by Chris Cutrali

Most “new mothers” feel added stress during pregnancy as the due date nears. Learning to balance a family, work, friends and your relationship can become challenging when a big change is on its way. There are countless books, articles and help-guides that provide useful information on how to navigate the “trimesters” of pregnancy. The fifth trimester was a term coined more recently by Lauren Smith Brody, who focused on the transition from maternity leave back to work. Brody defines the “fifth trimester” as the time when some new mothers are forced to return to work before they’re physically and emotionally ready to do so.

While every person is different and there is no ‘perfect’ process to adhere to, here is a list of best practices:

While it’s easier said than done, communication is the first step to limiting stress and future miscommunications. During and after pregnancy, very few people may seem to understand what you’re going through. And for those that do, chances are, you won’t believe they do. Communicating with your partner and friends will help eliminate stress at home, and preemptive communication at work will keep your employer and yourself on the same page.

For those who are employed in a private company of 50 individuals or more, you’ll be protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if you’ve worked there for at least 12 months. FMLA allows twelve weeks of unpaid leave with no risk to your employment. The FMLA also includes paternity/maternity leave as a protected reason to be out of work. Even so, Brody doesn’t believe that 12 weeks is always enough time for new mothers to be ready to return to work.

Expect Things to Change
During the “fifth trimester,” most “new mothers” become aware of how much their life has changed. Like any big change, it takes time to get used to it. Going to work for the first time and leaving your newborn behind may feel odd at the start, and that feeling may never go away. The important thing is to expect these feelings. You have more responsibility now, and it has often been nearly three months since you’ve been at work.

Take Your Time
For most people, transitioning to the “fifth trimester” isn’t easy. You deserve to take your time and be patient with yourself while returning to work. Your body is still acclimating back into the routines you had before pregnancy and because many mothers continue to feel the emotional impacts after twelve weeks, reducing stress is important. Take your time, especially because immediately following your 12 weeks out of work, you may be more at risk for injury upon returning. Physical and emotional changes, as well as additional stress and pressure at work, can worsen your health and slow down your reintegration process.

While taking your time acclimating back to full-time employment, it’s important to prioritize your added responsibilities with your newborn child. Of course, family will always come first. But deciding when it’s okay to be away from your newborn versus when it’s imperative to be with the child is very important. Many mothers feel separation anxiety. It’s important to find a way to be productive at work while also ensuring the safety and health of your newborn.

Plan Ahead
Everyone has seen shows or movies that highlight the moment a character is about to give birth. Usually, these moments are accompanied by their partner running for a duffle bag that was packed for this moment months ago. The same preparation used before giving birth should also be used afterward. Before returning to work, mentally prepare yourself for the change in environments. Think about what you’ll need to catch up on and consider reaching out to your employer in advance. Planning should include both communication and prioritization.

Don’t Shy Away from Help
Accept or look for help if necessary. “New mothers” go through a lot of stress as they continue to make check-up appointments, bring their child to physicians, return to work and balance their personal lives. There have been many laws implemented to protect individuals after paternity/maternity leave, but they can still be broken. Some “new mothers” have a bad experience coming back to work and, if that becomes the case, it may be in your best interest to seek help.