Managing Life With Two Kids
Life with a Toddler & Newborn
I spent my entire second pregnancy waffling between forgetting I was pregnant in the first place and praying to the gods of who-knows-what for the day when I just wouldn’t be pregnant anymore. And somehow, in the process of those long (or were they short?) months, I never once considered how, exactly, I was going to manage two kids.
Well, from the other side of the fence, we can safely tell you that (barring any unforeseen medical/health situations), taking care of your second baby is easier… because you’ve done the whole newborn thing before. You know how to use a carrier, set up a car seat, and deploy a stroller from the trunk of your car in seconds. You know what works for you and what doesn’t; you know what you’ll (try to) do exactly the same and what you’ll want to change. You’re a veteran by now, and that should bring you confidence.
But it will also take some time to get into your groove as a mom of 2. Even though you’ve been there, done that, doing it with another kiddo tagging along is totally different. Which means you’ll be learning again, anew, no matter how long or short it’s been. SO many of our best tricks with the first are completely useless with #2, and vice versa. (A few do carry over, don’t worry.)
See also: Gearing up for Baby #2
Consider this your one-stop shop for tips and tricks on life with two tiny humans — feel free to skip around at will – or read it straight through.
Most breastfeeding articles and tips are directed towards first-time moms (understandably), because that’s when moms have the most to learn. (If it’s been a while, you may want a quick refresher on breastfeeding.)
If you mastered the breastfeeding thing the first time around (kudos!!), you will likely be able to pick up where you left off and have smooth sailing from there on out. Overall, breastfeeding the second time around is usually a more positive, less stressful experience. You know what to expect — the pain, the cluster feeds, the positions that work for you, the whole body-on-demand-24/7 thing…
But just because you know the drill doesn’t mean that your brand new baby does. And it can be difficult to be patient while s/he gets the hang of breastfeeding, especially if things aren’t coming as naturally as they did the first time around. Trying to reset your expectations can help a little — we know, we know… it’s easier said than done.
If you tried to nurse #1 and it didn’t go your way (or maybe you didn’t attempt it or weren’t able to nurse at all), the good news is that you can hit the reset button and try again. Many moms who didn’t breastfeed the first time find they are better able to nurse a second (or more) baby when they have some confidence and experience under their belt.
Remember that if you encounter more serious and lingering breastfeeding challenges, like a tongue tie, a stubborn bad latch, or clogged ducts, ask for help! Lactation consultants are invaluable resources to get you on the right path in your nursing journey — whether it’s your first, second, or fifth baby.
Like everything else with baby #2, one of the biggest challenges is working around your older child. Breastfeeding with a universally-curious, handsy, older kiddo who’s constantly checking in on all the action can sometimes feel like a competitive sport.
Yes: your firstborn will probably ask every imaginable question about breastfeeding and breast milk. He may even ask for a taste! (“If you give a mouse a cookie…”) Just roll with it — at some point or another, you’ll probably get a good laugh out of it.
Like this, from a friend: “My son started pretend breastfeeding a baby stuffed polar bear every time I sat down to nurse.”
If you’re still nursing your firstborn, don’t be surprised if she abruptly stops nursing when the baby is born. Many toddlers wean right around that time. Otherwise, many women are able to tandem feed both kiddos. If you choose to go that route, prepare your toddler and let her know she’ll now have company.
For the first couple of days after the birth, make sure to nurse the baby first so she has dibs on your colostrum, which is high in immune properties and essential to prepare baby’s digestive tract for the milk to come. After your milk comes in, you can nurse in whichever order, but make sure to give unrestricted breast access to your newborn.
Remember, too: more nursing means more milk… which could lead to oversupply. If this becomes an issue, Kellymom has some excellent suggestions for how to regulate your supply.
Tips for Nursing Baby #2… with Baby #1 around
- Have some interesting, NEW, interactive toys for your older kid to play with. (Some crowd favorites include train sets, Legos, magnetic tiles, trucks, doll houses, playdoh, etc.) You can even keep these items stashed away unless you’re nursing, so the toys are all that much more desirable when it’s go time.
- Accept that you won’t have anything close to peace or quiet while nursing.
- Don’t obsess over the need to make every nursing session about bonding time — take it where you can, but embrace the chaos that is your new life (because it’s not going anywhere).
- Try to get in a nursing session first thing in the AM before your older child wakes up (or you could go for the same thing in the evening, just after bedtime).
- Try turning pumping sessions into “special time” with your older child — while you pump (and after you put baby in a safe place), the two of you can snuggle up in a special spot to chat, listen to quiet music, look at books or pictures, or watch a show.
- If you’re bottle-feeding, you can try to get your older child involved with helping to feed the baby. She can be the “special bottle carrier,” “snuggler,” or even actually feed the baby a bottle if she’s old enough.
- Finally, remember to practice self-care. Nursing demands extra calories, for example (and moms who are tandem breastfeeding will need even more). So as much as you can, eat a healthy, balanced diet and drink enough fluids to stay hydrated. And get the support you need, whether it’s from your pediatrician (you should definitely let your children’s doctor know that you plan to tandem nurse), family and friends, or a lactation consultant.
