Having a new baby is hard work, there’s no escaping that. Having a newborn whilst juggling the demands of a toddler may seem like an intimidating prospect. Even before the new baby is born, you’ll be thinking of many questions and scenarios – How do I get them both to bed? What do I do about baths? How will my toddler react to being a big brother / sister?
Before the birth
Get your toddler involved in what’s happening with the new arrival, including what’s going to happen when the baby is born. You don’t need to give them a biology lesson, but explaining that you have a baby in your tummy and that the baby will grow into a brother or sister is a good start. There are plenty of helpful picture books available and it can be useful to have some real life examples of siblings for your toddler to reference.
Once you have a rough idea of your birth plan, talk to your toddler about what will occur. It may seem scary to them to come and visit you in the hospital so have some familiar items or treats ready. Make a big fuss of them coming to visit and introduce them to the new arrival when it’s nice and quiet, without lots of other relatives around. Encourage your toddler to touch the baby, ask lots of questions and even hold him / her if they are able to.
Toddlers love to be helpful and giving them small tasks to do will help build their independence and understanding of responsibility. Even the tiniest of things like passing you a clean nappy whilst you change the baby will seem hugely important to them, so it’s really important to praise. You could create them a ‘kit’ of items such as nappies, wipes and nappy bags so that they can be a real part of what you are doing.
Other activities to get your toddler involved with could be (very gentle) washing of your baby in the bath or helping you to push the pram. They could also have a special song or story that they tell to the baby.
Think about how often you want your toddler and your baby to have a bath and how that’s going to work logistically. Whilst your eldest might have enjoy the luxury of their own baby bath, it might be impractical to have two separate baths. Newborns don’t necessarily need to be bathed every day, a simple top and tail wash is sufficient. Think a little bit creatively too. Perhaps you could wash your newborn in the bathroom sink whilst your toddler is in the bath or you all get in the bath together? Bath seats for your baby may seem like a useful idea but check the safety precautions very carefully.
When you need to have a bath or shower, using a bouncer chair or carry cot is a great option to keep your baby secure and they’ll enjoy the new noises and smells.
You may be clinging on to the notion that your newborn is going to be one of those magical children you hear about who sleep through the night. In reality, babies rarely sleep for longer than five hours at a time, especially in the first few weeks.
You will need to establish a way for you to look about your baby during night time feeds and wakings, without disturbing your toddler too much. If your eldest does hear the baby it can be alarming in the middle of the night. Explain to them in the morning that the baby isn’t upset or distressed, they’re just hungry or need a nappy.
If you already have an established bedtime routine for your toddler, try not to disturb this too much. Use a sling or carry your baby with you if you are on your own so that you can focus on your eldest. Once you have a good bedtime routine with your baby, you might look to put them to bed first so that you can spend more time with your toddler.
You might get lucky and have nap times for both children at the same time, but don’t count on it. The upside is that you get to spend some quality bonding time with one child by themselves when the other is asleep.
If you do get a rare moment when they are both napping, make sure you prioritise self-care above housework and chores. Even just five minutes sat down with a hot drink and nobody else attached to you can make the world of difference!
You might have a view of how you’d like your house to look – free of dust, crumbs and clutter with shiny floors and handprint free windows. However, unless you have a cleaner, this clean state takes time and you will not have that time when you have a newborn and a toddler to look after.
If that’s not practical for you to get a cleaner, it’s OK to let your standards and expectations down a few notches. If the clean washing doesn’t get put away straight away like you used to, that’s fine, you can do it when you have time. It’s not going to be how it was when you had your first, and definitely not the condition it was pre-children.
Try not to assume that visitors are judging how tidy your house. In reality, they’re probably not, and having a new baby is a great excuse! Plenty of other mums will be in the same position, and you wouldn’t make even contemplate making a comment about their house.
If the level of untidiness does irritate you, make tidying up into a fun game for your toddler. Have a race to see who can put the most away in a minute, or have a special ‘tidy away’ song to sing. They won’t realise that they’re doing a chore, and it stands them in good stead for when they’re older.
Food and Shopping
You and your family need to eat, that’s a given. However, make shopping for food easy on yourself. Despite the range of trolleys available, taking two children to a supermarket is not a fun experience and takes much longer than it needs to. Get home deliveries or click and collect arranged, or go shopping by yourself. Either way it will be much more efficient and more cost effective as you won’t have to give in to pester power. Plus if you’re lucky, you can sit down and have a cuppa in the cafe before you go home.
At home, prepare in advance so that you’re not stuck in the kitchen for hours. The cliché of batch cooking and freezing huge portions of foods does work well, but you can also be more inventive than lasagne or spaghetti bolognese. There are plenty of recipes online for what to do with leftovers, or how about doing a meal swap with another parent?
For your toddler, have some snacks and meals already prepared so that they’re quick to get ready. Children love lunchboxes, so you could make their lunch or dinner in one and have an indoor picnic. Plus having a lunchbox ready means that you can pop out if your plans change or you get an impromptu invite.
Keep a range of non-perishable snacks in the change bag and car so that you’ve always got something to hand when you’re out.
Although it’s really hard, try not to worry about your toddler’s eating habits. You should look at what they’ve eaten across a week, rather than individual days. As long as they are getting a range of foods and some fruit and vegetables then you’re on the right track. If they’re going through a fussy phase, just go with it, it won’t last forever and it can be stressful for all of you to try and make changes whilst caring for the new baby.
You’ll go stir crazy if you stay indoors for days on end with two children, but the prospect of going out somewhere can be daunting. Start off small with a practice run, even if it’s just a walk to the end of the road and back. Get your change bag ready when it’s nice and calm and you’re not distracted by your children. Over pack your bag with nappies, wipes, nappy bags and spare clothes for the baby as well as drinks and snacks for your toddler.
Practice using your chosen mode of transport, whether that’s a double buggy, buggy board or sling, so that you can all get used to it. Again, you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t get on with a sling or carrier, some babies just don’t like the sensation and want more freedom.
Once you’ve had a few trips out, whether they are successful or not, expand into meeting friends or going to baby groups. Even if you collapse in a heap when you get there, at least you and your children will be getting some social interaction and there’ll be lots of extra hands to help you.
If it’s feasible, it’s a good idea to have a mini changing area in your car, or at least have extra supplies in there. There will be plenty of times that nice changing facilities aren’t available, or you have to do a change at the side of the road. Picnic rugs double up nicely as change mats.
The most important thing is to be relaxed. You’ve already lived through the newborn stage once, it’s just that this time you have a little helper. Invariably there are times where it will be difficult, and you’ll want to run away and hide somewhere. But these are just moments, they will pass, and you’ll be coping with everything beautifully again.