The Guiltless Fourth Trimester
I have never been one to feel guilty about decisions I’ve made. If I wish I had done something differently, I just figure out a way to change it or move on. But this calm outlook vanished during the first three months of my son’s life—his “fourth trimester.” In its place came drawn-out, weepy discussions with my husband about breastfeeding and sleep habits.
A woman could second-guess every move she makes as a new mom, but who needs that burden? Instead, try to relax during the first three months postpartum by reclaiming your common sense (not always an easy task for the hormonal and sleep-deprived mommy!).
It’s Hard to Ruin an Infant
Before you became pregnant, did you spend your days wondering whether your friend at yoga class was breastfed or bottlefed? How about whether your roommate from college crawled at seven months or nine months? The first years of life matter a lot to future development, but there are as many different ways to produce a healthy baby as there are healthy babies. As long as your family’s trusted pediatrician says that your child is progressing normally—and “normal” spans a huge range—know that your daily routines are creating a strong and loving person.
If you can’t figure out what to do in a new parenting situation, call an expert. The people who take care of young children professionally often are the souls of kindness. I called the pediatrician’s nurse at least five times in the first three months of my son’s life about fussiness and stuffy noses, each time reassured by her practical advice. A week after my son was born, I took some allergy medicine without thinking; two hours later, I dialed the labor and delivery station to find out if I had permanently lethargized my son through tainted breast milk. The answer was no, of course, and now I can laugh about it.
Thoughtful and compassionate experts can also be a great asset to moms struggling with postpartum difficulties. Fran Jaffe, an international board-certified lactation consultant, encourages her clients to keep breastfeeding but understands if they can’t. “If they say, ‘This is just not working for me,’ I’m very supportive,” says Jaffe, who lives in Sherman Oaks, California. “I tell them, ‘At least you gave your baby the first week, the first four weeks … I’ve worked with them, and I know they did whatever they could.”
Accept the Unknown
When my son was born, the shelf of pregnancy books exited stage left to make way for a slew of infant development guides. I thought I would pore over the pages each night, painstakingly tracking my little boy’s growth.
I have spent only a few hours reading these manuals—not for lack of time, but because I’d prefer to catch up on the news or dig into a good novel. As long as Noah falls within spitting range of other babies, I assume he’s doing fine. And it’s often more fun to discover he’s ready for peekaboo than to read that this milestone is just around the corner.
When I did obsess about small concerns in the first months, such as whether I had swaddled Noah tightly enough to keep him asleep, it helped to ask myself, What’s the worst that could happen? As the months went on, I noticed that the issues I had fretted about nonstop in the early months, such as how to “play” with my five-week-old or how to endure until he slept more than three hours, just disappeared.
Amy Oliver of Phoenix, Arizona, describes a typical discussion with her husband about her 4-month-old son Luke’s sleep habits. “He’s eaten, and he’s probably tired, but he’s not going to go to bed. Brian and I look at each other and say, ‘So, do we let him cry?’” With issues such as sleep, Oliver says, “You just have to accept that there isn’t really a right thing to do, and you just have to go with the flow.”
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