Fourth Trimester Survival Guide: Postpartum Essentials for New Moms
Calling all my fellow new mamas! This Fourth Trimester Pregnancy Survival Guide will provide new moms with tips, tricks and product recommendations (from books and holistic remedies to postpartum must-haves, and advice on getting your newborn to sleep) to help you get through the first three months with your new baby.
Y’all. I made it. I feel like I’m writing this post to you from the beyond.
Jackson is 4.5 months old today and that means that we survived the Fourth Trimester, aka the first three months with your new baby as a new mom. Phew!
In some ways, it was way easier than I thought–we definitely got lucky and our little Jackie is basically a perfect angel baby who eats and sleeps really well and has a generally very happy and content disposition–and I enjoyed these three months more than I could’ve imagined.
On the other hand, man was it hard! You know how everybody tells you how breastfeeding is magical and a miracle and the best thing ever? Well it’s not that they’re wrong–I mean seriously, I still can’t get over the fact that I can feed my child with my body….WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?!
It’s just that breastfeeding is also so freaking hard. It’s definitely been the most challenging part of motherhood for me, which surprised me as I was really looking forward to it. Your body is just not your own, it really hurts in the beginning, I’ve gotten mastitis twice (which is basically a breast infection/clogged duct that makes you feel like you have the worst flu of your life with the added benefit of being hit in the chest with a baseball bat). And it’s just a huge transition.
This motherhood thing as a whole is a huge transition. Realizing that I wasn’t going to get basically anything checked off my To Do List each day; actually, scratch that. Realizing that it was futile to even make a To Do List was just the beginning. For as much as newborns sleep and for being on maternity leave and really only having one responsibility (keep this baby alive!), it was amazing how quickly the time passed and how little really got done.
Kimberly Ann Johnson said it best in her amazing book, aptly titled The Fourth Trimester:
We are transported to a land where the pace is slow and languorous, and time has a hazy mysterious quality. A day can pass so slowly that it seems it will never end. Yet weeks go by and it seems like we haven’t changed our clothes, taken a shower, or done anything but laundry and nursing…letting go of expectations and productivity as a measure of success is a very real experience of a postpartum day when you have high hopes and nothing gets done, even though you feel you’ve been occupied during all of it.
NAILED IT. This is exactly what the fourth trimester was like for me. And it’s so easy to judge yourself for this, to be hard on yourself, to desire to be more productive, get more done, just get through this fourth trimester as fast as possible. But this book really helped me learn how to be gentle with myself, to be truly present in this incredible moment in time and actually enjoy it.
I also particularly resonated with the idea of two new lives emerging post-baby:
When you give birth, it is not just your baby that is born; in a way, you are born. This is a profound and glorious birth istelf–your birth as a mother.
That being said, there may be nothing more soul-satisfying in the world than snuggling with your baby–that feeling when they put their head on your shoulder on fall asleep. Magic!
Mostly, this fourth trimester for me was filled with just that: baby snuggles, reading all the newborn sleep books (more on that below), learning how to breastfeed, staring in awe at the little human we created for hours on end, and just figuring out this new life with baby.
I’ll be honest–it wasn’t always easy, but there were a handful of products that really came through in the clutch during this time and so I wanted to share those with all my fellow new mamas to help you get through your fourth trimester with as much ease as possible. Let’s do this!
Fourth Trimester Healing Essentials:
I’m gonna give it to you straight. There is nothing glamorous about postpartum recovery. It’s a lot of adult diapers and leaking breasts and constipation. Here’s what helped me get through it:
- MomWasher Peri Bottle for PostPartum Care by Fridababy: Yep, this (along with a proper sitz bath) is one of THE MOST IMPORTANT things you can have on hand after you have your baby. You can’t wipe, you’re sore and tender down there and you need to stay clean. Love that you can tip this upside down and it still sprays perfectly.
- Rael 100% Organic Cotton Menstrual Pads. I think this is self explanatory. These are great–they’re organic and super absorbent and way less bulky than the awful adult diapers you have to wear for the first few days (just take those from your hospital and save your money).
- Chiropractor: I talked a lot about chiropractic care during pregnancy, and just as important is postpartum chiropractic care, both for mama and baby (Jackson got adjusted every week for his first 2 months of life and now goes once a month). Birth is traumatic on the body and everyone and everything is pretty out of alignment afterward. I 100% attribute my relatively quick recovery to prenatal and postpartum chiropractic care.
