The Fifth Trimester – Explanation & Tips!

The fifth trimester. You thought there were only three? My dear friend you were woefully misinformed.

Once you’ve had your little bundle of joy you get to experience the fourth trimester.

This is where you’re learning how to handle motherhood (for the newbies) or figuring out how your bub fits into life with your other kiddo(s) (for the experienced mamas). It’s essentially that time where you’re half asleep, working hard to keep this tiny miracle fed, cleaned, entertained, and happy. While you yourself are sleep deprived, potentially starving, slightly crazed, and being pulled in every direction. Then miraculously things start to click and you realize “I got this.” Life is making sense again and you’re not only able to shower and eat, you’re able to enjoy this new phase.

So what is the fifth trimester?

This is when moms return to work and now have to manage their previous responsibilities while adding motherhood into the mix. This stressful period of time can feel like it lasts a lifetime. You’ll possibly feel guilt and anxiety at the of leaving your little one with others to care for them. Or you could feel relief and then guilt over the fact that you get to be on your own once again. Some moms may feel like all eyes are on them. Their every action and statements being watched for signs of ‘weakness.’

Then there’s the lovely experience of finding out your work’s lactation room is nothing but a broom closet where others walk in on you while you try to balance finishing your work and pumping.

Let’s be frank, everything I just listed is pretty bleak. Thankfully not every mom experiences all of these issues or feelings. It largely relies on your workplace, your perception of what is happening, and your ability to roll with the punches.

There are the positive stories out there where companies lovingly embrace mothers who return to work with constant guidance, support, and patience. Forward thinking companies sometimes offer moms the ability to return to work part time and then gradually increase their hours. Companies whose lactation rooms are fully stocked with comfy chairs, a fridge, and even snacks! These companies know and understand that their employee is going through a difficult and wonderful transition in their lives. They strive to make it easier for them while setting realistic work goals.

Regardless of whether or not your return to work is magical or miserable there are several things you can do to help make it easier. If you’re already on leave or heading back to work and haven’t had a chance to do any of these suggestions don’t panic, you’ll still get through this mama. Remember that you have many people to reach out to whether it be online or in person so be sure to reach out to your communities.

Before heading out on your maternity leave you can do the following:

Speak to mamas who’ve recently returned to work from maternity leave. This is one of the best resources you’ve got, people who’ve lived through going on leave and returning. Tread carefully though, you don’t want gossip or gripes, you just want to gather facts for how your company handles your return from work. Always take criticisms and information from fellow coworkers with a grain of salt and don’t assume the worst. Your experience will be different, especially if you work for a different manger or department.
Review your work’s policies regarding leave. You know that handy employee handbook you tossed into your desk on your first day? Let’s ask HR for an updated one (former HR Generalist here, yes we do update those from time to time) and review what your company offers for leave. If you’re unsure about the wording or what exactly is offered feel free to speak to your HR team, they’re actually friendly people, trust me.
Speak to your manager about your plans for returning from leave and what options you have. This one is very important. After speaking to your coworkers and the friendly HR team you should come up with a plan. Bring this plan to your manager and see how you can enhance or edit it together. For example, if your company allows you to return part-time, speak to your manager about what days/times would work best for you and the team. Come into this meeting with high hopes but remember that at the end of the day you may not get everything you ask or hope for.

Right before returning to work you can do the following:

-Read up on managing motherhood and work. There are several books out there that can help moms handle the return to work. A quick google search will pull up thousands of articles and personal blogs about the fifth trimester. There are even books and articles out there for those moms who will be pumping at work to help prepare you for that adventure as well.
-Do a daycare test run (and spend an afternoon on your own!). I highly recommend this. Dropping your kiddo off at daycare for the first time and going to work on the same day can be mentally draining. If you have a chance do a test run so that you can deal with the feeling of being away from your little one in private. It’ll also give you a chance to spend some time on your own. Catch a movie, get a haircut, or go home and sleep!
-Reach out to your work or stop by before your return day. I know you want to stay far away, but it can be a good idea to pop in once before you officially return. You can chat with your manager and remind them of your return date.

When you return to work you can do the following:

-Return in the middle of the week. This may sound silly, but it really helps to start on a Wednesday or Thursday. Starting midweek gets you closer to the weekend and gives you a chance to reflect on what changes you need to make before you start a full week of work.
-Find supportive coworkers. Chances are there are working moms in your office who have gone through the same transition you are. Seek them out, invite them to gather for lunch or coffee so that you can support and guide one another. Having a group like this can make the transition easier and you can pick up tips and tricks from experienced moms.
-Take it one day at a time. Remember that everything gets easier with time. You’ll have good days and bad days and the bad days always seem to stand out more than the good. Remind yourself that you’re a great mom. You’re taking care of your little one, being a productive worker, and bringing home that paycheck!

Would you like to share your experience with the fifth trimester? Post below!

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Jaki was a mom working the HR field turned to stay at home mom for two years, turned back to working mom. She now spends her days trying to be the best mother to her daughters, Madi (4/2017) and Gwen (5/2019), while squeezing in relationship time with her husband, Zane. Their 3 rescued pups complete the crazy family. Together they live right on the border of Austin & Pflugerville. She loves Harry Potter, sci-fi, Disney, hiking, binge reading, playing video games, being a vegan foodie, traveling, learning more about the HR field, and writing about her adventures. Check out her blog at https://medium.com/nerdy-together

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