Caring for families in the 4th trimester is a critical component of postpartum care – but all too often an afterthought. The 4th trimester refers to the three or so months that follow birth, when moms and parents are figuring it out. There is an awful lot of care offered to a pregnant woman, or to an expectant couple during the gestation of the baby – but precious little afterwards.
We issued forth a call for the best things offered up in the 4th trimester. The response was universal in the sense that folks agreed that it is really just awfully nice to have a hive mind of people helping to tamp down the chaos. There is so much entropy. New moms report unprecedented feelings about the depths of love – but also fear and powerlessness in their new life. Many are uncertain of the terrain. There is a lot to learn (feeding, care, self-care) and the learning curve has never been steeper in terms of the investment of love.
For new parents, everything they are expected to do feels entirely new. This is true even if there is an older sibling. The addition of a new love reconfigures it all. In general terms, learning to feed by breast or bottle, learning to discern the types of cries (hungry, tired, something else) – all of these things can be immensely stressful. Learning to understand how a new baby sleeps can be challenging.
This is all compounded by the fact that birth is exhausting and bodies are healing. These combined stressors can sometimes feed extreme anxiety for postpartum moms and their partners. Check in with them about gear they may need, about snacks that promote lactation, and snacks that feed a mama overall – who needs to keep stores of energy generally.
New babies tend to attract visitors and many parents welcome this. Research reveals though, that new parents appreciate guests who can read the room. If you are offering help, make sure that you affirmatively provide it over the course of your visit. You can’t know how the night before was and a visit may not be ideal. Help, though, always is. See the stack of dishes that is sitting on the counter? Do them. (Don’t ask). Is there a load of laundry that needs folding? Go for it. Take the garbage out when you go. If you are in a position to do it, consider getting their house professionally cleaned.
Food is always so welcome. Delivery options are great because tired people aren’t necessarily into shopping and cooking just yet. Supplying options by organizing a meal schedule, or providing groceries, or take-out is much appreciated. So too are healthy snacks that moms and their partners can easily grab and eat. No muss no fuss.
Anything that helps streamline necessary things is great. Deliveries of all kinds – pharmaceutical things (lots of stuff goes with breast pumps and bottles), food, wine (yes, wine) are extremely useful.
So too is help with laundry. Going by to run a load is great, but levels of comfort may vary according to how well you know each other. Laundry services count too.
If the new mom is an urban dweller, she may not have a car and it’s hard to get around in a germy world with a newborn in the absence of a car. Consider a gift card to a car service already equipped with car seats so that a trip to the doctor for a well child is easy. We hear rumblings that Lyft is launching a nanny and driver service called Little Lyft – check back for more details.
For parents who have an older child, there are lots of things to consider. Their lives just multiplied in love – but also in emotional output. This takes a toll and while it is an embarrassment of riches it is still tiring. Straighten up the tornado of toys strewn by a toddler who might benefit from a little extra attention. Show up, straighten up. If the baby is sleeping, see whether the new mom or dad would like to run to the playground with the older sibling. Help to create this sacred space.
Make sure that if you bring a baby gift, that you also bring something for the sibling.
It is always helpful to help track postpartum depression. Women appreciate people who will ask how they are and listen to the answer. Those seeking to offer support in the 4th trimester do well to remember that levels of postpartum depression vary from birth to birth. Some women never experience it. Others have it after some births but not others. This can be confusing. Efforts to help keep mom honest about mood are hugely valuable. Encouraging them to talk to someone can be the difference between entrenched postpartum depression and a more transient episode.
The good news is that these challenges are largely happy ones. Communities can pull together and have huge impact in the life of a growing family. And that is straight up magic.
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