The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby

This title helps moms cope with the demands of the real world after the baby arrives.

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Karsen: From The Parent’s Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


Karsen: Today, we’re discussing The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby. Written by Lauren Smith Brody.

In this title, the author helps moms cope with the demands of the real world after the baby arrives. Everyone knows the first three trimesters are for the baby, and the fourth trimester consists of the newborn days. But what do you do during the fifth trimester when parents go back to work?

Karsen: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


Karsen: Vincent, how does the author suggest that parents prepare for the fifth trimester?

Vincent: It’s no easy task going back to work while keeping a small human being happy and well-fed at home. That’s why Lauren Smith Brody, who was the executive editor of Glamour magazine, started The Fifth Trimester movement. It’s a way to help parents and businesses navigate creating a family-friendly workplace culture.

Karsen: In the book, Brody talks about how she returned to work after having her first child. She said some things were going well. She was getting work done, earning money to pay for a nanny, and was coming home with enough time to pump breast milk. But she said that one area was difficult, she wasn’t taking care of herself.

Vincent: That’s right. Research has shown that self-compassion is an important part of reducing the unhealthy self-critical view some new mothers have. The findings were that the more you make sure to nurture yourself, the more confident that you’ll start to feel.

One tip from the book was from Nitzia Logothetis, a psychotherapist, who recommended avoiding clothes that don’t fit well. She said that new moms will feel more confident and put together when they see someone well dressed when looking in the mirror.

Karsen: Part of the challenge with having a newborn at home is finding the time to focus on your outfits and makeup.

Vincent: Luckily some of the ways of improving your appearance don’t take too much time. For example, it’s really important for your health to stay hydrated. Drinking water also has the added benefit of reducing dark circles under your eyes from lack of sleep.

Karsen: And using the right eye creams help too. Brody mentioned that picking eye creams that contain algae can help with dark circles. I can completely understand how long it can take to do your makeup every morning. The author recommended adjusting your makeup routine so that it’s quicker… potentially to even get it down to just a few minutes.

A big part of moms being able to find more time though has to do with trusting your partner to step up on their share of the parenting. How can moms help their partners succeed as a parent?

Vincent: Brody says that many first time mothers don’t trust their partner to be able to care for the new baby. In fact, in one study of new moms, 49 percent believed their partner would need at least seven weeks before being able to help with the baby. The researcher found though that many of the moms were underestimating their partner’s ability to help.

In 76 percent of the time, their partners were ready, willing, and able to help.

Karsen: What’s the reason that so many new mothers underestimate their partner’s ability to help?

Vincent: One researcher found that this may be a result of guilt that some new mothers have about not being able to take care of everything themselves. So it’s important to remind yourself that it’s okay to let go of some of the responsibility and trust that your partner can and will lend a hand.

Karsen: Are there ways that partners can build trust?

Vincent: One way is to learn childcare skills together. Parent’s Club is obviously something that you can participate in together and have discussions about your learnings. Taking a baby CPR class together may be another way to build confidence.

The research shows that doing these things together strengthens the bond of your relationship as well. Being side-by-side as you both master new skills will be reassuring when it comes time for mom to go back to work.

Karsen: And when mom goes back to work, they really have to trust their partner’s ability.

Vincent: That’s right. It can be easy to doubt your partner’s ability when you observe him and second guess all of their decisions. But when you’re not around, the best thing you can do is trust. Part of successful parenting is being able to let go and accept the fact that you won’t be in full control. Parenting is definitely a team sport.

Karsen: And that team involves more than even just the parents. How do you go about finding a good daycare or nanny?

Vincent: It can be terrifying to drop off your baby at a daycare for the first time. You want potential day-cares to have a positive impact on your child. There’s a great summary from the National Institute of Child Health and Human development with the top three criteria.

First, when a baby is between six and 18 months, the staff to child ratio is important. Each adult staff member should have no more than three children with a maximum of six kids per group.

Second, each staff member should have a certificate in child development or a similar university degree. Avoid facilities where the staff members only have high school diplomas.

And lastly, the staff should demonstrate “positive caregiving.”

Karsen: What does “positive caregiving” look like?

Vincent: Well, it means that the staff should have a cheerful attitude towards children. So clear signs of this may include activities like singing and reading. Also, using positive language to praise and encourage good behavior.

Karsen: What are the common feelings that new parents have when they drop off their child at daycare?

Vincent: Well, signs of jealousy that someone else is spending time with your child are perfectly normal. Sometimes toddlers will even call their caregivers “mommy.” Young children will form bonds with those that are caring for them. But it’s important to remember that you’re not being replaced.

Something else that’s important in the research is that having a steady presence helps children feel calm and secure. So it’s best if he or she can form a bond with a steady caregiver. That means not changing day-care workers every week or month.

Karsen: Many moms will return to work while they’re still breastfeeding. How can mothers navigate this?

