The 4th Trimester: Lessons from the first three months raising a newborn

January 28, 2019
HANNAH SHELBY: Lessons from the 4th Trimester

The first three months after having your baby can feel like a blur—major sleep deprivation, a huge life change, lots of emotion, learning, crying, laughing, loving, diaper changes and watching your baby go from teeny tiny newborn to a pudgy baby ball in 90 or so days. It’s definitely a wild ride.

So for all the mamas-to-be or anyone curious what those first few months are like, I’ve put together a few take-aways I learned in the “4th trimester” with my baby girl.

Emotions run at an all time high.

Bringing a new life into this world is incredible. It’s miraculous. It’s like a million shooting stars bouncing around your entire body at once. So it’s not surprising to know you will cry many, many tears as you stare in awe at your new baby. Combined that with hormones and you have yourself a recipe for emotion! So don’t be surprised if you start crying out of the blue too—while you make your breakfast, brush your teeth, open the mail…you get the idea.

Unexpectedly I also became very emotional about my pregnancy. I never imagined “missing” being pregnant, but as soon as Vivienne arrived, I suddenly felt so nostalgic about it all. How was it already over? I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my pregnant belly! Even with the morning sickness and the difficulties sleeping and always needing to pee, it all happens so fast. In a blink it seems it’s over. One day you have strangers holding doors open for you and asking how you are, and then next you are back to being treated like a normal person. It was a weird shift. Pregnancy is such an incredible, transformative experience. The female body is AMAZING!

The days are hard and the nights are long.

There’s a reason it’s called the 4th trimester. The first few weeks especially are very challenging. Newborn babies don’t operate even remotely on a similar schedule as the rest of us. They need to eat every couple of hours, around the clock. They need a new diaper every time they eat. And their preferred place is in your arms 24 hours a day. Finding time to do simple things like eating and drinking can be hard. Just as one cycle ends, another one begins. You learn to live on less sleep than you ever realized possible. And it will be REALLY hard. But you will do it. You will think you can’t possibly do it another minute. And then you will. That is why mothers are superheros!

First day of life being swaddled at the hospital…was cute while it lasted :)

Not every baby likes baby things.

I always thought swaddling and pacifiers were all baby’s best friend. Not the case. Vivienne had absolutely no interest in either. After we got home from the hospital, we tried every type of swaddle and our baby would not have it. Instead of making her sleep better, she would scream bloody murder until we took her out. And a pacifier? She seems offended at the idea. When you’re pregnant and especially when it’s your first baby, it’s hard not to stock up on every little cute thing you see before little one arrives (guilty!) but it’s wise to hold off on some things until you know what does and doesn’t work for your baby.

Your baby may love something one day, and hate it the next.

And vice versa, so keep trying if something doesn’t seem to be working. Vivienne didn’t take to a baby swing, bouncy chair, or baby carrier until she was about 2 months old and was more willing to be set down. But then don’t be surprised if the next week it no longer seems to be working. Babies are finicky little things.

Some babies don’t like to be set down AT ALL in the first couple of months.

And that includes when they sleep. I always imagined my newborn sleeping next to me peacefully in a baby lounger or a transportable bassinet, giving me plenty of time to get a few things done each day. HA. Boy was that as far from the truth as it gets. Finally at about two months I found my baby was more willing to be set down. At that point items like a swing, bouncer and baby carrier are your best friend! Even 5 or 10 minutes of free hands makes a big difference!

The most important thing you need to be doing is taking care of your baby. Anything else is a bonus.

It can take some time to get used to letting go of everything else in your life for awhile, but really there isn’t anything more important than simply being there for your newborn. The sooner you come to peace with this, the happier you’ll be. It’s a temporary state, and one you will look back on with a pang in your heart when your baby is all grown up. So try to enjoy the slow pace while you have it….because it won’t be slow for long :)

Celebrate the small victories.

Did you shower for the first time this week? WOO HOO! Wore something other than pajamas? YOU GO MAMA! It’s easy to feel frustrated when you look at your list of things you’d like to accomplish and you maaaaybe get one thing done a day, but you should be proud of what you are doing—keeping a human being alive and well!

Don’t forget to eat and drink.

Without any hands and very little time, I found it easiest to eat pre made food I could gobble down in a minute or two. Fill a big travel mug of water so you’ll have a bigger supply during the day. Anything you can prep in the morning before you are alone for the day helps tremendously.

Who knew a baby could be such a great workout!

Carrying around a baby all day long does wonders for your arm muscles. And don’t even get me started on all the deep knee lunges required to keep a baby calm when they are fussing. You will most definitely feel the burn.

