The Fourth Trimester - clinging to your sanity while helping your baby make the transition from womb to world. Welcome to Parenthood!
Whether they have children or not, everyone has their opinion(s) when it comes to parenting. As new parents, it's easy to feel as if you're doing something wrong when your baby is seemingly the only one who doesn't nurse well or doesn't sleep well or doesn't develop certain skills as quickly as other babies. You think you must be fighting your way through parenthood while on a completely different planet as other new parents, but honestly, we're all thinking the same thing:
This shit is hard.
You're tempted to play the comparison game, but one of the things that saved me during my first three months of motherhood was learning how to let things go. Once I learned to stop trying to keep up with other moms and to trust my own instincts to do what felt right for our baby and our family, things got easier.
Of course, not everything came naturally, and it took some time to discover what worked best. With that said, I thought it would be helpful to highlight some of the things -- aside from copious amount of coffee -- that have helped me survive the so-called fourth trimester.
As every baby is different and every situation is different, this isn't meant to be a list of new-mom (or new-parent) "essentials". I'm simply sharing what has worked for me so far. If you're having a tough time getting through the first few months of having a baby at home (or if you know someone who is), then maybe you'll find something in this blog post that you haven't tried yet.
How I Survived the Fourth Trimester
- Nursing Cover - I made the decision to breastfeed the baby months before she was born. I knew, at some point, I'd also have to decide whether to nurse Caroline in public. Since only nursing her at home meant a restricted existence, I spent a long time thinking about how I'd handle it if she needed to eat while we were away from home. It turns out, I had no problem with pulling over to nurse her if we were in the car or finding a discreet spot to sit if we were out and about. At first, I just draped a swaddle blanket over us, but Caroline squirms around a lot now and it helps to have a nursing cover that I wear like an apron because it means she can't pull it off and give the people around us -- if there are any -- an interesting show.
- Breastmilk Storage Bags - I didn't start pumping breastmilk until Caroline was nearly two months old, but when I did start, I knew I wanted to start building a stockpile of milk in the freezer for use down the road. While I've used several different brands of milk storage bags, I like the Medela Pump & Save Breastmilk Bags the best because they come with adapters that fit onto the breast shields of my electric pump. This means, the bags can go straight from the pump to the refrigerator or freezer. One less step and one less thing to wash and sterilize.
- Belvita Breakfast Biscuits - There are days when 99% of my time and attention are focused on the baby and it's hard to break away long enough to eat something. To avoid the risk of downing junk food, I like to keep at least one box of Belvita Breakfast Biscuits in the pantry. They're easy to eat with one hand (so I can eat them while nursing her) and they contain 19g of whole grains per serving. Plus, I can throw a pack in my handbag or in the diaper bag to eat as a snack when I'm out of the house.
- Lanolin Cream - Breastfeeding a baby is a beautiful act, the giving of yourself to sustain another life. As wonderful as that is, breastfeeding can also be a painful act, especially in the beginning when you're learning how to get in the proper position and the baby is learning how to latch on correctly. The lanolin cream will help soothe and protect your nipples if they are sore, dry, and/or cracked. I've had the sad misfortune of dealing with plugged milk ducts recently, and I can't tell you how grateful I was for the lanolin cream as I nursed through the pain.
- Nursing Pillow - When Stephen and I first started our baby gift registry, I was on the fence about whether to add a nursing pillow. Looking back, I'm so glad I did. I didn't need the nursing pillow right away because Caroline wasn't too heavy and didn't nurse longer than it was comfortable for me to hold her normally. But as she got older and heavier and nursed for longer periods, that pillow came in handy. Plus, now that Stephen gives her a nightly bottle of pumped breastmilk, the nursing pillow helps him get her into the right position.
- Water Bottle - It's extremely important to stay hydrated while you're breastfeeding, and I've found it's easier for me to keep up with my water intake if I keep my water bottle full and nearby at all times. I absolutely love my Hydro Flask (reviewed here) because it keeps my water cold for up to 24 hours. Not that I'd let the water sit in the bottle untouched for that long, but still... ;-)
- The Wonder Weeks - A fellow new mother recommended that I read this book to help understand Caroline's fussy periods, not only so I could prepare myself for them but also so I could help her as she worked through the major periods of her mental development. You can also download The Wonder Weeks mobile app as a supplement to the book.
