Having your second baby can be so much easier than the first time around. Most of the shock-factor has gone, and you can feel more in control of what happens around birth and breastfeeding. You’re also equipped with the added confidence you have managed this far with your first child, despite all of the ups and downs.
The reality is, you are still parenting your first child for the first time and now you have thrown a whole new challenge into the mix: a brand new sibling. Juggling the needs of a brand new baby, as well as your toddlers and your own needs as a new parent needs a toolbox of its own.
To help you with the radical adjustment of welcoming baby #2 (with a toddler who’s about to become a big brother or sister!), here are 7 tricks for your parenting toolbox:
#1: Pre-Prepare Activities For Times When The Baby Is Feeding
Getting back into the reality of 8-12 feeds in 24 hours is one thing; doing so with a small child who still needs lots of parent-direction is another!
While you fondly recall days spent reading, watching DVDs or browsing on your phone or tablet while feeding your first child, your time while feeding this new baby will probably be focused on entertaining the previous one!
Choose toys and activities that can be done by your side, don’t require preparation, make minimal mess and won’t distract the feeding baby. Putting together a collection of new treasures and old favourites means you can dip into it each day without having to think too much.
Here are some ideas and inspirations:
- Finger puppets – simple felt puppets are inexpensive, take up little space and can be held by children who are not yet able to pop them on their finger. Favourite stories and rhymes can be acted out, and new ones created as your child’s imagination develops.
- Magic slate drawing – the last thing you want to be worrying about is markers without lids, pencils needing sharpening and finding bits of crayon wrapper spread around the house! But doodling away is a great time filler and is something you can do together. A magic slate drawing board, with a stylus and erasing tool, is great for little ones who are making their first first marks, right through to toddlers who are creating early drawings.
- Felt boards – simple felt cutouts on a board can be arranged to make shapes, tell stories and create scenes. To make it portable, use a single piece of felt as a background, and pop it (with a few shapes) into an empty wipes case. You can take it along to appointments and other places you may need to keep your toddler busy.
- Books – if you haven’t yet joined the local library, now is the time. Regular visits offer an easy, simple outing. You can also bring home a stack of books to share. Combined with your existing collection, this makes feed times story-time for both children. The baby will enjoy the sound and rhythm of your voice and your toddler will enjoy the pictures and simple stories.
- Food and drink – expect that your toddler will want a drink and snack each time you feed, so prepare something before a feed. A snack plate you can share also means you get to eat! Regular snacks can be easier than meals some days. Pack a lunchbox for each of you, even when you're staying home all day. This is one way your partner or other helpers can make your day easier, by doing it for you. Fruits and vegies ready peeled and cut into pieces, cheese and crackers, dried fruit, small sandwiches, yoghurt pouches or tubs etc. can be selected from at each feed, and put back in the fridge once everyone has eaten. Several of your toddler’s favourite cups can be filled with water in the morning (or the night before) so you don’t have to keep getting up for refills. Don't forget your drink bottles too! You can share a snack and hydration station close to where you feed. Here are some more snack ideas for breastfeeding mothers.
#2: Give Your First Born A Baby Of Their Own
All big brothers and sisters enjoy a baby doll they can use to explore the life of their new sibling. Eyes can be poked, arms pulled and clothes pulled off without retribution, and cuddles are freely available whenever desired.
Choose a doll small enough to snuggle, ideally with a soft-body (and get a second, water-friendly baby for bath-time!). Provide doll-sized versions of the things your toddler sees you use most of the time: baby carriers, prams, cots etc. If you aren’t breastfeeding, a doll’s bottle can be fun. If you are breastfeeding, don’t be surprised when shirts are raised and dolls are put to your toddler's chest for quick feeds – children learn what they see! If you are pumping your milk, you might find your little one copying that too!
Some fathers worry about their son playing with such traditional female toys. Darren Mattock, Founder of Becoming Dad, an online community for expectant and new dads, says, “This can challenge a father’s concept of masculinity and trigger fears and concerns about the vision he holds for the man his son is going to become. However, as modern dads begin to embrace their own desire and capacity to be a ‘nurturer’ and reap the rewards of ‘providing’ in this way, many are now actively encouraging their sons to follow their lead.”
BellyBelly has a list of 7 great books to help prepare your child for a new baby. Or alternately, you could collect some simple books about babies from the library. There are many which show a baby’s typical day, the things they use and the activities they do. Talking about what babies can’t do is of great importance to a grown up toddler who can. So make sure you point those things out too!
#3: Avoid Big Changes
As your toddler grows, there are lots of changes to deal with. Try not to time any of these around the time before or after the new baby arrives. Moving from a cot to a big bed, toilet training, starting or changing daycare etc. All of these things can all be disruptive enough without the added stress of a new baby in the house. If you haven’t made the changes a few months before your due date, postpone them until a few months after.
#4: Back To Babyhood
Just when your toddler seems so grown up and independent, everything can go backwards when a new baby arrives. Don’t be surprised if toilet training is undone, sleeping interrupted, dummies or bottles requested, fussy eating begins or behavior declines.
Small children can be stressed by the changes that occur with a new baby, just as adults can. Regressing back to a less mature age is common, though temporary. Try to accept this without making a fuss, and you will soon see your child advance again as he adjusts. Learn more about toddler regression here.
#5: Spending Time Together
The incoming baby is going to have a major impact on the one-on-one time your toddler has been used to all her life. Therefore, doing as much as you can to maintain familiar activities is important.
Babywearing is a great way to give your new baby the closeness and care that he needs, while giving your older child your (almost) full attention. A safe, comfortable baby carrier will leave your hands free to push a swing, take part in playgroup or generally play with your child. Maintaining these familiar shared activities is important for both of you.
#6: Role Playing Games
Older toddlers and preschoolers will expand on role playing with dolls’ houses, playsets and dress-up play. Don’t be surprised if the toys behave with negativity about babies, or if your child expresses feelings of displeasure with the new member of the family. This helps them to process some of the changes in their life.
#7: Helping With The Baby
Initially, it may seem more efficient for you to just do what you need to do in order to care for your baby and parent your toddler. However, involving your toddler in the day-to-day care of your baby is important, and will ultimately make life — and parenting — easier. Bath-time, nappy changing, pushing the pram, talking to baby and lots of cuddles are ways you and your toddler can work as a team, to care for baby and strengthen the bond between you all.
Before you know it, your newborn will be playing alongside her older brother or sister, and a new rhythm to your day will have replaced the old. By allowing time for everyone’s needs, the adjustment will be easier for everyone.