recovery?
A postpartum baby-moon is a vacation with your new baby!
Try to adopt this relaxed attitude towards your recovery time… Instead of feeling anxious about things NOT getting done around the house, tell yourself that you are on vacation with your newborn!
Let someone else wash the dishes and keep things tidy. Or just choose to ignore the mess!
If you are a control freak or a neat freak, this may be more challenging for you!
However, if you are still pregnant, NOW is the time to get a plan in place. You can turn your mad control-freak-skills into a planning party now! This way, you will have plenty of help so that you can enjoy your baby-moon vacation while someone else cleans your house and serves you dinner!
Sound like fun?
It really can be fun when you are properly prepared!
Check out this post to learn more about what a postpartum baby-moon should look like!
3. Limit Visitors
A reality of having a newborn is that everyone (and their mother) wants to visit and meet the new baby!
The problem with this is that most people have NO CLUE as to how you are feeling or your need for sleep. Nor do they even think that you might need any help!
Their visits just make more work or stress for you. Something you DON’T need right now!
Make sure that you limit your visitors during the first couple weeks.
You can do so by telling your friends and family that you are only accepting help during the early weeks, not visitors!
This will clue them in and set their expectations appropriately. Remember, you should NOT be entertaining visitors during the 4th trimester!
When you have visitors, it interrupts your daytime rest needs! It’s really hard to get naps in or enough skin-to-skin time with your newborn when Uncle Frank and Aunt Gertrude are setting up camp in your living room!
Make sure that you have discussed how you want to handle visitors with your partner before baby is born!
You will be surprised that some people will even start showing up to the hospital before you deliver.
Yup. It’s true!
If you announce that you are in labor, make sure that you make it clear what your visitor’s policy is. Nothing will feel more stressful to you than feeling like a “watched pot” when you are in labor.
You will probably be in no mood for visitors at that time, anyway!
You may even decide that you do not even want any visitors… ever… and that’s perfectly fine!
Check out these 25 Rules for Visiting a Newborn and share them with your potential visitors too!
4. Keep Going Back to Sleep in the Morning Hours
If you remember how we talked about how it will probably take 12 hours for you to get a full 8 hours of sleep each night, then you will understand that you will need to “sleep-in” each morning.
You absolutely will need to keep going back to sleep during the morning hours until you get at least 8 hours of sleep overnight.
DON’T shower or change out of your sleep clothes until you reach this amount of overnight sleep. Don’t be surprised, either, if it takes until noon before you reach your sleep quota.
This tip will ensure that you get the amount of sleep that your body needs, even with all the night feedings!
If you have older children, then you will need to schedule morning help to watch your older children while you finish your night time zzzzzz’s.
This is a great time for grandma or auntie to hang out with the kiddos!
In addition to “sleeping in” during the morning hours, you will also need 1 or 2 afternoon or evening naps!
5. Make Afternoon Appointments
Since you are going to be sleeping-in every morning, make it a priority to guard that precious time.
Don’t make any morning appointments or accept morning visitors (unless they want to come hold the baby or clean your house while you sleep!)
Even if you are normally a morning person, your need for sleep will temporarily override this fact!
When making appointments or daytime plans, push for early afternoon slots after you have had your 8 hours of sleep and a shower!
6. The 4th Trimester “Bathrobe Trick”
Sometimes you feel like you have no choice but to allow visitors to come see your baby.
When this happens, how do you encourage shorter visits and still protect your need for a nap?
If you are not in the mood for a visit, or you want to keep the visit short, try the “bathrobe trick”!
Here’s how it works…
Keep a bathrobe handy. If you know that a visitor is on the way… bringing a meal, coming to help, etc., put on the bathrobe over your clothes.
When your visitor sees your bathrobe, they will feel less inclined to stay long. They will feel more aware of your need to rest and probably want to drop off the meal or gift, admire the baby and be on their way!
Pro-tip: This trick works even better if you mess up your hair a bit!
7. Ask for Help
When making your postpartum plan, make sure that you line up plenty of help.
Even if you have a partner, they will need a break or nap too!
Try to remember who offers to help and accept their help whenever possible.
In fact, when someone asks “how can I help?” always ask them to bring food or groceries! This will usually work well since they probably want to come by to see the baby anyway!
Whatever you do… DON’T clean up your house before someone stops by!
For goodness sake, leave the mess and allow them to see that you could use some help.
Anyone who has half a brain, will see that you need help and offer to tidy up during their visit!
If not, it’s a good idea to make a “to do list” and leave it in a prominent spot where your visitor or partner can easily find it!
Don’t be afraid to ask your visitors to help you with dishes, laundry or meals.
Most people are willing to help, but just might need a little prompting to do so!
8. Sleep When Baby Sleeps
Okay, this phrase has become quite a cliche, but that doesn’t make it bad advice. In fact, it’s really good advice!!
If you are serious about prioritizing sleep, this tip is really key.
If you can get your newborn to actually sleep without being attached to you, take full advantage of that opportunity for a quick nap!
Don’t be tempted to do anything when you really need to sleep!