- Placenta Encapsulation: I got my placenta encapsulated into tablets that you swallow just like any supplement–there’s no taste so it’s really not as gross or weird as it sounds. And because the placenta is filled with so many nutrients and hormones, it’s known to be helpful in stabalizing mood, providing mamas with energy and much-needed vitamins and minerals, and regulating hormones, thus decreasing postpartum depression and anxiety. I took mine a few times a day for the first month and now what’s left is sitting in my freezer–I pop a placenta pill if I ever feel off kilter. Does it work? Hard to say if it was taking the placenta capsules or if I just got lucky, but I did not experience PPD and my mood and energy levels remained quite healthy during the fourth trimester.
- Moms Support Group: I cannot reiterate enough how important it is to find a local group of moms to connect with, commiserate, sometimes cry with, often laugh with and just be around people in a similar position as you. I went to this free support group at the Atlanta Birth Center and it honestly SAVED me on more than one occasion. Just knowing you’re not alone is worth the effort of getting out of the house, I promise!
- Lots of Walks Outside: It’s so easy to let an entire day go by without leaving the house, but getting outside for some fresh air, sunshine and extremely gentle exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health, your mood, your baby and your body. Matt and I walked nearly every single day, sometimes multiple times a day, for the first month and it is one of my fondest memories of our early days of being parents.
- Face Wipes: Because let’s be honest…what new mom has time to wash her face? These Beautycounter face wipes are my favorite! They remove every last trace of makeup and dirt/grime from the day, they’re super hydrating, gentle AND they’re biodegradable so you don’t have to feel guilty about waste!
- Traditional Medicinals Organic Smooth Move Tea: Real talk: postpartum constipation is real and that first poop is scary! This tea is a great alternative to traditional laxatives, supports relief from occasional constipation and generally produces a bowel movement within 6-12 hours. It’s made from fennel, coriander, and ginger to reduce the potential for unpleasant feelings like cramping.
Fourth Trimester Breastfeeding Essentials:
In theory, all you need to breastfeed are the two nipples attached to your body. In practice, I found that A LOT of gear was required, or at least made the process much easier, less painful, more discreet and effective (i.e. keeping your milk supply up). Here’s what helped me:
- Nursing Pillows: The pain of breastfeeding in the beginning was nearly enough to make me throw in the towel. Cracked, bleeding nipples, engorged breasts and everything just so tender and sore and constantly with a baby sucking on it. It’s A LOT. Thank God for Bamboobies nursing pillows–a quick zap in the microwave and these soothing pillows went in my bra between almost every feed and made me feel so much better! Their organic nipple balmis also my favorite–goes on smooth, relieves pain and heals cracks and cuts super quickly!
- Bamboo Breast Pads: In the first month of postpartum, I can’t tell you how many times I woke up completely soaked in pools in breastmilk. It’s a good problem to have, but my supply was just so heavy and if I went more than 30 minutes without feeding, I was leaking everywhere. These reusable, washable bamboo breast pads were a lifesaver.
- Breast Pump: Although Jackie is exclusively breastfed, I did pump once a day so that Matt can give him a bottle at bedtime. Not only is it great for the two of them to bond, but it also gives me a break. Mattie walks in the door and I tag out–he gives him his bath, reads him stories and feeds him a bottle, while I make dinner, catch up on emails or (let’s be honest) pour a glass of vino and turn on Netflix 😉 To pump, I have Spectra’s S2Plusand it’s been better than I could have imagined. Designed by certified lactation specialists, it has adjustable suction levels and simulates the suckling of a baby so my milk flows naturally. It’s surprisingly quiet, portable (though does require an outlet), and I really appreciate how it has a blackflow protector, so I don’t have to worry about harmful bacteria contamination. Plus, Spectra also comes with a couple fridge + freezer-safe wideneck bottles, which are the only bottles Matt and Jackson like, so we use them exclusively because the flow is perfect.
- Freemie milk cups: Sometimes I use these collection cups instead of the Spectra flanges, as you can stick them inside your bra and pump hands-free. They’re pretty bulky though, so I use these more when I’m working home alone.
- Hands-free nursing bras: Speaking of hands-free, I also got a handful of nursing bras that allow you to stick your pump parts in these holes and they hold them for you so you can have your hands free to do whatever you need. My favorites include Ollie Gray and Milx. Likewise, I love the nursing bras and clothes from Everly Grey, Kindred Braverly, Cake Maternity and Bela Bum Bum (get 15% off + free shipping at Bela Bum Bum with our code ROOT+REVEL). And to nurse discreetly in public, I love Milk Maid Goods nursing cover, which doubles as the perfect stroller/car seat cover.
- Kiinde breast milk bags: I love these milk storage bags, as they attach right to my Spectra pump, are stackable and leak-proof, affordable and convenient. You can even feed using the pouch (read: no messy transfer of milk). Buy it on Amazon or at Target. I also use and love the Kiinde bottle warmer.
