(photo cred: @thedakotacorbin on Unsplash)
Soothing belly butter massages. Prenatal yoga, acupuncture, and pelvic floor therapy. Maternity photoshoots. Frequent naps entangled with elaborate body pillows. Warm aromatherapy baths. Quiet evenings reading Ina May Gaskin. These are just a few of the many ways first time moms-to-be demonstrate self-care. The degree of effort a childless pregnant woman can dedicate to self care changes dramatically when her new little one comes earthside. That difference is only natural as her mental, physical, and emotional needs evolve dramatically overnight (to say the least). While the very definition of self-care implies it is self-directed, there is a unique time in a mother’s life where the idea of self-care is almost laughable.
Enter, the fourth-trimester:
40 weeks of gestation are neatly divided into three trimesters, where fetal growth is measured in fruits and vegetables (because, science). New rhetoric demands we acknowledge a fourth chunk of time, when that watermelon/pumpkin is squarely outside of her body yet very likely glued to her body. That fourth trimester, or the first three+ months of raising a newborn, includes the especially physical recovery from birth. Early postpartum also includes a behemoth emotional rollercoaster thanks to a wild fluctuation of hormones that have the ability to fling her from weepy puddle of “I didn’t think I could love something this much” to weepy puddle of “I had no idea it would be this hard” in a matter of minutes (okay, seconds). To round out the absolute shock to her body and psyche, she is also faced with the kind of sleep deprivation that is tactically employed as a method of torture, resulting in the brain power and mental well being of a wedge of Swiss cheese.
The fourth trimester screams for the gentle touch, quiet moments, soothing words and sitz baths that self-care can offer. Instead, it is met with toe curling latches, 3am crying festivals, and an abundance of bodily fluids to be tended to. There really is no other time in a woman’s life where she is in such desperate need for self-care, yet has so little time/energy/fucks-to-give in order to provide it.
Instead of trying to convince new mamas out there to prioritize themselves, even for a little while, we instead offer the suggestions below directly to their loved ones. If you are a friend, family member, or partner of a woman who has recently given birth and find that your offer of “how can I help” is met with silence, or offhanded “I’m okays”, we suggest you don’t stop there. Instead, offer her a few concrete ideas that you are comfortable with, and ask her to choose which appeal to her. The tips/gift-guide below is divided into the three general areas that self-care would address: Physical, emotional, and mental well-being. The final bonus categories include a special call-out for nursing moms, and a ‘bet you didn’t think of that’ section to keep things fresh. It is our sincere hope that you are inspired to reach out to that new mama in your life and extend a helping hand.
- Physical recovery and homemade meals go together like macaroni and cheese. Home cooking is easily one of the most underrated gifts you can offer a family with a new babe.
- Allergic to the kitchen? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Prepare smoothie freezer bags, or overnight oats in individual mason jars. Alternatively, use your delegation skills and take on the organization of a food prep and delivery schedule within her social circle.
If the mom is breastfeeding, research some of the foods that can cause gas and irritation for babies (which is transferred through the breastmilk) and avoid those in your cooking.
- She’s likely already run out of dry shampoo. Buy out the store. Consider investing.
- ‘Babysitting coupons’ so that she can go to her pelvic floor physiotherapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, esthetician, etc.
- Be mindful of the fact that your visits are even more appreciated when you help out with baby outside of holding them while they sleep. Change diapers, feed bottles, burp them, bounce them, walk them around, take the lead from the parents. Encourage mama to take that shower, soak in that tub, catch a quick nap, and ensure she doesn’t feel any pressure to ‘play host’.
Once baby arrives, the whole wide world seems to revolve around them. The sun rises and sets around that baby not only for the parents but seemingly for the world outside, too. Mom may begin to feel like the baby-transporter, where her whole purpose in life is to keep the baby fed, clothed, dry, happy, and delivering said baby to others to make them happy. Remind her through your gifts and or acts of service that you haven’t forgotten that she, too exists. Sometimes a small token that is exclusively for the mom, and not remotely baby-related can go a long way in reminding her of just that:
- A pretty pair of earrings, something luxurious and made of cashmere, or seasonal home decor.
- A gift card to her favourite store and a shopping date for when she’s ready.
