How to juggle a toddler and a newborn
It’s early days with your newborn baby, the ultimate time-waster, you could spend all day staring and cuddling.
But wait, what’s that noise in your ear? Oh that’s right, you have a toddler you need to love, feed, clean and play with too!
Having a newborn and a toddler is a completely mind-blowing experience in every way, a once fairly easy day is blown apart and the family dynamic that you knew is completely changed. Not necessarily in a bad way, though. The lack of spare hands, free time and visible bench space can be a blessing in disguise. You suddenly realize there’s two little people who love you so much they just want to be in your face all day long, so you may as well slow down, sit down and get amongst it.
If you did nothing all day but change nappies, play and make sure everyone was fed for the first four weeks, I’d say you’d be doing fine. As it is, we always think we need to be doing so much more.
I found that the best way to adjust to the upheaval of my days and nights and push away the guilt of not doing ‘enough’ was to break it down to what was really necessary: to eat, sleep, clean, bathe, love, and play.
1. Hunting and Gathering
You need to feed yourself and your children. Maybe your partner too, this is optional, though, sometimes they just have to fend for themselves at this stage. In order to continue this eating ritual, you may need to shop. Bravo if you have family or friends that you’ve roped into doing the groceries for you or if you’re in town, you can enjoy the option of home delivery from your supermarket. I was lucky enough to be able to take advantage of my kind, loving parents living right next door, so it wasn’t until cabin fever set in that I sucked up the courage to grocery shop with two small children. Turns out, it wasn’t too bad!
2. The Logistics
I made sure I timed it so that everyone was fed before we left, then fed our toddler more food on our 20 minutes of driving into town, then gave him a punnet of cherry tomatoes to consume in the trolley. Snacks are my best friend when shopping. I have a baby carrier, so I was able to breastfeed all around the supermarket (one hand holding up a heavy breast, one hand steering the trolley) so we didn’t have to stop. Once we got to the car, I put our toddler in his seat to watch a DVD, changed baby’s nappy (and toddler at that time if needed) then baby in seat, groceries in car and back home. Phew. Relief, I tell you!
3. Location, Location
I love Aldi. No doubt about it, it’s my grocery destination, but I did tend to shop somewhere that had a parent’s room pretty close by for a little while until I found my feet with juggling a newbie and toddler. I have a change station set up in the back of the car, but it’s just easier if one of your tiny friends has a poop explosion and you need to do some serious cleaning up. It’s nice to then sit, feed bub, let your big kiddo watch some telly and just have a chill out before venturing out to finish up. Once you get it home, the pantry shopping may sit on the floor in front of said pantry for a few days until finally, you stop eating straight from the shopping bag and have time to unpack properly. This is normal.
4. The Menu
Toddlers have a built-in hunger alarm that goes off the very moment you get comfy feeding your new baby. I mean every single time. Make an easy-to-reach shelf in your fridge for bottles of water and the same in your cupboard for snacks that your toddler can reach and bring to you to share. It will save you having to get up while feeding. Simplify your meals so that you’re not hovering over a hot stove in the afternoon, it’s a much better time for some outside playtime to use up stored energy in your big kid! Most toddlers will be thrilled with easy to eat things like ham, tomatoes, cheese, toasted sandwiches, sausages, spaghetti (yes, we use the tinned sort too) and pretty much any form of chicken whether it is a ball, nugget or stick. Try not to stress over their every meal, look at their intake over the week. If the fruit and vegetables are running out and the fish fingers are full, you’re winning. If the broccoli is wilting and the nuggets are empty, you’ve had a normal newborn/toddler week.
5. Sleeping Beauties
How you get two children to sleep at the same time had me absolutely mystified. I had to do one at a time. Breastfeeding my toddler and baby overlapped for eight weeks, so while they were both happy to feed to sleep, I used that as much as I could as it was quick and easy for day sleeps. Until that one day, of course, that no one seemed to settle well and we all ended up in the same bed together, trying to get a baby to sleep while I rubbed a toddler-sized back at the same time!
Mostly, settling your newborn first is the way to go. It gives you more time to spend reading a story or having a cuddle with your toddler and helping them get to sleep, rather than rushing off to calm the cries of a baby who realises you’re not within reach. Some lucky parents have kids who they can just pop into their beds and they happily have a little chat to themselves before they drift off blissfully to sleep. I’ve seen these kids riding unicorns in a fairy forest not far from here. Ok, ok, they do exist, but their parents and I aren’t friends.
6. Your chance for you.
Getting kids to have enough sleep is really important, not just for their temperament, but for their learning and growth. You getting enough sleep is equally as important. When both children are resting soundly, it can be so tempting to jump up, do some washing, clean the kitchen and fuss around like back in the days when you actually had time to spend on fussing.
It’s nice to have a clean home, but it’s also very nice to take some time for you. Be ‘selfish’, and leave the dishes, make a sandwich and eat it with two hands or have a steaming mug of tea. There’s also the option of quality TV catch up time or lay down and go to sleep too! The kids will let you know when it’s time to wake up, that’s for sure.
7. A happy mess!
When it comes to cleaning the house you need to remember back to the early days of your first newborn, when you learnt to drop your household hygiene standards down a peg, well, now you need to go back there and drop them a few more pegs. Just for a while anyway, until about when the kids move out, by then, you’re probably going to be well past caring. Look at what is absolutely necessary, stack the dishwasher, disinfect the loo, pop on some washing.
A very smart midwife told me, ‘If it’s not done by lunchtime, it’s not getting done’. I like to live by that still!
