The chitter-chatter of motherhood education and knowledge has come a long way. For years, the majority of motherhood was focused solely on the three trimesters of pregnancy. You get preggers, grow your little love bug, and then poof, you have the baby. Done.
With the influx of online and written material, mommy bloggers and doctors have now come to talk about the importance of the fourth trimester—the period of time when the mother and baby adjust and assimilate to each other and the world. But what’s the talk of Mommy Town now? The newcomer to arrive on scene…put your hands together for: the fifth trimester.
Gaining popularity from her book, The Fifth Trimester, Lauren Smith Brody explains that the fifth trimester is “when the working mom is born.” After being side by side with your baby for the past few months, returning to the working world can be scary or welcomed depending on which mother you talk to. But in all cases, making a comeback into the working world as a new mother can be a rickety walk into uncharted territory, but we’ll help you get started.
What is the Fifth Trimester?
We’ll keep it simple. Brody explains the newly coined term ‘fifth trimester’ as the first few months a new mother returns to work after having time off with her baby. Seems innocent enough, but the fifth trimester unveils a new layer of challenges for a fresh-faced mother.
What is the Challenge of the Fifth Trimester?
The challenge of the fifth trimester goes beyond “missing your baby” or surface-level separation anxiety. The true challenge of the fifth trimester boils down to two complicated flavors of motherhood:
- Mothers return to work before they are emotionally and/or physically ready
- Mothers are desperately trying to balance two identities: the mother and the worker
Not Being Emotionally and Physically Ready
Your body has been through the physical gamut. While soldiers leave the battlefield with visible scars and wounds, new mothers leave the ‘battlefield’ holding a doe-eyed, smells-so-good baby. While onlookers ‘coo’ and ‘ahh’ over your itty bitty babe, the mother is left to tend to the wounds hidden from the public eye in solitude.
Not to mention, with the horizon of physical body changes comes the slew of emotional influx. The hormone changes and mood swings during pregnancy may have simmered down, but with a new baby comes the onset of different emotional hurdles a mother needs to conquer, one of the biggest emotional challenges being Baby Blues or postpartum depression.
In her book, Brody conducted a survey of over 700 women from different backgrounds, ages, and professions. When it came to the question about when women feel physically and emotionally adept after giving birth, the average answer was five and a half months physically and six months emotionally. While each woman is different and their ‘bounce back’ time can be shorter or longer than the average time listed here, the fact remains that even with maternity leave (an average of six to twelve weeks), mothers are returning to work months before they feel at their physical and emotional best.
You were a force of nature. You were good at your job and everyone knew it. Even though you’re going to miss your baby to no end, you’re a little nervous, but excited to pick up where you left off at work and get back into the swing of things. Or so you thought…
When you return to work in the fifth trimester, you figured it is like riding a bike. You’re going back to your career, something you had been doing for months or years, and can hit the ground running. But the fact is, you’re not stepping back in frozen time. Things have changed at the office without you and you yourself have changed because now, you have a seven-pound nugget at home to think about.
The fifth trimester forces you to confront a gallery of emotions. While you’ve just spent the whole fourth trimester getting used to the title of “Mom,” you now have a new title and an inner clash of identities:
- The Girlboss vs The Mother: Loves her career and wants to go back to work, but feels guilty for wanting to work and not being with her baby
- The Executive vs The Office: Can’t shake the feeling that everyone views you differently at work and that because you’re a mother, you’re somehow more vulnerable and sensitive; feels the need to regain respect at the office
- The Mother vs Herself: Has overcome many obstacles, but still has anxiety adjusting to motherhood; is unsure how to navigate work and motherhood; feels completely overwhelmed and incompetent on all aspects
Whether you fit one of the above categories or are somewhere in between the spectrum, there is a flood of emotions, rules, and awkward scenarios you need to wade through as a working mother. These feelings of incompetency, anxiety, and guilt can completely drain you as a woman. We so wish you can press a button on this blog post so we could give you a great big bear hug. The next best thing we can do is tell you we have good news.
You are Not Alone.
Many women before you have experienced the same transition period and many women will experience it after.
Brody, The Fifth Trimester’s author, said:
I got back to work, and I had this weird feeling of both, 'Oh, thank goodness, I know how to do this,' and then also, 'Oh, no, I really don't know how to do this with a baby’…I hated that I wasn't what I expected of myself. And that after all these years of achieving at work...here I was with a baby, just absolutely incapacitated, and I was so thrown by that and so disappointed in myself.
Brody goes on to say the resources available to her about how to traverse through this tricky time was few and far in between, which is why spreading the word about the fifth trimester is so important. The more we talk about the fifth trimester and how to get through it with as little hiccups as possible, the more seamless we can make this transition.
Putting It into Action
If you’re heading back to work, here are a few tips on how to make a smooth re-entry into the fifth trimester and working world.
Know the Feeling Won’t Last Forever
The silver lining to transitions? Sooner or later, you will come out the other side and find your balance. Having a baby and then walking back through the gates into the workforce is daunting. It has been nothing but change after change since the baby arrived, but know that you will find your groove. Reading articles like this and talking with people who have gone through similar experiences to get advice on how they transitioned will help you feel more at ease and more knowledgeable as you go through the fifth trimester.
Talk with Your Boss
In a perfect world, your boss will initiate a conversation about how you feel and if you’ll be needing any flexibility with schedules, but alas, we don’t always live in a perfect world. When you return back to work in the fifth trimester, have an open conversation with your boss about changes, flexibility in schedule (like starting midweek so you can gradually ease into working again), and resources you may need to do your job (like a nursing room). Being open about expectations on both ends will create a smoother transition for everyone involved in the process.
Set a Routine
Setting a routine is critical to the ease of your transition into the fifth trimester. Balancing a baby and a career is no easy feat, so carve out some time to seriously sit and think about the routine you want to set in place. Figure out daycare centers, nannies, or family relatives who can take care of the baby and how your work schedule will work around the schedule of your baby and caretakers.
Going back to work won’t stop your body from its ever-changing functionalities. Before going back to the office, make sure you have all the proper equipment to make your day easier. Having a breast pump and bag, nursing pads to avoid any leaks on your dress shirts, and healthy snacks like Majka’s new Chocolate Lactation Bites will give you peace of mind at the office.
Stay on Top of Your Health
During this transition, you need to maintain your health in order to balance ‘Baby Mom’ and ‘Work Mom.’ Make things easy on yourself. Incorporate an organic nutritional supplement like Majka’s Nourishing Protein and Lactation Powder into your daily routine to get the nutrition you need to bound through the day.
Glover, Emily. “What New Moms Should Know About the ‘Fifth Trimester.’” Motherly, 21 Feb. 2018, https://www.mother.ly/news/what-new-moms-should-know-about-the-fifth-trimester.
Rope, Kate. “9 Ways to Make Returning to Work After Maternity Leave as Painless as Possible.” Working Mother, 1 May 2018, https://www.workingmother.com/9-ways-to-make-returning-to-work-after-maternity-leave-as-painless-as-possible.
Wallace, Kelly. “The ‘Fifth Trimester’: When New Moms Return to Work.” CNN, 27 Apr. 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/06/health/fifth-trimester-working-mom-resources-parenting/index.html.
Youngs, Olivia. “How to Prepare for the 5th Trimester, Which is a Thing Now.” Romper, 21 March 2017, https://www.romper.com/p/how-to-prepare-for-the-5th-trimester-which-is-a-thing-now-45267.
“9 Secrets for a Successful Return to Work After Maternity Leave.” Happy You, Happy Family, https://happyyouhappyfamily.com/work-after-maternity-leave/.