- Lactation Support: In addition to taking a few breastfeeding classes and working with a lactation consultant, there were a handful of supplements, teas and treats that helped me maintain a rich, healthy milk supply. My favorites include Love Majka’s lactation bites (seriously so yummy!), Traditional Medicinals Mother’s Milk tea and their chews (such a great way to get in much-needed nutrition when you don’t feel like drinking a cup of hot tea) and lactation bars, which are super delicious. I also love WishGarden Herbs organic and sustainably wild-harvested tinctures like Milk Rich which supports healthy breast milk and volume, AfterEase to soothe afterbirth contractions, and Happy Ducts for herbal lactation support that keeps the lymph system moving for nursing mothers.
- Nook Organic Niche Nursing Pillow: I know, the Boppy is everyone’s favorite. BUT, turns out there’s an even better and much safer option out there. That’s why I went with the Nook Niche pillow, which doesn’t use PVC/vinyl as a waterproofing layer; rather this organic pillow is made with a 100% organic cotton cover and 100% organic kapok fill. The Niche fits around your waist while you’re breast- or bottle-feeding, and it’s incredibly soft, cozy and supportive. Machine washable, too. Buy it at Nordstrom, The Tot, Jet or Amazon.
Fourth Trimester Sleep Essentials:
Ahhh, mysterious, elusive, omnipresent and yet so hard to find. That about sums up newborn sleep, amiright mamas? Here’s what helped us.
- Armsreach Co-Sleeper: This bassinet was a literal GODSEND. It basically allows you to co-sleep with your babe without having to bedshare. It makes middle of the night feedings a breeze, because, hey! He’s right there and I don’t even have to stand up. Easy to check on him, soothe him or pop his paci back in and it’s also pretty dang cute! And easily portable. Jackson slept in this until about 14 weeks old, when we moved him into his nursery into his crib.
- Lounger: I know, the Dockatot is all the rage. BUT I much prefer the Snuggle Me Organic Lounger–it’s 100% organic cotton and fleece with safe cushions around a hammock in the center, that keeps baby from rolling over. This was HUGE for us in the early weeks because Jackson loved rolling around in his crib and as a new mom, I was so worried he’d suffocate somehow. So we put this in his crib to keep him in place; plus it doubles as a swaddle-like device by basically hugging him while he sleeps. Buy it at The Tot or on Amazon.
- White Noise: Y’all. Babies love loud, static noise. Like, really love. Like instantly stop crying and fall asleep as soon as they hear it love. I couldn’t love Hatch Rest sound machine more–it’s a night light and sound machine, which has a Time-to-Rise indicator, you can control and program from your phone, and customize bedtime for your family. Buy it at BuyBuyBaby, Target or Amazon.
- Baby Wearing: Yes, in the early days, this is 100% a sleep tactic. Literally anytime I wore Jackson, he immediately fell asleep. While you really only NEED one kind of baby wearing device, I found that different activities required different types. When I was at home and just hanging out, I loved popping Jackson in the Lalabu shirt(it’s basically a tank top with a kangaroo pocket he just slides into!). Super comfy and cozy, but if I needed a bit more support, I liked the Baby K’tan wrap, which is so easy to put on compared to other complicated baby wraps and ring slings, which I never could figure out. When we went for walks outside, I loved my Lillebaby organic carrier. When I wanted to lay around on the couch and have him fall asleep on me safely and leave me hands-free, I loved theSleep Belt, which was also amazing for skin-to-skin time.
- Swaddles: The rumors are true. Babies love to be swaddled, and if yours has a strong startle reflex like Jackie did, then you’ll all sleep much longer and be much happier if you swaddle your babe. We started with just using muslin swaddles from Aden + Anais, which I loved. And while both Matt and I become full fledged swaddle ninjas, sometimes it was nice to just put him in a zippered or button-up swaddle that’s already done for you. Our favorites: the Ergopouch, Love To Dream, Aden by aden + anais Easy Swaddle Wearable Baby Wrap, and this swaddle-resting dock system called the Kepi Newborn Support System.
Fourth Trimester Baby Essentials:
Obviously there are things like muslin burp cloths (seriously, we needed nearly a dozen burp cloths a day in the beginning and Aden + Anais are THE MOST absorbent) and pacifiers (Jackie’s favorites are the BIBS BPA-Free Natural Rubber Baby Pacifier) and diaper pails (I love love love our Ubbi Steel Odor Locking Diaper Pail). But beyond the basics, here are a few things that helped us:
- Hatch Baby Grow: This wipeable changing pad is also a smart scale and I cannot tell you how amazingly helpful it was so us (and still is) in helping us track Jackson’s weight gain, feeding amounts, and diaper changes. It’s so easy to worry if they’re getting enough to eat and growing at the expected rate, and Hatch is amazing peace of mind. Their free app is also great for tracking feeding times in the early days.
