Once you’ve coped with one baby, becoming a mum for the second time is a lot easier.
But you didn’t have a toddler pulling at your sleeve every five minutes with your first, so it does bring fresh challenges.
There’s 21 months between my two and my youngest is now eight months old. Those first six months were tough at times, but they were also a steep learning curve.
There are hacks to make life easier for you.
Here’s what I learned that could help you in those first six months with two children under two:
1. Plan what you will do with your toddler when you’re in labour and in the first few days
Have a relative or friend on standby to help and make sure you discuss the plan of action in advance. I have written more tips on introducing a toddler to a newborn sibling in a previous post.
2. Explain breastfeeding to your toddler
There’s no need to shy away from this issue. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Don’t worry about them not being able to understand, give them a little more credit.
When my toddler met her sister she was feeding from me. I momentarily panicked it would be weird for her, but she didn’t seem phased by it, just interested in the new baby.
I simply explained that her sister has milk from mum’s booby and she has milk from the fridge. She hasn’t freaked out over it at all.
3. Learn how to do several things at once
Learn how to breastfeed with one arm and read a book to your toddler with the other. If she feels left out when you’re feeding, it may cause a bit of resentment down the line.
I read somewhere a mum had been able to breastfeed her baby while changing her toddler’s nappy. No idea how she managed it but I wish she had uploaded a video so I could see the magic in action!
4. Accept every child is different
My first was a dream sleeper. My second is a nightmare.
You could go round in circles wondering what you did right the first time, or just accept that kids, like grown-ups, are all different. The same goes for what food the like, whether they want to be cuddled or not and what toys they’re interested in.
5. Have help in the early days
If you have family nearby, great. Enlist them to take your toddler our for walks and other activities so you can concentrate on the baby and getting some extra rest.
If your other half can take a bit of extra holiday from work around the early weeks, that would be great too.
6. Find ways for your eldest to help
My toddler was more excited about her baby sister when she got to be involved.
I would let her fetch the clean nappy from the shelf, or pick out her sister’s clothes for the day. I would ask her to pick out a toy her sister would like. She loved being praised for doing these things.
7. Make time for both children individually where you can
It’s tough when you’re feeling torn in two but you will feel better if you can give each child a bit of one-on-one time each day. Sometimes my husband would take our toddler out for a walk and left me with the baby, or vice versa.
8. Don’t stir sibling rivalry
When your hands are tied up with the baby because she’s done an epic up-the-back poo or she screams every time you dare stop rocking her in your arms, don’t tell your toddler.
It’s hard not to just explain why you’re busy at that moment, but if you repeatedly tell your toddler “I can’t because I’m looking after your sister,” she will start to associate losing your attention with her sibling.
Instead just say I can’t right now, I’ll be with you in a moment. I do slip up at times but try not to always blame the baby.
9. Try to implement a joint bedtime routine
This simply didn’t happen in the early weeks. My baby cried and cried all evening, as many babies do! I remember trying to out them both to bed when she was two weeks old and I was utterly frazzled by the end of it. Plus the baby wouldn’t go to sleep anyway.
Don’t fight it in the early weeks. I tried to force my baby to go to bed at 7pm. She just wasn’t having it. Those fussy evenings will end, so let her have a cuddle and accept the baby may not go down until well after 9pm in the early weeks.
Things started to get easier by around the 12-week mark and by five months bedtime was a much less tearful affair.
Now, both our kids go to bed at the same time with minimal fuss. I wrote about my joint bedtime routine in a previous post.
10. Get a double buggy
My Baby Jogger City Select has been worth its weight in gold. I couldn’t recommend it enough. It has multiple seat arrangement options, including carrycot/toddler seat or car seat/toddler seat. You can have the toddler and baby facing out or in, or each other.
The other option is a buggy board for your existing buggy.
11. Forget sharing
I stressed about this for a while until I realised a child of two knows nothing about sharing and so i need to stop labouring the point with her. All she sees is me sharing all her stuff out with her sister, which just upsets her.
I still remind her that sharing is more fun and try to encourage her to play with her sister rather than snatch from her, but I just feel she’s too young to really grasp this concept yet.
Also at less than six months, the baby is at the age where she doesn’t care what toy she has. Just distract her with something else.
