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The Fifth Trimester: What First-Time Parents Need to Know

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Most parents already know about the first three trimesters of pregnancy: the three phases of growth when the baby grows from an embryo into a baby ready to be born. Even the fourth trimester – commonly referred to as postpartum – has become a more common term. But did you know about the fifth trimester? This new term, coined by Lauren Smith Brody, is the parental stage when many parents return to work after a child’s birth. 

There are many common challenges that parents face in the fifth trimester, but with the right knowledge and tools for success, parents can feel more prepared for this challenging phase of parenthood as parents return to work after having a baby. 

What is The Fifth Trimester?

Each stage of parenting has its challenges. While most pregnancy books focus on the changes happening to the mother and baby before birth, or during childbirth, recently there has been more attention given to the phase after birth. The fourth trimester unofficially covers the first three months after a baby is born. Pregnancy is over, but new parents and babies are getting to know each other and figuring out how to survive on little sleep with a new member (or members!) of the household. 

The fifth trimester was coined by former magazine editorLauren Smith Brody in her book “The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity and Success After Baby.” The title refers to the time period when babies are 3-6 months of age and when many American mothers return to work. The book focuses on the challenges facing new parents as they try to transition back to work while balancing the demands of a new baby at home. 

Common Challenges Women Face When Returning to Work After Birth

In many parts of the world, a year long maternity/paternity leave (or even longer), where parents have paid leave from their jobs to care for their babies, is very common. In the U.S., however, 25% of new working moms are back on the job only two weeks after birth. Many mothers don’t even qualify for unpaid FMLA leave, meaning that there are many parents struggling to care for their newborns and return to work at the same time. 

Here’s a few common challenges women in the fifth trimester face:

  • Work-Life Balance: Along with the challenges of caring for a newborn, now add the stress to returning to a full time job and balancing family and work needs. 
  • Exhaustion: Emotional and physical exhaustion is very common at this stage from lack of sleep and meeting babies needs along with managing a complex schedule of needs and logistics that can make anyone’s head spin.
  • Child Care: Finding reliable and affordable child care that meets your schedule and family needs can be a big challenge. 
  • Changing Bodies: You may have thought that physical changes stop after pregnancy but your body will continue to shift and change in the months after your pregnancy.
  • Complex Feelings: It can also be a challenge dealing with the complex and conflicting emotions that many mothers feel about leaving their babies to return to work. 

Throw in a global pandemic and life for new working mothers the past few years has not been easy. 

How to Prepare Yourself For the Fifth Trimester?

So how do you prepare for this challenging time of returning to work and motherhood? 

  1. Welcome All Feelings – This is a complicated time. Some days you will welcome returning to work, and other days you may feel guilt and regret that you have to leave your baby. You may even feel that you don’t want to go back to work. Welcome all the feelings and know they are all valid and there to help you navigate through this time. 
  1. Have a Plan – Having a solid plan to help you navigate through will be a tremendous help. Look into options for child care, and have a backup plan if these fall through. Talk to your employers and your family about expectations and needs, and clearly communicate your responsibilities and requirements so you can be prepared. 
  1. Be Flexible – Have a solid plan and then be ready for it to change. Changing family needs, global events and shifting circumstances can mean your carefully made plans need to change, so be flexible and go with the flow. 
  1. Give Yourself A Break – It can be unbelievably challenging to make time to care for yourself when you are pulled in hundreds of directions. Remember, you can’t take care of anyone else if you are exhausted and unwell. 

Best Strategies to Ask For Support From Work and Family 

There are many things that employers can do to help support this transition and to help women return to work more capable than before. Here’s a few you can advocate for when you speak to your employer and your family:

Longer Parental Leave 

Ideally, new mothers and parents would be supported by their employers with adequate paid parental leave after the birth of their babies to help recover physically from pregnancy and birth and have the time and space to care for and get to know their babies in the first year of life. 

Ask for Support 

This is a time when you need to call on all forms of support from friends and family that are available to you. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Ask your employer what support is available for new parents. They may be willing to offer you flexibility with your schedule or benefits you can access such as a room for pumping breast milk at work. 

Clear Communication 

Communicate with your partner about your needs and expectations for caring for the child when you return to work. If other family members are helping with childcare, have clear expectations and communicate your needs. This isn’t always easy but prioritizing honesty and asking for the support you need can help smooth a lot of bumps along the way.  
If you are looking for child care that fits the needs and schedule of your family, Vivvi can help. We provide flexible care and high-quality learning for your child in our child care centers or in your home. Vivvi makes the process easy for parents, with benefits like extended hours and flexible enrollment options. Take a virtual tour or our facilities or contact us with questions you may have.

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