- Lovevery Play Gym: Raise your hand if you hate that a-rainbow-threw-up baby scheme that so many toys have? I was psyched to find this play gym that I’d actually like seeing in my house. And let me tell you, Jackson loves it so so much. Tummy time with the high-contrast black and white cards, staring at the adorable hanging toys for hours, and even snuggling with the pup and kitties on the mat, he is in heaven. Highly recommend for stylish mamas looking for stimulating, sensory activities for their babes.
- UPPAbaby VISTA Stroller and MESA Infant Car Seat: This is the Mac Daddy of all strollers, beloved by natural and conventional mamas alike. It’s expensive, but let me tell you that it is worth EVERY. LAST. PENNY. I love it because it’s one of the only strollers on the market that doesn’t contain flame retardants and it’s OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified. Plus, it’s super lightweight, and easy to collapse and click in the car seat (easily the safest carseat on the market, this NHSTA 5-star beauty is naturally fire resistant (i.e. made without toxic chemical flame retardants) as it’s made from merino wool.) with just ONE SINGLE button. My parents, who raised kids in the 80s and 90s, are always so amazed at how easy everything clicks in. The Vista also comes with a bassinett, which proved invaluable for travel. Instead of having to bring a pack and play, we’d just use the basinett as Jackson’s crib and he loved it. Plus, it’s so pretty–check out those leather handles–we went with the Henry color. The CRUZ is their smaller stroller and makes for a great option for families with just one child. Buy it at Saks, BuyBuyBaby, Nordstrom or Amazon.
- Holistic + Healthy Medicine and Remedies: Have you ever read the ingredients of most conventional baby medicine? It’s disgusting–parabens, artificial dyes and flavors, sugars, and so many nasty additives. I honestly can’t believe it’s even legal. Here are a few of the cleaner brands we found and liked: Zarbee’s gripe water, Little Remedies Fever Reducer, and Boiron Colic Ease.
- Non-toxic Bath Products: You would think that all the bath products out there claiming to be extra gentle for your baby’s delicate skin wouldn’t contain known carcinogens, endrocine disruptors, skin irritants and asthmagens. But, so very sadly, you’d be wrong. Some of my favorite clean baby brands include Baby Mantra (all EWG Verified and smell so yummy) and Pleni Naturals are certified MADE SAFE , certified vegan + cruelty-free.
Fourth Trimester Books: I did quite a bit of reading (and Audible listening) in the fourth trimester, primarily books about baby sleep, postpartum recovery and keeping baby calm and happy. Here are some of my faves:
- The Happiest Baby on the Block: The Five S’s are real, y’all. As in, Jackson was screaming bloody murder and we had tried everything–he was fed, changed, held, rocked, loved. Nothing was working. We opened up this book, read about the Five S’s, tried them immediately and within seconds, he was calm and then asleep. This book is a MUST READ for new parents.
- The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality: This should be required reading for all new moms. There is SO MUCH HAPPENING to your body during this time and most people just brush it under the rug and act surprised that you’re not back to your pre-baby weight when you leave the hospital, or worse, they’re shocked when you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, birth trauma, or just mood swings. READ THIS. Seriously, it will change your life. Even better if you can read it before baby is here as it helps you prepare.
- Moms on Call Basic Baby Care 0-6 Months: This book was recommended to me by SO MANY MOMS and once I got past the first half and realized that I’d never follow their advice when it comes to medications and introducing solids, it turned out to be an amazing resource for setting a flexible yet predictable schedule for Jackson’s feeding, sleeping and play/awake time each day. And I have to say, it really works. Partly I think we just got lucky and Jackie is a good sleeper naturally. But I have to credit this book with the rest–he’s been sleeping through the night since 14 weeks (we’re talking down by 7 pm with no tears and sleeping until 7-8 am the next morning without waking). And before that, he only woke up once between 2-4 am for a quick feeding since he was 6 weeks old. MOC also has a great Facebook support group that was invaluable when questions came up. That being said, I didn’t love all of the advice in MOC and did find it to be a little too rigid and harsh at some points. And I’m nothing if not an information addict, research fiend and “I want to see all sides before making a decision” kind of gal, so I also read a few other sleep books that I loved, including Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, and the hilarious and super practical Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents. In the end, I wound up taking pieces from each book and coming up with a plan that worked for ME, Jackson and our family. I recommend you do the same as what works for one family doesn’t always work for another. I have a full blog post all about healthy baby sleep coming up so stay tuned for that, too.
There you have it–my fourth trimester survival guide. What helped you get through the first three months of postpartum? Share in the comments below!
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
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