9. Taking Sleeping Shifts During 4th Trimester
Here’s another great sleep tip… try taking shifts!
Ask Dad (or anyone willing to help) to take one of the late night feedings so you can get a longer stretch of sleep. (You can usually find someone who is a night owl who would be willing to help you out here.)
If you are breastfeeding, pump enough for one feeding during the day, then after the evening feeding, go to bed early. (If you are a night owl and Dad isn’t, the reverse will also work.)
For example, let’s say that your baby nurses around 8pm. After this feeding, you would head to bed around 9pm or so.
Dad would be “on duty” for the next several hours soothing the baby if needed. He would also offer the next feeding around 11pm.
Meanwhile, you will get a good chunk of sleep and wake to feed the baby again at the next feeding around 2am.
This scenario would allow you to sleep from 9pm until 2am. That’s 5 hours!
Some moms worry that this would negatively affect their milk supply to go this long without nursing or pumping, but it is my personal belief that lack of sleep is more detrimental to milk supply than missing a feeding.
If your body wakes you early to pump or nurse, at least you won’t feel as groggy!
When Dad goes to bed around midnight, he will get a chance to get his chunk of sleep next.
Feel free to adjust this system to meet your needs, but many parents find this a sanity-saving tip!
10. Learn How to Breastfeed Lying Down
Learn to breastfeed lying down as soon as you can. It can literally be a game-changer for your night feedings!
It may be difficult to learn in the early weeks, but once you and your baby get the hang of nursing upright, it’s time to try it out.
Start by practicing during the day, when it’s easier to see your baby. Don’t be surprised if your baby protests at first. Be patient and your baby will soon get the hang of it.
Once you both get the hang of it, you won’t even need the light to see during night feedings!
Even if you choose not to co-sleep, you can still feed lying down at night. It is so much easier (and safer) than trying to nurse upright with your head bobbing as you fight to stay awake!
Not only is it difficult to feed upright when you are sleepy, it’s not safe if you fall asleep in a chair. If your bed is not big enough, consider getting a spare bed or even a blanket or pad on the floor.
There are two popular positions for nursing while lying down: Side-lying and Laid-Back positions. Here is how they both work:
Lie on your side, with a pillow or two to support your head. A pillow between your knees may help you feel comfortable too.
Position the baby, lying on her side facing you, so that her nose is level with your nipple. (If your breasts are on the smaller side, you may need a firm pillow under the baby to bring him up level with your nipple.)
With one hand, bring the baby in close to you so that his chin is touching your breast and his head is tipped back a bit. You can stroke his upper lip with your nipple if he doesn’t latch on right away.
To change sides, you can either hold the baby firmly against your chest, and roll over, or, depending on the size of your breasts, you can leave the baby where she is and re-position yourself so that you are rolled slightly towards the baby and she can now nurse on the “top” breast.
I love this position! There are so many great benefits of laid-back breastfeeding, night or day! It is also called the “biological nurturing position”.
When using the “laid-back” breastfeeding position, lay back in a semi-reclining position in your bed, supported by pillows, with the baby tummy-to-tummy against your chest and abdomen.
She’ll find the nipple and self-attach, or you can help her get latched on.
This position also works well in a reclining chair or laying back on the couch while watching TV during cluster-feedings!
11. Put a Note on your Door
This is a tip that can really save your sleep!
Sometimes people may stop by without an “appointment.” When this happens, you don’t need to feel obligated to open the door!
Try putting a note on the door that says something like this…
Thank you for visiting! My mommy and I are sleeping. My parents are very tired since they are up a lot at night taking care of me. They are not receiving visitors at this time. Please leave a text or voicemail on my mommy’s or daddy’s phone if you’d like to schedule a visit sometime to meet me.
Love, Baby (baby’s name)
12. Wear Ear Plugs or Use a Sound Machine
When someone else is on baby-duty, make sure that you use ear plugs or a sound machine, so that you don’t hear any baby noises!
Nothing wakes a sleeping mommy faster than her baby’s fussiness and noises.
It’s the way we mommies are wired. We can’t help it!
But, if you block out those baby noises, your brain will let you sleep much more soundly.
If someone else has offered to care for your baby while you nap, let them do it!
If they really need you, instruct them to wake you up.
…and in the meantime… go get some sleep, mama!
13. Hire a Postpartum Doula
Last but not least… consider hiring a postpartum doula!
Since I am a postpartum doula, I need to put in my shameless plug to hire professional help, if possible!
Unlike some friends or family members, postpartum doulas offer expert, non-judgmental help with up-to-date, evidence-based information on postpartum healing, breastfeeding and newborn care.
Postpartum doulas not only care for mom and baby, but they lend a hand with household duties such as dishes, laundry, dog-walking, errands and more!
You can even hire an overnight postpartum doula to help with night feedings and chores! Mom gets more night sleep while doula takes care of baby and assists with feedings.
If you truly want to be pampered and spoiled, find out more about hiring a postpartum doula. Go here to find out how to hire a postpartum doula in your area.
How about you?
Do you have any other great tips for how to prioritize new mom sleep during the postpartum season? Please share your ideas in the comments! Thank you!