Thriving in the 4th Trimester: Tips from a Perinatal Therapist

Post written by: Lindsay Howerton-Hastings, LPC

I came to know about Taking Cara Babies exactly like you did: I was an exhausted new mom, awake 24 hours a day. Someone tagged me on Instagram; I’m sure I saw it while wide awake at a non-awake hour.

This was my second child, and I’m a perinatal therapist. I work with parents in all stages of family creation – through pregnancy, postpartum months, infertility, loss, adoption, and more. I read a ton about sleep when my first daughter was born. She nursed every 90 minutes for five months, then at 7 months after a growth spurt and some, cough, encouragement from me, started taking two great naps each day and sleeping twelve hours each night.

With this baby, I assumed things would be the same. I’d tough it out for six months, then start sleep training. It wasn’t a terrible plan, honestly. What I know, though, is that six months of very little sleep is a VERY long time.

And so, through the magic of the internet, I learned that there are ways to encourage better newborn sleep.

Babies can be stressful, and NO ONE IN THE WORLD tolerates stress well when they aren’t sleeping. Taking Cara Babies can be so useful to gain a little extra sleep for parents, but there will always be hard nights, illness, and other transitions that leave us feeling a little desperate. In those times, being prepared with some essential knowledge can help those hard moments feel a little bit easier.

Seeking therapy prior to a postpartum breakdown, so to speak, is one of the most beneficial things that these soon-to-be new mothers do for themselves.

There are a host of symptoms that can occur after giving birth, and one of the most common things I hear is “I wish I had known this could happen, I might not have freaked out as much.” I’ve learned that education is so key when it comes to self care and protecting yourself against depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders that can occur after having a baby.

Mental health isn’t talked about nearly enough, but the facts are clear: An estimated 20% of new mothers will experience some sort of mood disorder after giving birth, and their partners have a 50% chance of experiencing similar symptoms.  Even if the mother doesn’t experience any mood symptoms, fathers or partners have about a 15% chance of experiencing anxiety or depression post-birth, although many believe that is a conservative estimate. If this happens to you, you are not alone, not crazy, not a failure, and not the only one. I promise.

When I work with families preparing to welcome a new baby home, I use the tips below to encourage lots of self care and a bit of structure – things that we know without a doubt can alleviate some anxiety and depression symptoms. Please note that these do not apply to biological mothers only: fathers or adoptive parents experience biological hormone and mood shifts that are just as real as if they had given birth.

Bonus points for they all start with S!

The 4 S’s:

  1. Sustenance: I find when people bring food post-baby they bring MEALS, but what do we do in between meals? Forget to eat, or eat garbage. Keeping snacks around the house that you can grab to eat with one hand can curb blood sugar spikes and drops which can help stabilize your mood.Choose things you LIKE – this will ensure you actually eat them. Fruit with peanut butter, hummus and veggies/crackers, deli meat and cheese, foods that are actually ready to eat with zero fuss are what we’re talking about. I have a recipe on my blog for energy balls that taste like cookie dough – I made a double batch before I had my last baby and kept them in the freezer and was SO glad to have them because they involve chocolate.

    I often have clients tell me they feel awkward asking for specific foods when someone asks what they can bring over. Do you know what I say to that? You registered for baby items, right? This is the exact same thing. People want to know what you want, and you aren’t crazy if all you ask for is hard boiled eggs!

  2. Self-Care: I’d like you to do some things each day for yourself. Ideally a shower and brushing your teeth, bare minimum. Maybe makeup or a bra if it makes you feel better, but a few things that make you feel like your most human self.THEN I want you to take 20 minutes for yourself each day with zero exceptions. This 20 minutes is not for the shower and teeth brushing, nor is it for chores. It is for extra things that you enjoy doing. Maybe it’s half an episode of This is Us, maybe it’s wine on the porch, maybe it’s sitting in a quiet room on Instagram. It’s your time, take it with zero apologies.


  3. Support: Surround yourself with people who can help you in ways that work for you. This, of course, can be family and your partner, or it can be friends, or it can be a therapist, housekeeper, night nurse, or doula. Sometimes family is wonderful, and sometimes family adds stress and drama. I don’t know yours, but I know that just by reading this you can identify types of support that will feel the most nourishing to you. Doing everything yourself is not an option. 
  4. Sleep: Not sleeping is used as a form of torture. It feels very tortuous and can make some symptoms much more severe. Does sleeping cure depression? No. I wish it did. But what I can tell you is that sleeping well makes really challenging thoughts and feelings so much more manageable. Teeny babies (and some bigger babies!) need care and food around the clock, so here is our starting point: as best you can, all adults caring for this baby need one big “chunk” of sleep every 24 hours. Three or more hours at least. If your baby gives you a longer stretch and your pediatrician has said it’s OK to not wake them up to eat, go for it.

I also recommend to some families (this applies a lot after a partner has gone back to work) to try and help mom get one longer stretch on the weekend or another night that works best. This can go a few ways, but often using pumped milk or formula and/or skipping a pumping session can yield a five hour or so stretch that can really make a mama feel like a new woman. Pro tip: this does not work if you are in the same room as your baby.

What I know about motherhood is this: there are a thousand ways to approach it, and you are doing a great job. I also know that parts of it aren’t fun, parts of it are so hard, and there are days when it feels really saturating and relentless and unforgiving. I think some small adjustments to how you love yourself and how you care for yourself can be so refreshing.

Honestly though, you came to this website to help your baby, didn’t you?

Go to websites for yourself. Take your 20 minutes, get your chunks of sleep, lean on your people, and eat your snacks. Everything might feel a little bit brighter as you work on the harder things.

Lindsay Howerton-Hastings is a Licensed Professional Counselor, writer, yoga instructor, and mom of two living in Greenville, South Carolina. She focuses her work and life on tackling simple things (eating well!) so that harder things (mental health, oof) feel a bit more manageable. Her husband is a former comedian so their house embodies “laughter is the best medicine.” She yells at her children like anyone else, isn’t terribly proud of it, but thinks it’s important to be honest. 

For more from Lindsay, check out her blog www.funnyloveblog.com and follow her on instagram @funnyloveblog