The fourth trimester – how to survive the first 12 weeks with a new baby
Working in a busy private hospital I get the pleasure of working with many new parents who are adjusting to the first few days of parenthood.
The experience is very different for everyone.
There are ups and downs, there is joy and there is pain. There can be trauma and healing, and a brand new set of worries to manage around “getting it right”.
It is good to know is that it’s normal if the post birth experience is a mixed one. The main thing is to ask for help and know that the intensity of the first few weeks and months does settle.
In the meantime, here are my top six tips for surviving the first twelve weeks.
One - Surrender to the fourth trimester
Your baby is here, but they would much rather be in the womb.
Everything you experience in the first few weeks is much more about your baby managing the sensory stimulation (sight, touch, sound) of the world than a reflection of your ability as a mum or dad.
Our babies long to be near our hearts and you are not getting it wrong if your baby needs a little or a lot of help to settle and sooth in this period. What can get in the way of parents feeling okay about this is the fear of “making a rod for your own back” or creating bad habits.
Your baby is not capable of forming a habit (good or bad) in the first twelve weeks - so do whatever you need to do to make your baby feel safe and secure in the fact you are there for them when they need you.
Fruit spoils, babies don't. The rhythm will come.
Tip two – filter out the information overload
Ok - the information overload is real, here’s how you cut through:
Tip three the village starts with just one friend
Maybe you will love your mothers group so much you are holidaying together in 25 years….. or maybe it isn’t a fit. Maybe you have family around, maybe you don’t. Either way i think the pressure on new parents to "build a village" is too much.
Here’s my tip:
If you are able to solidify one friendship in the first year, one friend who you can be really honest with about what it is like to be a mum or a dad.
One friend you can talk to about the hard days, the story of your birth, and the incredible moments of early parenting.
One friend you can walk the prams with at 4pm when the babies are unsettled.
One friend you'll be able to feed the babies dinner together with and hang out.
This will be your go to person in the trenches of baby-hood and they are worth more than an entire gang.
Tip four – Asking for help and setting boundaries go hand in hand
Friends may offer to bring a meal or a present and then stay to visit for longer than you hoped. You are healing, you are learning and it’s totally ok to be specific about what help you’d like and when it is time for them to leave.
You are also in charge of who holds your baby and when they do. You are now the advocate for this little human who can’t speak for themselves. Trust your instincts and protect your space and time, especially in the first three months.
Asking for help and being specific can be a challenge at first but it’s a muscle worth flexing.
Asking for help with lactation, settling, the house or your mental health can feel vulnerable too but it’s so worth doing and you will feel so much better for extra support as you learn.
Tip five - Tap out
You are on a really steep learning curve. You are probably going to be worried, healing, and oh so tired.
Babies can cry. A lot. It is one of the hardest aspects of early parenting and even when we know this, it can be exhausting. We need to take breaks in order to be better parents.
My partner and I worked out a system with our four boys of spotting when one of us was looking really overdone and saying “I am tapping you out”. It worked.
Tap out for a mini break at first like a shower on your own. Tap out for bigger breaks when you can. We are so much better for our babies for these small breaks.
Six – there are no perfect parents
Babies start to connect with us from birth. They seek out faces over any other shape and your faces over anyone else. They know you. You are their safe base, and their entire universe!
You have everything within you to be a wonderful parent to your baby. Remember our babies don’t need perfect parents who know what they are doing, they need present parents – learning each day and doing their best.
Obstetric Social Worker and Parent Educator at a private hospital in Sydney and also a mother to four beautiful boys Genevieve is passionate about helping families in Sydney and beyond adapt to the modern parenting world and all its challenges and not only survive but thrive.
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