Any mother will tell you that having a new baby can be quite the adjustment. In fact, those first few months are full of so many physical and emotional changes that they are often referred to as the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy. During this time, a new mother often needs some mothering herself!
What’s so hard about the fourth trimester?
- Physical challenges: After nine months of growing and nourishing a baby, going back to a non-pregnant body is no small task. A changing body shape, weight loss needs, breast engorgement, leaking breasts, postpartum bleeding, and sleep deprivation are just a handful of the challenges facing the mother of a newborn. Don’t forget about recovery from labor and delivery: medication side effects, swelling or tearing from pushing, an episiotomy, or a cesarean can all do quite a number on the body. It’s pretty amazing what a woman goes through each time she has a baby!
- Emotional challenges: A new mom goes through huge hormonal shifts after birth, and physical recovery can also take a toll on emotional well-being. It’s completely normal for a mom to experience lots of ups and downs in the postpartum period. She may feel weepy, discouraged, or upset in one moment, and completely in love, thrilled, and euphoric the next. There is such a wide range of emotions that come with meeting a new baby!
It’s no wonder that new moms might feel a little lost and overwhelmed in the early months!
In some ways, a new mom’s needs are not all that different from a child’s. She needs physical help, emotional encouragement, a little teaching, and a lot of love and listening. While a new mom is incredibly strong and brilliant, she can benefit much from having a little help to get her through a difficult time. This is the principle behind “mothering the mother.”
What can you do to practically help a postpartum mom?
- Help her to nourish herself. Good nutrition is so important for new moms! Bring her a homemade meal or healthy snack so she’s not left in the lurch when she’s busy with the new baby.
- Offer to help each time you visit. Run the vacuum, do a load of dishes, or just sit with the baby while she takes a shower or a nap. Take the older kids out for a while if she has them.
- Help her to find a circle of support. Having other moms around who are non-judgmental and ready to help can make a huge difference for a new mother.
- Support her feeding choices. Help her on her journey with breastfeeding, or support her wholeheartedly as she uses formula.
- Consider bringing mom a gift, too! An herbal bath to help her heal or a salve for cesarean scars and stretch marks might be just the thing to help her feel cared for.
- Limit your advice. Yes, you can share and discuss parenting tips and ideas- especially if she asks. However, you shouldn’t take this as an opportunity to tell her how she must do things. A new mama needs to find her own way, and there’s a possibility her ideas might be different than yours.
- Listen to her. Labor, delivery, and newborn life have likely given her a lot of feelings to process and stories to tell. Give her time and a space to share.
- Encourage her. Remind her of her strengths. Show her what she’s doing right. Help her to know that the challenges will pass and that she will grow from this experience.
Sometimes the fourth trimester brings exceptionally difficult challenges. A difficult birth, a sick baby, or postpartum depression can be absolutely crippling to a new mom. In certain cases, a mom might need professional help. Don’t be afraid to gently encourage her in this direction if she needs it.
Above all, give your love and encouragement to moms in the fourth trimester. Being a true friend and giving unhindered, nonjudgmental support can make the difference between “I can’t do this” and “I’ll get through this” for a new mom. A little mothering might be just what she needs!
If you are looking for supportive mothers to connect with online we would invite you to join the Cotton Babies Mob Facebook Group.