12. Try to relax about night time crying
One of my big worries about having a newborn was if the crying would keep our toddler awake. Part of my worry was for selfish reasons, as I didn’t want to be dealing with two kids at 3am, but also I didn’t want my eldest feeling tired all day. I was particularly worried during nights before she had a busy day ahead, like going to nursery.
It just didn’t seem fair on her. Because of this I rushed to the baby whenever she stirred and for every little grumble.
I believe it is this that contributed to my youngest taking longer to self-soothe, although I do also think she’s just a completely different child with different sleeping habits.
Anyway, eventually I had to stop worrying about it. And, my eldest sleeps way heavier than I realised. I’ve never heard her stir in the night, but I found she would be more likely to wake when there was noise at about 5am. I guess her sleep is lighter at that time.
My advice is, try not to stress. If you can have them in rooms separated by a hallway rather than next to each great.
If, like me, you can’t then accept that the benefits of having a sibling far outweigh a few disturbed nights in the early months. The baby will sleep eventually. Mine has gone from waking three to four times a night to just once in recent weeks, fingers crossed!
13. Keep your eldest in nursery if you can
My eldest still goes to nursery two days a week. This has been a lifesaver for catching up on sleep and housework.
14. Build your daytime activities around your toddler’s routine
I like to get my toddler out every day, weather permitting, to places she enjoys. So my baby had to learn to nap in the buggy or in the car.
This has worked fine for me because I don’t have a rigid routine. There is a loose routine of sorts, but it doesn’t require all naps to be at home, which would have been very hard in the early days when baby was sleeping all the time.
15. Try using a sling
I never got on with slings. I tried a Baby Bjorn and a fabric one, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with them.
But I have friends and family who have sworn by them. It means you’re handsfree to play with your toddler, both indoors and outdoors, and your baby is often more likely to nod off when being held.
16. Wean wisely
When I began thinking about weaning at six months I worried about the extra cooking when I already felt under pressure over keeping on top of things.
Planning is your best way to keep things under control. So I made a list of the first foods I wanted my baby to try (mango, banana, potato, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, peas) and made sure all those things were incorporated in meals for the rest of the family.
Then when I cooked a roast dinner, for example, I did a few extra bits of broccoli and chucked them in the food processor before serving to the baby.
I also do a lot of batch cooking, so when I make a spaghetti Bolognese for us I always make it with no added salt and then purée the leftovers for freezing.
17. Save and share clothes
I packed my eldest daughter’s clothes away in vacuum sealed bags in the loft. I’m so glad I did, as they’re all being used by my baby now.
I just regret not organising the clothes by size. If I could do it all again, I would put the different sizes in their own extra large freezer bags inside the vacuum sealed storage bag.
That way I could find the next batch of clothes as my baby grew much quicker.
18. Always have the changing bag ready to go
Any delay to getting out of the door when she knows we’re going out stresses my toddler out. She wants to be out immediately.
Make life easier on yourself and your eardrums by packing the changing bag (and lunch while you’re at it) the night before or first thing when you get up.
19. The fox, the chicken and the bag of grain
You know that fable where the farmer has to cross the river with these three in his boat, but he can only take one at a time and certain things can’t be left alone with each other? Sometimes that’s how it feels with two small kids.
Do I leave the baby in the car while I get the toddler indoors? Do I carry the baby upstairs first then come back down to help the toddler, even though the baby will be screaming on her own upstairs while she’s waiting.
There’s no ideal answer, just work it out as you go. Eventually you settle into a system that works for you.
20. Remember that it won’t always feel so chaotic
In many ways my second baby was easier but at times things have been totally manic and I’ve wanted to tear my hair out.
But the baby has gradually become less clingy and the cluster feeds tapered off. It takes a while for things to settle down, but they do.
21. Don’t beat yourself up over a hard day
Get through each day as it comes. Don’t be hard on yourself if you snapped at your toddler or had to leave the baby wailing for 10 minutes so you could cook dinner.
You only have one pair of hands, you’re doing your best and your kids will be just fine if they have to wait an extra five minutes.
Do you have any tips for handling two kids under two? Also if you have any questions I would be happy to answer them.