- Video Baby Monitor - While part of me still considers our video baby monitor as a "splurge" item, I can't say enough good things about it. Being able to take a quick peek at the baby while she's in her crib, especially when we can hear her start to fuss, has been so helpful and, in many instances, has given me peace of mind to see that "nothing's wrong". We can watch her to see if one of us really needs to go into her room or if it would be better to wait a few minutes to see if she soothes herself back to sleep. This has become invaluable when we put her down at bedtime.
- Diaper Bag - When I chose a diaper bag, I picked one that was fashionable and functional since I knew I'd be carrying it around everywhere. There are plenty of deep pockets to hold diapers, wipes, diaper cream, an extra outfit or two, plus my nursing cover, a sunhat for the baby, and, when needed, our car seat cover. As added bonuses, this particular diaper bag also comes with a changing pad and grips that allow you to attach the bag to your stroller. It's worth it to take some time considering your diaper bag options so you can find one that's going to meet your needs.
- Baby Carrier - Caroline loves to be held, but there are times when I need to have access to my hands. Using our BabyBjörn allows me to keep her close and use my hands at the same time. And, sometimes, we'll use the baby carrier for our afternoon walks instead of the stroller so she can see a bit more. She loves being able to peek out to observe the world around her, and I can't wait until we can turn her so she's facing out instead of in. I know we're going to get a kick out of watching her reactions to things once she can really see them.
- Refillable Wipes Case - Having a refillable case for baby wipes has saved me from carrying a heavy pack of them around in the diaper bag. When the diaper bag supply is running low, I love that I don't have to run to the store to buy another travel pack. Instead, I just dip into our bulk supply of wipes in the nursery. Less is more, people!
- Baby Swing - I would love to spend all day holding Caroline because I'm still in awe of her. But this isn't an ideal world and it's just not feasible to just keep her in my arms. When she's fussy, I know it's impossible to rock her forever because, eventually, my arms do tire. Having the Baby Swing helps her when Stephen and I can't. And on particularly challenging days (like yesterday), the swing was a miracle-worker.
- Activity Gym and Playmat - We initially bought Caroline an Activity Gym and Playmat for use during tummy time. She was slow to warm-up to the idea of being on her stomach, so for the first couple of days, she would just lay on her back and gaze at the soft toys attached to the arms. When she started kicking, she made the discovery that kicking the arms made the toys move and making the toys move made her happy. Now she rolls onto her tummy on the mat and makes a game of reaching for and grabbing each of the toys. And don't get me started on the mirror! Needless to say, the Activity Gym and Playmat has done wonders for her development.
- Muslin Swaddles - As I said earlier, Caroline loves being held and feeling cozy and warm. When we first brought her home from the hospital, wrapping her up in a swaddle blanket before naps and before bedtime helped her fall asleep more quickly and to stay asleep. Now that she's older and doesn't need to be swaddled before sleeping, I like to keep a blanket in the diaper bag to use in case the air-conditioning is on full blast when we're out.
- Sound Machine - The back of our house is on a very busy main road, so it can get pretty noisy in the nursery with the sounds of traffic driving by, even at nighttime. The Sound Machine helps block out a lot of that noise so Caroline's senses aren't overloaded when she's trying to go to sleep.
- Kick and Play Piano - When we realized how much Caroline loves to kick her legs, we bought her a Kick and Play Piano that we attached to one end of her crib. The soft piano keys respond to her kicks by playing music, plus there are colorful lights that flash in time to the tunes. We switch it on in the morning after feeding and changing her, and the piano keeps her entertained long enough for Stephen and I to each take a shower.
- Bouncer - There are times when the baby doesn't want to be on her back or on her tummy. Instead, she wants to sit up, so we'll strap her into her Bouncer and let her observe the world around her. I've gotten into the habit of putting her in her seat and then bringing her into the kitchen in the evenings so she can watch me as I make dinner, narrating each step and introducing her to the ingredients I use. It's become a special little tradition for the two of us!
What items have helped you survive the fourth trimester?
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