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What new moms should know about the ‘fifth trimester’

For babies and mamas alike, the “fourth trimester” is a monumental transition: The newborns are adjusting to life outside the womb and, as parents, our lives suddenly revolve around making sure the baby’s needs are met.


When I was experiencing this with my first baby, there were days when it seemed like the outside world ceased to exist. All of my energy was poured into parenting and figuring out how to overcome the steep learning curve.

Then, all at once, maternity leave ended and I again had to make a big transition.

In her book The Fifth Trimester, Lauren Smith Brody describes this as the time “the working mom is born”—which can be just as intimidating of a process as the newborn phase.

Through research, discussions with experts and interviews with more than 700 working moms, Brody says trepidation during this time is a universal feeling. “No matter how ambitious they were, everyone had this blib of, ‘I think I’m going to need to quit my job,’” Brody, a former executive editor with Glamour, tells Motherly. “For some people that was a couple months long. For others, it was an hour, a bad meeting, a bad day.”

Amplifying that anxiety for many women is, unfortunately, the pressure to return to work before they feel prepared. As Brody found through her research, it takes new moms an average of 22 weeks postpartum to feel physically “normal” and a full 24 weeks before they feel better emotionally.

Yet, the average length of (largely unpaid) maternity leave for women Smith Brody surveyed was 8.5 weeks. Other research analyzing data from the Department of Labor shows one in four new moms returns to work less than two weeks after baby’s birth.

For many, challenges persist when back in the workplace due to inadequate pumping breaks, after-hours demands and children’s inevitable sick days.

Unfair as it may be to assign yet another responsibility to new moms, Brody says the reality is we’re the ones in the position to affect more family-friendly policies—and much of that starts with being transparent about the merger of motherhood and work.

“Often there are so many things that new mother say they didn’t realize were happening for moms until they go through it themselves,” Brody says.

Although she acknowledges the “the last person” you want to place more of a burden on is a new mom, Brody says we can inspire positive changes simply by making motherhood more visible.

For starters, she suggests women let coworkers know, yes, you are pumping, but also using that time to catch up on emails. Or explain why you can’t make the early meeting, but would be glad to dial into a conference call during your commute.

Awkward as this may first seem, Brody says to remember it is not your fault you have to negotiate. “Everywhere else in the world this is handled culturally for you,” she says, adding it likely isn’t your boss’s or industry’s fault, either.

But this challenge is also an opportunity for us to find purpose.

“It’s really important and very bolstering to know that even being open about your parenthood in the workplace will make the culture better for you, and your next baby and everyone around you,” she says. “It is something we can work together on an individual level to really make a change.”

Just as important is internalizing that you are as—if not even more—capable of an employee. (Research proves it.) Knowing that, Brody says, can help give moms confidence in the moments when returning to work initially feels impossible.

And, in time, the new normal will work itself out.

“What’s uncomfortable about a new situation is the unknown,” Brody says. “But you will be able to look back on what you’ve gotten through and that will fuel you.”

The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom's Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby is currently available on Amazon. Brody also advocates for better workplace policies for parents through corporate speaking engagements.

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When your coworker is expecting a baby, what do you give them? A cute onesie? Some classic baby books? How about your own paid time off?

A recent report by Good Morning America has sparked plenty of online conversation about the growing trend of colleagues donating their own paid time off to an expecting parent in the workplace, and the overwhelming consensus is that while well intentioned, colleagues shouldn't have to crowdsource a substitute for parental leave.

As plenty of Twitter users have pointed out to GMA, paid parental leave is sorely needed in the United States, but in its absence, generous co-workers are giving up their own PTO so that a new mother or father can enjoy an extra day at home with their baby.

Last month The Washington Post reported the practice is common in federal offices. "Co-workers donate them to help extend parental leave so a frazzled new mom doesn't have to go back to work six weeks after giving birth," columnist Petula Dvorak wrote.

GMA interviewed mothers in non-federal workplaces who had their maternity leaves topped up by colleagues' donations.

Jessie Sampson works for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, but Nebraska does not offer state employees dedicated paid maternity leave. The state does allow "new moms who work for the state to receive donated time once they have used their own accrued sick time" thanks to a program launched in January GMA reports.

Sampson was able to have four more weeks with her second child than she did with her first thanks to the donations of coworkers. "I had more bonding time with my child and I was able to establish a much better breastfeeding routine," Sampson told GMA. "That's time [my colleagues] could be spending relaxing and to give it to me to spend time with my child, I'm really grateful for that."

Sampson is greatful, but Twitter users are outraged by the idea that programs like this should even have to exist, and point out that the colleagues of new parents shouldn't be sacrificing their own time off.

While well-intentioned to be sure, colleagues who donate their own paid time off may be putting themselves at risk. Research indicates that women who don't take their vacations time are eight times more likely to have a heart attack or develop heart disease than women who vacation twice a year, and when men at high risk for heart disease actually take their vacations they're 32% less likely to die of heart disease.

In short, we need our time off. And when colleagues feel pressured to donate theirs so a new parent can take a leave, they're putting themselves at risk of burning out. That's simply not fair, and it's actually not good for workplace productivity either.

"The mental and physical benefits of taking time off work include improved sleep, a better headspace, more clarity and increased creativity," Dr. Kathryn Smerling, a New York City based psychologist told NBC News. "By taking time off, you'll find a renewed sense of purpose, more energy to carry out tasks and in general, an overall sense of happiness."

Colleagues donating their own time off is a beautiful, generous act. But it's an itty-bitty Band-Aid on a great big gaping wound. America needs paid parental leave, and we need it now.

