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Tools of the Fourth Trimester

There is exactly one location in all of Brooklyn where everyone who lives there must go to get a social security card, which is the official document needed to change your name. It's also required that anyone attempting to do so shows up in person (if you live anywhere else in America, you can just mail your forms in). At six months pregnant, I waited in line for four and a half hours in order to make myself a Newman. I spent a good deal of that time sitting on the floor, getting to know the woman waiting in front of me. She was a new mom, and a grade-school teacher. She had a number of tips to offer on motherhood, and she was the first person to point me towards the book The Happiest Baby on the Block. Actually, she gave me a complete recap of what the book is about, which is all you really need to make use of its contents.

The basic gist is that a baby is not entirely ready to enter the world upon delivery, and her first three months of life outside the womb serve essentially as a "fourth trimester" as far as brain development, and basic needs, are concerned. The book is geared toward parents coping with colicky infants, but its suggestions apply to every baby, even already-happy ones. It offers a system of "Five S's" that can be employed to recreate sensations experienced in the womb, sensations that small babies find comforting. The Five S's are: Shhh (white noise), swaddle, side (as in holding a baby on her side), suck and shake (umm... jiggle or swing, don't shake).

Kaspar doesn't have colic (sounds like hell on Earth, so I am grateful beyond words that we're not dealing with that), and is generally a happy little dude. And although he's increasingly "waking up" to the world around him, he is indeed a little womb-bug. We've needed surprisingly few accoutrements during his first couple of months, but have found a few key items to be priceless in helping us keep up the fourth trimester farce (note that I have received no incentive for endorsing the products listed below).

1) Swaddle blankets: Many "swaddling blankets" just don't do the job as far as dimensions are concerned. We received a few of these in advance of Kaspar's arrival, and have used them daily, and nightly, since. They're big enough to really wrap him tightly so he feels like he's back in my belly. We're blessed with a baby who likes to sleep, and swaddling keeps him from waking himself up with those weird baby startles, and also from scratching his face.

2) Baby Carrier: This is as close to the womb as it gets. We have this one, but I imagine just about any carrier will do. Aaron and I both use this all the time; it has made us truly mobile, and Kaspar sleeps like a rock as soon as he's strapped in.

3) Bouncer/Swing: Kaspar had reflux for the first month or so. Lying him on his back just made it worse. He sleeps (swaddled) in his bouncer beside the bed at night. This has meant more sleep for us from the start. The bouncer is a major space-saver compared to a crib, and we move it from room to room so that he can hang out with us when he's awake. As for the swing, I didn't want to get one; they're kind of enormous and ugly (even the cute ones are like little baby space crafts). Kaspar does like a rocking/jiggling motion, though, so we broke down and got one, and it was a good purchase that I think will continue to be useful in the coming months. By the way, we bought both of these items used; there's no need to pay full price for this stuff.

4) Binkies: All hail the pacifier. Kaspar's a regular Maggie Simpson on that thing. He also breast and bottle feeds, and has sucked on all of these items since birth without nipple confusion. Everyone's different, but I'm convinced the hype over holding off on binkies is bogus. Have at it, moms.

We have a noise maker, but due to city noise have not needed it much. We also haven't found it particularly helpful to hold Kaspar on his side. So much for those two S'. The following two survival tools (for mama's fourth trimester), however, have rocked my world:

5) Breast pump/bottles/formula: Kaspar gets about 50% breast milk and 50% (organic) formula. I got all stressed over the breastfeeding situation during our first 48 hours in the hospital—all of the nurses gave conflicting advice—but got myself a pump on the way home. We developed a system that works for us, which every parent should do. Ours allows for me to relieve my boobs if they're full and Kaspar's asleep, and also for Aaron to participate in feeding. I don't feel tethered to the couch, which is nice. I'm glad Kaspar's getting the benefits of breast milk, and I'll also be glad when I can leave the breast pump, and breastfeeding, behind. Oh and Erin— great post this week!

6) Roku: This little $100 box lets me stream all of the Friday Night Lights episodes I can handle directly from Netflix into my TV. As you know, the fourth trimester is the most exhausting of all, and come evening, when we know we have another feeding ahead but are too tired to string a sentence together, Aaron and I turn this puppy on and watch a movie. This is perfect for a new parent's short, scattered attention span, as if you don't like the film you've started, you can immediately pick another one instead of waiting three days for Netflix to send it to you in the mail. There are also yoga and pilates workouts available for instant streaming, which is a lot more convenient than trying to coordinate an escape to an actual class (all in good time).

In three weeks, our fourth trimester will be over. We'll be transitioning Kaspar to the crib, and busting out our hot little stroller. Tell me: What tools did you find most useful in your first few months with baby? What about when the fourth trimester ends? Any good book suggestions for months three through six? Babies change so quickly—what are your go-to tricks for each stage?