The Fifth Trimester: Making this Challenging Stage Work for You

Written by: Mary Funari, MBA, PCI Certified Parent Coach®
Posted: May 19, 2021
Becoming a mother happens in stages. It can be helpful to think of new motherhood in trimesters. During pregnancy, three trimesters lead up to your delivery day. After giving birth, the postpartum period or fourth trimester begins. This postpartum phase is filled with breastfeeding, changing diapers, and burping in a repetitive loop while you recover from labor and delivery. The fifth trimester begins when the baby is around three months old. While less familiar to many, the fifth trimester is an important stage of motherhood deserving more attention and support. 

The fifth trimester is a critical inflection point for new mothers. It’s a time when well-meaning friends and family members start asking about your plans for work and childcare. 
There is an expectation in our society that postpartum women are ready to re-engage with the world or resume normal activities during the fifth trimester. 
As a reference point, the Federal Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for postpartum recovery and newborn care. Studies show that most women in our country work outside the home. In 2018, the Pew Research Center surveyed women with children under age 18 and found that 55% worked full-time and 17% worked part-time.

The fifth trimester happens abruptly. Just when baby is becoming more giggly and interactive, and hopefully sleeping longer stretches at night, your maternity leave comes to an end. It’s important to note that many new mothers in our country don’t get a maternity leave. Some get only a brief disability leave of 6-8 weeks, while others, including most self-employed women, get
no paid time off. Needless to say, new mothers face a big decision around working and caring for the baby. If you decide to work, or feel compelled to because your family needs the income, it’s complicated to find affordable childcare that matches your work schedule. And, once you negotiate a reasonable work schedule and childcare situation, you have to get yourself and
baby ready for the new routine. This involves carefully preparing all the necessary supplies, including bottles filled with breastmilk or formula, and providing critical information about your baby’s preferences, medical information, and emergency contacts to the new caregiver.

The demands for women are higher in the fifth trimester. As many know, taking a shower while caring for a twelve week old infant is an incredible feat! Women who resume work are expected to get back up to speed mentally and take on their former responsibilities. When most new moms are sleep-deprived and lactating, society expects them to look presentable and speak
intelligently. Working mothers need to adhere to strict boundaries of time management. They are committed to relieving the babysitter or picking up their child from school or daycare on time or else face late fees, a crying child, and shame. Some new mothers decide to request more flexibility at work. The success of these requests depends on the corporate culture and the
willingness of managers to be supportive during this transitional time. For insights and tips on returning to work and navigating conversations with managers and colleagues, check out Lauren Smith Brody’s book, The Fifth Trimester.

Understandably, the fifth trimester is filled with uncertainty and anxiety. While many women return to a job they had before having a baby, it takes time to get up to speed and the transition can feel uncomfortable and often overwhelming. Becoming a parent forever changes you. It takes time to adjust, integrate your new responsibilities, and manage competing work/life demands. In addition, many new mothers need to hire a caregiver and learn to trust someone else with their precious child. It’s hard enough to prepare for the challenge of leaving the baby for a full day with a family member, let alone a nanny or daycare, so you can focus on work.
This is normal since you just spent the last year focused on nurturing, delivering, and bonding with your child who you now know intimately and care for deeply.

For many new mothers, the fifth trimester involves feelings of guilt. Am I spending enough time with my child? Am I doing a good job as a parent? Am I doing a good job at work? Needless to say, the fifth trimester is stressful for new mothers even when they have a caregiver they trust and a career they are excited to resume. The common self-doubts and lack of confidence are made worse when new mothers compare themselves to others who seem to have it all together, whether that’s a work colleague, neighbor, friend or social media contact.

The fifth trimester can be much easier to navigate with support from others. Many women find inspiration and hope by talking with colleagues and friends who are working mothers they admire. You can lessen the length and difficulty of the transition period by working with an experienced parenting and resilience coach. I’m passionate about helping women make the fifth trimester a smoother experience. As someone who raised two sons while taking turns being a stay-at-home mom, a part-time entrepreneur, and a full-time employee, I know the trade-offs and benefits of different work and caregiver arrangements. I help moms prioritize what matters most to them and set boundaries at work and home. I share stories and tips from years of experience coaching new mothers returning to work in a corporate setting.

Whether going through the fifth trimester for the first or third time, mothers report an increase in clarity and confidence from working with me. During coaching conversations, I remind moms to keep their priorities top-of-mind as they make important decisions. I share and practice resilience strategies so they can be agile when things change. I help them recognize what works well and what needs to be tweaked. They learn stress management tools and how to remain true to themselves amidst the everyday challenges that arise.

With time, most women figure out their new routine with little fanfare or congratulations on a job well done. Working mothers are doing the best they can every day. It’s incredible to see the energy they give to both work and family, often at the expense of caring for themselves. I believe working moms can do anything and remind them that nobody can do everything. It’s important to delegate and focus your energy where you can have the most meaningful impact. It’s also critical to replenish your energy so you can parent well. 

As the author of Real-Time Parenting: Choose Your Action Steps for the Present Moment, I enjoy sharing my knowledge of child development, positive communication strategies, and effective discipline with mothers. As a PCI Certified Parent Coach®, I bring my experience working with hundreds of parents to our conversations. It’s an honor for me to help women navigate the transition to motherhood and find more ease and fulfillment in their daily lives.
Category: Parenthood
Tags: the fourth trimester , the fifth trimester , expectant mama , mama , maternal health , working mama , new parents , parent coaching