Your partner carefully carried and protected your child for three trimesters, and she has brought new life into the world. Now you enter the fourth trimester – where the three of you bond together in a perfect, little family.
The concept of the “fourth trimester” was brought forth by Dr. Harvey Karp. It’s like a transition period, encompassing the 12 weeks after birth where you and mom learn to care for your baby outside the womb. Your baby now learns to adjust to the brand-new world around them.
While you didn’t physically carry the baby during the first three trimesters, the fourth trimester is your opportunity to lighten the load. New moms are strong, but they need your support. Here are a few ways you can lend a helping hand and maintain a rock-solid relationship.
1. Take family leave if you can.
Staying home to support your partner as a new mom and bond with your new baby in the weeks after birth is ideal, but it may not be an option for every couple. Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t lead the pack when it comes to parental leave. Only 20% of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave. If your company offers any kind of paid parental leave, definitely take advantage of it. Many companies may offer only unpaid leave, which can put financial stress on a new family. But if your family can afford an unpaid leave, even if only for a couple of weeks, it’s a great way to help establish your new family routine.
2. Check in.
If you’re unable to take time off from work, check in with your family as often as you can. Calls, texts, and even funny pictures can serve as a simple reminder that your partner isn’t alone.
Shoot a text before you go home to see if there’s anything you can pick up on the way – you can never have too many diapers or wet wipes.
3. Remind her that you love her.
Saying “I love you” will always be meaningful, but there are so many other ways to make sure your partner feels loved.
It’s important to understand your partner’s love language so you make sure that your love doesn’t get lost in translation. Dr. Gary Chapman developed the idea of five main love languages:
- Quality time
- Words of affirmation
- Physical touch
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
If you and your partner have different love languages, the way you show love might not align with how your partner prefers to receive love. For example, if your partner’s love language is quality time, a designated block of distraction-free time will probably mean more than any extravagant gift money could buy.
If you’re curious about your partner’s love language, have them take this short quiz so that you can make sure they feel every bit of love you have to share.
4. Shower her with words of affirmation.
This one gets bonus points if her love language is “words of affirmation.” First-time mothers are faced with unbelievable new challenges and a constant worry that somethingis going to go wrong.
Ease this worry by reminding them how amazing they are as a mother, how wonderful they’re doing raising your baby, and how beautiful they look (even if they haven’t had the chance to shower in three days). Leave little notes around the house to serve as affirmations even when you’re not home.
5. Help out with household chores.
Just because mama is home all day does not mean that she should be responsible for all household duties. On top of usual chores to keep your house in working order, your little addition to the family is probably going to generate some new household tasks, like sanitizing baby bottles and taking out a few more full trash bags (hello, dirty diapers).
Life is busy, and sometimes it can be difficult to keep the house clean even without a newborn. Communicate with your partner and find out the best way to divide responsibilities and thrive in your new normal.
6. Support her if she chooses to breastfeed.
The decision to breastfeed is extremely personal, and the act of breastfeeding is challenging. Breastfeeding mothers require extra hydration and calories to support a healthy milk supply, and they’re probably going to be awake at all times of the day and night to make sure your little one is adequately nourished.
Support your partner by making sure they have everything they need when they sit down to breastfeed:
- Arrange a cozy area where they feel comfortable and relaxed
- Bring them a snack and a glass of water
- Take care of any phone calls or visitors to give your partner time to focus on breastfeeding
Some women may encounter difficulties with breastfeeding. Encouraging words go a long way, but sometimes she may need a little extra help from a professional, like a lactation consultant. Keep resources like this International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) directory or online support groups in your back pocket, and gently offer them to your partner if needed.
7. Help with feedings if you can.
If you’re using formula or expressed breast milk, you may be able to share the feeding responsibilities. That may mean taking turns getting up in the middle of the night or taking care of the morning feed before you leave for work.
If you’re unable to help with feeding, try to make sure that there’s always a clean and sanitized supply of bottles and nipples available.
8. Give her some time for herself.
Preoccupied with what your little one needs, mama probably isn’t thinking too much about herself and her own needs. But if your own cup isn’t full, it’s hard to pour out for others.
Although your partner may seem to have developed superhuman qualities as a new mom, take over all the baby responsibilities and give her some time to fill her cup. That may look like:
- A bubble bath
- Reading in a comfy chair with a cup of tea
- Taking a walk or going to the gym
- Driving to a local coffee shop for a pick-me-up
Bonus: this is a perfect opportunity for you to get some one-on-one bonding time with your baby and build the foundation for a relationship that will last a lifetime.
As a partner and a new parent, you’ll be treading uncharted waters. Tuck these tips away like a map to help you navigate the fourth trimester and beyond. It won’t always be smooth sailing, but it will always be worth it.