Vincent: Yes, some studies show that 83 percent of working moms will return to work while they’re still breastfeeding. A breast pump becomes really important here, and there’s quite a few options here.

When Brody surveyed new moms, she found that the average mom could comfortably pump milk for the first eleven months. One of the most common tips is to get two breast pumps… one for work and one for home.

While this may seem like a waste of money, it quickly becomes a lifesaver not having to worry about bringing it to work. You’ll also need a place to store pumped milk and potentially ice packs and a cooler.

And the author mentioned that wearing the right clothes is important too.

Karsen: That’s right, she recommended wearing button down shirts or wrap dresses. The clothes that moms will want to avoid are dresses that zip up in the back or anything made out of silk because pumping can sometimes get messy.

What about storage at home?

Vincent: When my wife, Erin, was pumping, we bought an ice chest freezer at home. They’re surprisingly cheaper than I thought. But you’ll need a decent amount of space in your freezer for breast milk.

Karsen: How much milk should be stored?

Vincent: It’s usually recommended to keep a two-day supply at all times. When you keep two-days worth of milk frozen, you don’t have to worry about accidentally using up the next day’s supply or giving your baby too much milk. If that happens, you’d have more in the freezer.

Karsen: What about helping your baby get used to a bottle?

Vincent: I started doing practice feedings with Lily a month before Erin went back to work, so it’s a good idea to start using a bottle before you need to. That way your baby has time to get used to it.

Karsen: I’d imagine that going back to work can feel like the first day back at school after a long summer break… not everyone would look forward to it.

Vincent: That’s right, but there’s definitely many benefits. In a 2015 study from Harvard Business School, children who had working mothers grow up to be kinder and more ambitious.

Research has found that the top predictor for whether new moms will return to their previous job after a maternity leave is how rewarding she finds her job. It’s not her seniority or how much money her partner makes.

Karsen: The return to work doesn’t have to be a sudden transition either.

Vincent: That’s true as well. Many mothers slowly return back to work. So instead of jumping in full-time, you may be able to negotiate returning part-time and gradually working your way back to a normal schedule.

A gradual return was shown to be a great way to help new moms refocus their attention back on their work.

Karsen: When moms are back in the office, how should they approach their work?

Vincent: The author surveyed working mothers and found that 30 percent of them admitted that they resented their coworkers who returned to work after having a baby. So this resentment is pretty common.

Often, new moms are resented because their coworkers think they get special treatment or they leave work with a baby-related situation occurs.

Karsen: I can see how that could be damaging to your relationship with coworkers, how can you ensure that you maintain healthy relationships with coworkers?

Vincent: Brody suggests being sympathetic and honest with your coworkers. That starts by making sure they know that you’re eager to repay any favors from when you need to ask for help. Family emergencies will occur, and you don’t want to come off as acting superior or receiving preferential treatment.

If you take time off because of your new child, you don’t want to make it seem really important. Instead, it’s best to be transparent and honest. You can also remind your childless coworkers that they will get the same treatment if they need to help a sick family member or they have to spend time in the hospital.

Karsen: It sounds like parenting isn’t always like the picture-perfect life that makes it onto Instagram.

Vincent: Definitely not. There’s highs and lows, so having emotional transparency can be a good practice. Sometimes there’s cute photos and giggling babies. But sharing stories of sleepless nights and other hardships can help you navigate through the potential resentment.

Karsen: It sounds like the key takeaway from this book is that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the idea of returning to work after having a baby. It can be an emotional and challenging time, but by taking the right steps to reduce your stress, your transition back to work can go smoothly. Being purposeful about your self-care routine can help reduce postpartum depression.

You’ll also want to establish your breast pumping routine, finding the right day care, and managing your relationships with coworkers.


Karsen: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki.

Vincent: And I’m Vincent Phamvan.

Karsen: We’ll see you next time.


The Fifth Trimester is your new best friend: a brilliant, tells-it-like-it-is guide that helps moms cope with the demands of the real world after the baby arrives.

The first three trimesters (and the fourth—those blurry newborn days) are for the baby, but the Fifth Trimester is when the working mom is born. No matter what the job or how you define work, you’re going to have a lot of questions. When will I go back? How should I manage that initial “I want to quit” attack? Flex-time or full-time? How can I achieve 50/50 at home with my partner? What’s the best option for childcare? Is it possible to look like I slept for eight hours instead of three? And . . . why is there never a convenient space to pump?

Whether you’re in the final stages of pregnancy or hitting the panic button on your last day of leave, The Fifth Trimester is your one-stop-shop for the honest, funny, and comforting tips, to-do lists, and take-charge strategies you’ll need to embrace your new identity as a working parent and set yourself up for success.

Based on interviews with 700+ candidly speaking moms in wildly varied fields and incredible expert advice, The Fifth Trimester tackles every personal and professional detail with the wit, warmth, and inspiration you need to win when you head back to work.

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