• Dr. Michelle Casarella

The Fifth Trimester

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

So you’ve gotten through the three trimesters of pregnancy and then the newborn blur that is the fourth trimester…now getting back to work? That’s the fifth trimester.

A mom friend of mine mentioned this concept to me and after a quick Google search I found Lauren Smith Brody’s groundbreaking book, The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby.

The concept essentially surmises that the overwhelming majority of American moms return to work before they are physically and emotionally ready to do so.

The time frame for the fifth trimester is less rigid that the four previous ones. The third trimester of pregnancy typically ends around the 40th week mark, and the fourth trimester typically lasts for three months. But the fifth trimester begins at wildly different times, because every mom who works outside the home has different maternity leaves, financial constraints, childcare logistics and personal philosophies about work.

The time at which the fifth trimester starts can greatly impact how stressful it will be. Going back at the six or eight-week mark will likely be exponentially more difficult than having six months of leave. Every mom will have different needs and struggles during this time—some will be consumed with guilt for “leaving” their baby, others will be thrilled to get back into a sense of their pre-baby self, and many will still be sleep-deprived. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your emotional well-being during this time and give yourself a break if you’re not as productive (in any area of life) as before. Going back to work and figuring out your new normal is another adjustment period so give yourself some grace during this time.

I would argue that moms need about six months of maternity leave.

That is the amount of time I had, and while going back to work was certainly a transition, it was much more manageable for a multitude of reasons. It took me about six months to start to feel like myself again, my son was sleeping a decent stretch at night (well most nights anyway) and I didn’t feel like he was such a fragile newborn at that point. The six-month mark is supported by research and cited in Smith Brody’s book after she interviewed several hundred women.

I am immensely grateful to Lauren Smith Brody for naming this very real experience, and her work to help companies understand the needs of moms. Her work is truly helping policy changes at companies that will bleed into society and help support working moms. The truth is that many women are more of an asset than ever to their employers once they become moms. They can multitask, remain focused, and get shit done like no other. I will continue to cheer her on for that part of the good fight and stay in my lane by providing emotional support to moms during this time.

Here are my top five tips for taking care of your emotional needs during the fifth trimester:

1. Accept help in whatever way it’s offered

If anyone offers you any form of assistance during this time, take it. You might feel guilty or think you can do it on your own, but if they offer please take them up on it.

2. Pick your battles

You’ll have to let go on some things once you go back to work. You going back means someone else is watching your child. Whether it’s a partner, family member, in-law, day care, babysitter, etc. it will mean that their way of doing things is not always going to be the way you do things. It will not be helpful for you or those caring for your child if you nitpick every little thing they do. Your child is more resilient than you think and you will have to tolerate the anxiety of letting go of control.

3. Ask for help or pay for some help

This is the time to call in some favors and express your needs. Think about the top three biggest needs you have while transitioning back to work and call in the reinforcements. Is it that your house is a mess? Hire a cleaning person to come in twice a month (and don’t clean before they come!) Or maybe you are struggling with having to still do work once you get home? Maybe you can conference into a call on your commute into work instead of having to be there for an early meeting or asking to work from home one day a week to save on commuting time. This isn’t asking for special accommodations or that you can’t do the same work as everyone else—it’s just a way to both get your needs met and continue to do your job effectively. Many times moms feel guilty for asking, but typically it’s more of something in our own heads rather than an issue for the employer.

4. Give yourself some fing grace

Just like with many other parts of motherhood, this too shall pass. There will be a time when the transition is over and the whole working mom thing will just be your new normal. While it may never get easy, you’ll find your groove and feel (mostly) like your old self again. In the meantime, give yourself a break. Measuring yourself against your pre-baby self is just a setup for failure.

5. Before you make any major decisions, give it three months

Just like you shouldn’t get a drastically different hair style when you’re in the thick of emotional turmoil, this too applies for decisions about work when you first return. You’ll want to give yourself time to evaluate if you really want to leave work and be a stay-at-home mom or maybe you just don’t want to waste time any from your baby at that particular job—in any case you’ll want to see if it’s the emotions from the transition, or truly the best decision for you.

To get more individual one-on-one support during the fifth trimester, or to make a plan ahead of time, use this link to schedule a complimentary 15 minute phone consultation:

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