Netflix will get you through.

One thing you can do while you spend every waking moment feeding and holding your baby? NETFLIX! All the shows you thought you might watch one day? Every season of The Great British Baking Show? Yep! There likely won’t be any other time in your life you can marathon watch Netflix for days on end so enjoy it while it lasts.

^^one month
^^two months
^^three months! What happened to my baby? She’s so big already.

Joining the ‘Mom Club’ is really fun.

Motherhood is hard. With all it’s joys, can also be shockingly lonely and isolating in the beginning. Until you become a mother, there are so many aspects that are hard to understand. But once you do, you have officially joined the ‘Mom Club’ and there is an automatic bond with other women who have gone through/are going through the same struggles and joys. I have had so much fun connecting deeper with many of my mama friends, and am very much looking forward to that bond continuing to deepen as the journey of motherhood unfolds.

You have to do what’s best for you and your baby.

Maybe you breast feed, maybe you formula feed, maybe a little of both. Maybe you strictly use a bassinet, maybe you co-sleep, maybe your baby sleeps in their crib from day one. You know your baby best and what does and doesn’t work. Don’t get too caught up in what “everyone else is doing” and feel like you doing things wrong. Every baby is different, every family is different, and there is no one right way.

Your baby’s gas will be your worst enemy.

Newborns have immature digestive systems and are very gassy. And a gassy baby is a crying baby. The first 6-8 weeks are really tough in this regard. We tried everything under the sun—Gas Drops, Gripe Water, The Windy, removing foods from my diet, etc. Sometimes they worked, most of the time they didn’t. Finally at around 8 weeks Vivienne’s digestive system noticeably matured and she was much less gassy. This made such a huge difference! By all means try everything you can, but also try to remember that newborns by nature are just gassy. It will get better eventually and just because your baby has some gas it doesn’t mean you are doing everything wrong!

A small break goes a long way.

As soon as it felt manageable, I started walking our dog Louis in the evenings while my husband watched Vivienne. Those 30 minutes away were just the refresh needed after a full day taking care of a tiny baby. Letting someone else take over every once in awhile so you don’t burn out is so important.

Try to go easy on yourself.

You will inevitably worry about every little thing, especially if it is your first baby. And you will watch your baby cry and feel like you must be doing everything wrong. You aren’t. Babies don’t come with user manuals. It takes time to get the hang of being a new mom and learning all your baby’s likes and dislikes. Give yourself some grace, you are doing a great job!

Raising a newborn is really, really hard. But guess what, it’s also better than the best.

Nothing can prepare you for what it’s like to bring a life into this world. The immense responsibility, the fatigue, the utter and overwhelming love that rips out of your soul for the tiny human you get to call your own. How do you prepare for something so big? You can’t really. You will learn day by day, and often hour by hour. There’s a saying, “When a baby is born, so too is a mother.” I love this because it’s absolutely true. I have only just started down the path of motherhood and am still learning so, so much. The depth of love, the sacrifice. But what I do know is that pregnancy and labor and birth, hard as they may be, are more just a warm up for the lifelong journey of being a mother. As a mom, you will find yourself time and time again exceeding what you thought were your limitations, expanding your heart endlessly, and growing and learning every day.

It really does get better. And it really does go fast.

Everyone will tell you this, but when you are in the throws of it all and you are bone numbingly tired, it’s really hard to believe. But it does get better. Each day your baby develops a little more and you learn a little more and you grow a little more together. And then all of the sudden, you wake up one morning and your tiny baby isn’t a tiny baby anymore. That first smile, the cooing and baby giggles. Their sweet little face as they lay sleeping. The milky breath! And the life you will have together. Of course its not easy, but it’s all so so worth it!

I came across this poem by artist mama.days who so perfectly captured this fleeting newborn phase of motherhood:

Things are different now
I couldn't see past
Those broken nights
Struggles feeding
The burping
The nappies
And just when it's all finished
Starting the cycle all over again

Pinned down a snoozing baby
Not wanting to risk waking her
Everything revolving around naps
Babe on hip
One handed everything

The teething
The tiredness
The doubting
And the worrying
When they can't tell you what's wrong

And now.
Now I watch you dancing around my
living room
Mesmerized by Strictly
Chatting about Santa
So clever
So funny
Excited by so much

Your independence beaming
Your little mind processing everything
And I realize those early days
Weren't going to last forever
I can see it now
Couldn't then

I don't think anyone could've told me
those hard days don't last forever
Had to learn for myself.
My heart aches for days
that have gone by
Yet flutters thinking of what's
coming next
I look forward
to every day with you, my girl.


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