It gets a bit depressing for you if you constantly pick up toys all day and toddlers get absolutely miffed that you’re undoing all their hard work, best just do one pick up at night after everyone is in bed. If you pass-out putting them to bed, the mess will dutifully be waiting there tomorrow, don’t stress.
8. Bath time
Most people find using a baby bath for their tiny infant works best for a while, I’d agree with that for us, though some might just go straight to bathing both (or all) kids together. If you have a little dirt-loving adventurer toddler like us, bathing them separate until bub is a bit bigger might be wise.
Once we did start using the big bath, it was a lot of fun and less time consuming, the same for showering all together, we just made sure we set up properly first. A baby bouncer has always been a friend of mine in the bathroom, even if it was just somewhere to put bub down safely so he could see me while I brushed my teeth. If all was going well, I would get really busy with a hairbrush and moisturiser too!
9. Yes, shower everyone together!
For showers, the little one can be wrapped up nice and warm laying in the bouncer, ready for when you have had a minute or two in the shower to wash you and your toddler. Then, get your little one and give them some time under the warm shower while they cuddle into your chest. The soft water is like a gentle massage on their back. Make sure your water is, of course, a safe temperature and that the pressure isn’t hard.
Once you’re all done, wrap the newbie warmly again, pop them down in the bouncer and dry yourself and your toddler (who has been playing happily in the shower at your feet the whole time) then scoop up bub and dress them also.
Our newbie found it a bit fascinating watching us do things while he happily waited for his turn, he even fell asleep on me in the shower and then on the change table a couple of times! If you have everything ready to go, it’s not stressful at all.
10. Feel the love!
All the questions and fears that you had about whether or not you could ever love another child as much as you do your first are put to rest. Yes, you’re absolutely capable of that much love. Probably more, because all of your first round of baby memories come flooding back and suddenly you’re crying, your boobs are leaking and your husband starts nervously asking ‘Are you ok?’ Blubbering out a response of ‘I’m just so happy, I love them so much’ will leave him confused, but that’s ok, what’s new?
You will naturally want to spend time with each child separately. This might not always be easy. Be secure in the knowledge that neither of the kids will ‘miss out’ on any of your love, time or energy because of the other. It may just be a little different than what you’re used to and what you imagined it might be like. You can still read a story while nursing a baby, share a plate of fruit, go for walks or watch a show together. It’s a time that your toddler learns a little independence and quiet play time, if they haven’t already, which is very normal and very important.
This video will guide you the crucial emotional bridge needed to help you and toddler to communicate better.
Spending time thinking of your love for your children will help keep you focused, present and mindful of them and what’s really important during the times when you’re really tired and not feeling up for outside pressures. Their needs, your needs and your special bonding time as a family must come before any of the mundane chores or the outside world’s wants.
Take your time to hibernate!
Playtime is an essential part of a child’s day. Children learn through play and they learn even more when playing with a focused care-giver. That’s you. It’s ok that you have to bring a friend (who is probably attached to your chest) to the lego town event of the day, this new kid will have to be incorporated eventually to the game, so why not get your toddler used to their presence now? Lots of games, puzzles, building and drawing will keep your mind off the house and help your toddler adjust and cope with the new addition.
Get out of the house to the backyard in the morning or afternoon and make a huge sand castle with your toddler while your bub sleeps in a bouncer or rocker. Strap on a carrier or pad out a pram and go for a stroll, the exercise will give you a nice endorphin boost, not to mention a change from the four walls!
Tiny bodies of all ages get so much from fresh air and the great outdoors, including the need for a good night’s sleep, a benefit to everyone!
12. When you struggle to juggle…
This parenting gig is tough and sometimes a happy, messy, content home isn’t always what your day dishes out. There are reality check days when your newbie is a squealing, kicking little ball of gas that just won’t feed, settle, burp or fart and your toddler is fancying mirroring that behaviour because it seems to be getting lots of attention from Mummy.
13. Breathe deep, get your brave on and ask for help.
There were lots of offers for that help before and after your baby arrived and it would be just rude not to accept. People love to be needed. I know love to be needed and have my help asked for, who doesn’t? You will not be seen as a failure or that you can’t cope, on the contrary, it’s a responsible move. Someone to help hang out a load of washing, unpack the dishwasher or just hold the baby for a while or play with your toddler so you can wash your hair can make such a lot of difference to your mood.
14. Free your hands.
The mantra ‘This too shall pass’ saved me from a negative downward spiral more than once. You know what else did? A baby carrying device! Not all babies are in love with them but thank goodness, mine were! The ring sling and sleepy-wrap turned my wriggling squishy into a calm, suckling snuggle-puggle every single time and it instantly freed my hands up to care for my toddler or make dinner or whatever else I needed to do. I’m not giving it up anytime soon.
15. You are not alone.
If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t feel you have anyone to ask for help, rest assured there are avenues of assistance available in the community at all times. You can contact your hospital Midwives, Child Health Nurse, Australian Breastfeeding Association group (whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, they don’t mind!) or Playgroup to name a few.
Meeting other parents, giving your children something different to do and just having a cuppa with another adult can give you a normality fix and it’s likely all the other parents will be there doing pretty much the same thing!
Please also remember that if you really aren’t coping well or feel like you are just going to snap, make sure your baby and toddler are in a safe place in the house, pick up the phone and call Lifeline on 13 11
14. They are always there to help.
Have you got any great tips for juggling a toddler and a newborn?