Conversely, baby-related gifts for mom will also be wholly appreciated. Something special that she can wear proudly to feel connected to her Little when she does take some time away:
- An engraved “mama” necklace with her child’s birthstone.
- A mom-and-little matching t-shirt onesie combo from a local designer on Etsy.
Does she have a fur-baby, too? If yes, chances are she is feeling some serious mom-guilt about the neglect of that first baby.
- Drop in and take her dog for a walk, bring catnip for her cat, some kale for her bunny, and spare some time and attention giving that furry one some extra loving. The gesture will go a long way in soothing her guilt stricken mama heart.
- Call, text, and schedule visits that will allow her an opportunity to talk, vent, and be heard. Don’t be offended if she doesn’t text you back or pick up her phone. Equally important, don’t write her off either. Remind her you are there for her, when she’s ready, and that you’ll keep reaching out on a frequent basis.
- Visit and stay for dinner – bring all the food and wine with you, hang out, make her laugh, let her cry.
- Celebrate her freedom to drink by dropping off her favourite bottle of wine, growler of beer, or bubbly beverage – don’t shame a new mama from wanting a glass (or two, or three) of alcohol. The only danger to baby if mama drinks is if she becomes too inebriated to properly care for her child. The amount of alcohol transferred to breast milk is negligible.
- Read up on postpartum depression and the baby blues. Watch out for any signs that can indicate her mental health is suffering.
- Curate a list of uplifting podcasts, TV shows, and movies for her to listen to during those cluster feeding hours.
- (she may have a newfound appreciation for Call the Midwives, The Letdown, and Workin’ Moms)
- Insert pockets of sunshine into her home. Consider delivering fresh cut flowers a couple weeks after baby is brought home, when the abundance of those initial bouquets simultaneously lose their will to live.
- She may not be in the right headspace to acknowledge the strength, beauty and power of her postpartum body. A talented lifestyle photographer can capture that moment for her so that she may heal her heart. Days, month, and years later she will cherish those photographs and consider them heirlooms.
- Finishing an entire cup of tea or coffee while it is hot is soothing for the soul. It is also the new moms Everest. Gift her a quality tumbler that promises to keep beverages warm all day long. Bonus: if it can be opened and closed one handed 😉
Outside the box:
- Babies are messy.
- Poonamis and projectile vomit seem to reserve themselves for the least opportune moments. Save the day by gifting a car wash coupon (the kind that includes inside detailing).
- There are mompreneurs out there that offer detailed car seat and stroller cleanings. Offer to coordinate a pick up and drop off of the offending gear.
- The fourth trimester involves unparalleled amounts of laundry. Consider doing her dry cleaning once, or even weekly!
For the nursing mamas:
There is nothing quite like the feeling of being a 24/7 food truck to reinforce the fact that you are no longer the number one in your life. Read below for our suggestions to insert a little care into the lives of early breastfeeders:
- Gift them a breastfeeding care package: bamboo bra inserts, Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide To Breastfeeding, extra breast pump parts, breastmilk bags, herbal breastfeeding tea.
- Offer to take her to a local lingerie store to have her fitted for a nursing bra that makes her feel beautiful and supported all around; be hands on with baby’s needs during the fitting.
- Bake her some delicious oatmeal treats, which are said to assist in milk production; think cookies, bars, energy balls.
- Nursing moms require a ridiculous amount of fluids to keep up with the demands of lactation. Gift her a new water bottle that can be used one handed (no screw tops, please!)
- If you know that she is having an especially hard time nursing, offer to research a highly respected private lactation consultant and hire them to pay your friend an in-home visit (with their consent, of course).
And when she does emerge from ‘the woods’ called the Fourth Trimester with bags under her eyes, three inch roots, and chipped nail polish, then by all means treat her to a haircut, facial, and/or pedicure. And when you’re side-by side gazing at the wall of polishes to choose from, gently begin the conversation of how she can start to insert some self-care back into her routine.
If you’re in your fourth trimester and think some of these suggestions would be nice to receive, then by all means, ask for help! Be specific with your needs and be gentle to yourself. Your loved ones do want to help, but sometimes they don’t know how. Alternatively, if you want to be more subtle with your wishes, give this post a “like” and/or share on Facebook and it just might catch the eye of the right person.
Laura is a work-from-home mama to a feral toddler, founding partner at Retreat, and aspiring birth photographer.