The fourth trimester is exhausting for new parents. Here’s how you can help.
There are no visitors, only staff. This was the most empowering advice I got as a new māmā because it gave me permission to let go of the people-pleasing and embrace the generosity of those around me.
They call it the fourth trimester, the first three months after your baby is born. It’s a time when the rubber hits the road and you realise that you have no idea what you’re doing, yet there is no one else better for the job.
Just a few months ago I became a māmā. I’ll be honest, it’s relentless. There’s no days off. No sick leave. No annual leave. I now understand why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. I turned the blender on the other day without the lid on.
I asked my whānau how they managed their newborns. What kept coming up over and over again was just how isolating and challenging those first three months are in navigating your new role as a parent.
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” is filled with good intentions, but for some who may be struggling to attach to their new baby, or who are still healing from a traumatic birth, or who are struggling to breastfeed, they may not know where to start in asking for help.
You can support new parents with kai, acts of service, and a listening ear.
One simple way to support new parents is to bring food when you visit. This could be snacks, bringing their online grocery order from the supermarket, or a cooked meal.
For snacks, think nuts, protein balls, fresh fruit, dried fruit, popcorn, yoghurt, vegetable sticks and dip, mini quiches, or granola – anything that is easy to pick up and eat on the go.
Let new parents know what day of the week you are free to pick-up and drop off their groceries. At times I was so exhausted that my friends would pick-up my online order and I would leave a key under the front door mat for them to unload the groceries into my kitchen while I was asleep.
You could be the person that organises a meal train for a month or two with your friends and whānau. All you need to do is share the online tool around, encourage everyone to pick a few dates, and commit to cooking and delivering a meal.
Remember to ask if there’s anything parents can’t eat. In the first three months I stopped eating gluten, dairy, broccoli, beans, onions, and spicy foods because my son was super sensitive to these in my breastmilk which basically translated to lots of crying.
It’s important to remember with delivering kai that you don’t stay long. In fact, it’s best to ask if you should leave it at the door, if you should let yourself in with a key and pack it away quietly then leave, or if you should stay for a bit.
This could sound like…
“I’m calling into the supermarket to grab my groceries on Monday. Can I pick up any groceries for you?”
“I’m making some meals for you. Is there anything you aren’t eating right now?”
We need to respect the need for māmā to heal and rest, so when you’re visiting, keep an eye on the time. Unless you are incredibly close, an hour is a good amount of time to stay. When you get to the whare, put the jug on and make a drink for yourself and the parents. Before you go, clean up any dishes you made while you are there plus any others. If you made any rubbish, put it in the bin and put any recycling out. You want to leave nothing extra for the parents to do. In fact, when you visit, you want to be sure that by you showing up, you’ve made life easier for them today.
Acts of service
Supporting new parents looks like housework: any job you would do around your own home, see if you can do it for māmā when you stop by. If there are older children, offer to take them to the park, or out to a movie, or drop them to and from school. This gives parents the opportunity for quality one on one time with their newborn, or an opportunity to rest if pēpi is sleeping. Or offer to care for pēpi so that parents can take a nap or a shower.
This could sound like:
“I’d like to come and do some housework for you this weekend. Can you leave a list of jobs on the fridge?”
“What time would be good for me to pick-up your older children and take them out to the park this weekend?”
“What afternoon this week can I care for your baby so you can nap?”
A listening ear
I felt so incredibly fragile in those early months. Having someone be there to give me a hug or just listen to my thoughts meant everything.
We need to hold space for parents to share their thoughts and feelings without judgement as they navigate the unknown, and encourage them to celebrate their wins to build their confidence. Asking better questions than “how are you” will get better answers that make new parents feel comfortable to go deeper. Ask “what’s your biggest struggle right now?” or “what are you most proud of so far?” or “where are you being too hard on yourself?” You need to be okay with not being so quick to solve their problems, project your own experience, or offer solutions, but instead acknowledging them right where they are and providing comfort.
It’s important to remind new parents that there is no time where they are meant to have it all together or be able to do it alone, and to continue reaching out for support.
This could sound like:
“Would you like a visitor on Friday? I would love to sit and listen to how things have been going for you.”
If you notice over time that māmā isn’t doing well, you could encourage her to seek support.
Women’s Wellness provide holistic, strengths-based and goal-orientated support for women struggling with mental health challenges. Mothers Helpers also provide mental health support for new parents and run a free PND Recovery Course. The Waikato Family Centre provide support for new parents with pretty much anything from postnatal stress to feeding, unsettled babies, and weaning. Other parents I spoke to mentioned joining Space or a Plunket group improved their wellbeing, making friends with people who have babies of a similar age and learning about their newborn’s development.
Leaving the fourth trimester
It felt like this tornado would never end, but as I leave the fourth trimester, I realise I’m learning to manage better. How? By spending less time Googling things, letting go of the rules, and trusting my ability to mother. Focusing on my wins to build my confidence each day. By accepting that I’m going to be tired every day for a long time. Getting outside to connect with nature for a walk and fresh air. And surrendering to nurturing my son.
Subscribe to Rec Room a weekly newsletter delivering The Spinoff’s latest videos, podcasts and other recommendations straight to your inbox.