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Sometimes people get hungry when they're out and about, and since babies need to eat more often than most of us, they definitely get hungry away from home. Parents can't—and shouldn't—be forced to find a private spot for a breastfeeding break every time baby needs to nurse.

Breastfeeding is normal, it's natural and our right to do it in public is protected.

American mothers "have the right to breastfeed your baby wherever and whenever your baby is hungry," according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Office on Women's Health. Until this year, Idaho was the one state that had no protections for breastfeeding mothers, but that has changed.

Now all 50 states (and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) have laws that protect a mom's right to breastfeed in public, notes the National Conference of State Legislators.


The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the World Health Organization all encourage women to breastfeed and want to raise breastfeed rates in the United States. These organizations encourage exclusive breastfeeding because a growing body of evidence suggests breastfeeding offers optimal nutritional and immune system benefits, including lower risks for asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, ear and respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, 63.74% of Americans believe women should have the right to breastfeed in public places, and 57.75% say they are "comfortable when mothers breastfeed their babies near me in a public place."

Just over 19% of Americans are not comfortable seeing mothers breastfeed in public, but it's important to remember that a mother's right to breastfeed is legally protected, comfort in public spaces is not. Unfortunately, research suggests that "restaurant and shopping center managers have reported that they would either discourage breastfeeding anywhere in their facilities or would suggest that breastfeeding mothers move to an area that was more secluded."

Those attitudes are changing, but there are still many people who do not understand that breastfeeding moms have a right to feed their babies in public.

Recently, an Illinois mother who was waiting in (a very, very long) line during the Build-A-Bear Pay Your Age event was reportedly discouraged from nursing by a mall security guard. Fellow moms were not having it, and held a peaceful protest inside the shopping center last Saturday.

"We do not agree with the officer's decision to approach the mother and his actions do not reflect the views of this shopping center," the mall's General Manager said in a statement to the Beacon News. The manager apologized and said the shopping center will continue to support breastfeeding rights in the future.

So what can a mother do if she is approached by someone who discourages her from nursing in public?

"Remember that the law protects your right to feed your baby any place you need to. You do not need to respond to anyone who criticizes you for breastfeeding," the CDC states on its website. "If you feel in danger, move away from the person criticizing you and look for people who can support you.


We can breastfeed at bus stops, at restaurants, at the public pool, at the library, at the mall, or anywhere we need to. It's our responsibility to feed our children when they are hungry, and it's our right, too.

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They say there's no use in crying over it, but for pumping mamas, spilled milk is a major upset.

When you're working so hard to make sure your baby has breast milk, you don't want to lose a drop, and Chrissy Teigen knows this all too well.

The mom of two posted a video to social media Wednesday showing her efforts to rescue breastmilk from a tabletop. She used various utensils and a syringe to try to get the milk back in the bottle.

"I spilled my breastmilk and this is how important it is in this house," she says while suctioning up milk with what appears to be a baster.

In a follow-up video Teigen continues to try to rescue the spilled milk.

"We're trying," she says as she suctions up a drop or two. "I got some."

Teigen is currently breastfeeding baby Miles, her son with husband John Legend, and has been very public about the fact that she pumps a lot as a working mom.

She's also been open about the fact that milk supply has always been an issue for her, not just with Miles but with Luna, too.

"I actually loved [pumping] because I'm a collector of things, and so when I found out I could pump I [did it] so much because I knew the more you pumped, the more milk you'd make," she told POPSUGAR back in March. "So I loved collecting my breast milk and seeing how much I could get, even if it was very, very little."

Like a lot of moms, Teigen did struggle emotionally when a pump session wouldn't get her the ounces she wanted.

"I wasn't producing a lot of milk, and it was frustrating. When you're frustrated, [it can also make you] not produce that much."

Research backs her up. Stress has been linked to lower milk production. Because of that, she's trying to stay positive this time around, but captioned her video post "EVERY DROP COUNTS IN THIS HOUSE" because, well, they do.


So many mothers can relate. Have you ever tried to save your breastmilk?

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Former Bachelorette and mom of two Ali Fedotowsky is on a roll when it comes to starting conversations about why we mamas should love our bodies (and we love her for it).

Earlier this week Fedotowsky posted a series of photos showing her postpartum belly, loose skin and all. It was a vulnerable post, but a really valuable one in a world where images of celebrity postpartum bodies often don't reflect the ones we see in the mirror.

"I know it's important to be open and honest about my postpartum body in hopes that it helps even one person out there who is struggling with their own body image," Fedotowsky captioned the photos.

It seems like that post is helping, because, as Fedotowsky noted in her next Instagram post, her honest belly pics were met with an outpouring of love and support.

"I had no idea how many women needed to see that post," she wrote, noting that the reaction to those photos inspired her to write a blog post featuring her favorite breastfeeding-friendly clothing, because she's celebrating and loving her postpartum body for what it did and continues to do for her baby, not just what it looks like.

"Yes, I may have extra fat and loose skin around my belly, but that same body nourishes and comforts my child. Just another reason to love every inch of my body and how it has changed."

Fedotowsky gave birth in May, so she's only a couple months postpartum and it's not surprising that she's still carrying a little extra weight. Research indicates that about 20% of moms are carrying about 11 pounds extra 6 to 18 months after giving birth. And while weight loss is often cited as a reason for women to breastfeed, studies show that breastfeeding doesn't lead to substantial weight loss for everyone, and in fact only has a small effect on postpartum weight loss typically.

So moms like Fedotowsky should absolutely love the bodies that are feeding their babies, and we love how Fedotowsky is encouraging that.

Pregnancy changes our bodies. But they are still so beautiful.

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