As your due date approaches memories of just how hard the first few weeks were with your firstborn start playing on your mind. You look back on all those hours feeding and rocking your baby to soothe their cries, all the sleepless nights and remember that crashing feeling of exhaustion that made you feel as if you were walking through treacle some days. How on earth are you going to do all that again when your energetic firstborn already takes up so much time and energy?
You are approaching birth this time with a whole wealth of experience and skills from the first time round and some things will be easier. But you’re also facing a heap of new challenges as you deal with both the demands of a tiny newborn baby and an energetic older child (all while recovering from childbirth). It’s all about finding the balance and putting a few plans in place to make the transition from one to two go a smoothly as possible for your whole family.
You’ll almost certainly need help while you recover after birth
They say giving birth takes the same toll on your body as running a marathon and you will need time to recover. That’s not easy if you have an energetic toddler or pre-schooler jumping on your new ‘squishy belly’ and demanding that you pick them up and rush about to play. It’s best to put some plans in place to make sure you have as much help and can get as much rest as possible during the first few weeks. Organise for your partner, your mum, your family and lovely friends to help out and give you time to rest and recuperate after the birth. Your partner or your mum might be able to spend lots of time with you in the first few weeks and they can help out with the day to day demands of looking after both a baby and an older child, as well as helping you with mealtimes and chores. Friends who might be working and have busy lives, can still make a world of difference by dropping round to take your firstborn out for a couple of hours on a weekend or by dropping ready cooked and nourishing casseroles and lasagnes. Accept any help that is offered and, if no one offers, be brave and ask. And, whenever you get the chance – sleep!
The newborn thing is easier the second time round
All the little things that you struggled to work out the first time round you’ve now got down to a fine art. You’re already a seasoned pro at changing nappies, and bathing wriggly babies. You can strap a baby in a car seat in nano-seconds, and knowing the best ways to hold and rock a baby to soothe them are second nature. You also know what to expect and are less likely to sit up all night this time worrying about the fact that your new baby’s poos are an odd colour, or fretting that they are actually sleeping too much.
You’ll soon be a multi-tasking ninja
Just when you think you’ve got things figured out you’ll find new challenges to face like how to feed your baby while your toddler climbs up your ankles and how to change a nappy at the same time as cheering on your toddler as they poo in the potty. You might have to hold a baby under one arm and strap your toddler in a supermarket trolley seat with your other, all while wrestling a giant changing bag packed for two and singing ‘Baby Shark’ to keep everyone cheery. Very soon you’ll become a multi-tasking queen.
But you might feel pulled in two (impossible) directions
Multi-tasking is one thing but there will be times when you feel like you are being pulled in two directions and that, at times, there’s not enough of you to go round. When your baby is crying for a feed and your toddler has fallen over and is screaming for Mummy it’s hard to know which to go to first. It’s at times like this that you have to cut yourself a little slack.
You might have to let your baby cry a little longer while you give your eldest a hug and settle them to play quietly with a toy or a book. You might have to relax any strict rules about screen time and pop Paw Paw Patrol on so you can feed the baby. You are only human and you might have to cut corners and find out the best way to balance the needs and demands of both your children but do also know that you are enough for them and you’ll find your way.
Plan for easier feed times
One thing you know is that tiny babies feed a LOT. And that means that you cannot avoid the fact that you will be giving a lot of time to your newborn baby, which is pretty tough on your firstborn who has been used to being the sole focus of your time and attention up until now. Before the birth organise a ‘feeding basket’ for your firstborn. Fill it up with exciting new books and toys that they can play with quietly. Once the baby arrives, always make sure it has snacks and drinks in it too. Keep the basket just for feeding times so your older child has everything on hand while your hands are busy feeding your baby.
Whatever you do, be present for your toddler during feeds. This can be as simple as being near them chatting or letting them snuggle up beside you while you read a book together. If you can find ways to include your toddler or older child they won’t feel so alone during feed times and they won’t feel as resentful of the new baby taking up your arms and your time.
Explain when you will be available
No matter how much you plan or how hard you try there will be times when both children need your attention at exactly the same time. Instead of getting flustered explain to your toddler when you will be available and give him or her a timeframe for how long they will have to wait. Explain that you can’t play in the garden while you’re feeding the baby but in 15 minutes you will be all theirs.
Stop striving for perfection
Don’t aim for perfection. If you can accept that ‘pretty good’ is good enough that will go a long way to saving your sanity. You can’t do everything at once and sometimes you have to choose to let the little things go.
Keep up your toddler’s usual routine
If you can, keep up your oldest child’s usual routine so they don’t feel like their life has changed entirely since the arrival of a new baby. If your toddler goes to a playgroup, nursery or activity groups let them go as usual. While you get to grips with doing the routine with a newborn baby in tow ask other parents to help you with drop offs and picks ups. Parents can often share stories about how the arrival of a new baby can affect your firstborn and what you can do to minimise and cope with sibling rivalry.
When it feels like you’re being spread too thin
Both your baby and your toddler demand your time in different ways and you will also want to find time to bond with your baby AND to be with your toddler. It’s easy to feel like you are being spread too thinly. One way to redress the balance is to make one on one time for both. When your baby sleeps forget the housework and spend time playing with your toddler and enjoying chatting and giggling together like you did before. When your baby is awake set up opportunities for your toddler to play independently so that you can spend time with your baby. You could set up a little tent and pop in cosy cushions and books and toys or set up a nice quiet (and easy) craft activity on a low table. Encourage and praise your older child for playing independently and slowly you will find ways to give enough to everyone.
Again – even if you are on your own for lots of the time you’re not doing this whole parenting thing alone. Your partner, mum or friend can spend time with the baby while you take your toddler to the park or they can take your toddler to feed the ducks while you cuddle your baby.
It’s also super important to make time for YOU
It’s easier said than done but this is so important for your own physical and mental health and the happier and stronger you are, the better parent you’ll be. In amongst all the busyness and chaos of life, try to carve out regular time to rest and recharge your batteries. If you’re at home with your baby and your toddler all day then build in quiet times when your baby sleeps. Snuggle up on the sofa with your eldest and read books or set them up with a lovely quiet activity while you lie on the sofa. Snatch up any times when both babies are sleeping to snooze yourself (forget the washing up!). And lean on your partner, your mum, sister or friends to help you create little pockets of time just for you. Even having half an hour me-time can make the world of difference.