Don’t Feel Guilty!!
For whatever reason, when I had my second child, I felt extremely guilty and found myself sneaking around to nurse, snuggle the baby, etc (CRAZY, right???). I felt like I somehow had to remain loyal to my firstborn and keep pretending like she was the only one (what kind of crazy thinking is that? Seriously.). Therefore, if you are prone to guilt (brought up in the Catholic church, you have a Jewish mother or whatnot – HA), please know that you should not feel guilty about giving your firstborn sibling(s).
Think about it: for the vast majority of human history (the last 200,000 years, minus the last 100 years or so), most women had 5+ children (the survival rate wasn’t great and there was no birth control, yada yada), but this was normal! Let’s not set up our firstborns for a lifetime of entitlement.
It’s funny because now I’m like, “I created a best friend for you: you’re welcome!”~Meg
As if getting one child to sleep isn’t hard enough… getting two to sleep through the night? Oooph.
Let’s just say it can be… challenging. And exhausting. You may find that your once-upon-a-time sleep-trained toddler begins regressing into waking up multiple times a night. Or you may simply have a hard time coordinating both sleep schedules. After all, your tot will be busy with all sorts of activities, while your newborn’s life basically revolves around boobs and sleep.
Juggling two sleep schedules may feel insane, but keep in mind that the struggle is only temporary. It’ll wear off in about 18 years. Hah!
But seriously: take some solace in the fact that, at some point, your little ones’ sleep schedules should eventually sync up (especially if they’re close in age).
In the meantime, know that this is an area where the adage “different strokes for different folks” is SO applicable. Every family has a different story about trying to make sleep happen. And it’s important to make peace with the fact that a new baby can justifiably be disruptive to everyone’s sleep — not just your own. It’s a huge change.
A quick refresher: naps are easy at first because the average newborn sleeps 14-16 hours a day and can and will fall asleep… wherever. Pretty much around the clock. Eventually, her sleep will consolidate down to three, and eventually two, naps. This is where it gets a little trickier.
- Even if you were a professed zealot about naptime with your firstborn (I know I was: “thou shalt not disturb naptime.”), it’s helpful if you can be a little more relaxed with your second — she may fall asleep on the way to/from day care or art group or a picnic lunch, in your carrier, etc. It’s OK. The world will keep spinning.
- Especially for the first trimester, it’s SO helpful to have a portable newborn bassinet you can move around the house.
- If your toddler still naps, try to overlap at least one nap (or a portion of it) between your baby and toddler’s schedule. This will allow you to have some alone time to either recharge or take care of things around the house (you know, like the good ol’ days of parenting only one child!). When you get multiple children down for a nap at or around the same time…. There is no greater sense of accomplishment in this world!
- If you don’t score the double nap, maybe you embrace the alternating nap schedule. Brit’s kids were on exact opposite nap schedules for a few months (baby to sleep 10-12, toddler to sleep 12:30-3, baby to sleep 3-4:30…), and in some ways it was a pain (can we EVER leave the house?!), but it was also fun to just lean into it and enjoy the fact that there was only one kid at a time to take care of most of the day. Hah!
- If everyone’s boycotting naptime, sometimes a long walk can diffuse the situation. (Check out our favorite double strollers.)
Do NOT give up on investing time to lay the foundations for good sleep with your baby: put him down drowsy but awake, keep a schedule/routine, eliminate “sleep crutches,” etc. You will thank yourself later for all your hard work.
Household Logistics: Getting Out and About, Making it Through Mornings, & TCOB
Getting out of the house with two is… different. I remember a very pregnant friend seeing me schlep both my kids into day care one morning, bogged down with their backpacks and lunch bags and diapers and nap bags, and she asked me, desperately: “how do you do that? How do you go anywhere with both of them?” (Cue our twins parents, laughing.)
Here’s the honest answer: I have no idea.
Getting around with two just sort of… happens. And it will for you, too — there’s no one right or best way to get out of the house, or into the grocery store, or up and down the stairs for that matter. This depends on where you live, the weather, your kid’s ages, etc. So instead of telling you how to do it (because you will, we promise), here are some strategies for managing a toddler and a newborn that worked for us and our peeps:
- *Plan for everything to take longer than you think. At least twice as long. (Sorry.)
- If you have a private driveway, you can situate your baby in the car seat inside, then bring your kids out to the car one by one.
- Use your baby carrier and go about your day like normal! It’s a lifesaver, promise.
- Consider a stroller system to help you get out the door with two (or three!) — this is especially helpful if you’re in an apartment building (even more so if there’s an elevator involved).
- Prep as much as you can ahead of time (when one/both kids are sleeping, ideally). For mornings, we all swear by getting things set up the night before: select kids’ clothes, lay out your own clothes, fill water bottles, pack lunches, set out breakfast ingredients, stock the diaper bag, pack your work bag, set out the stroller or carrier by the door, etc. Having everything where you need it will be a lifesaver, plus it will have the added benefit of freeing you up to focus on your kids (and maybe even squeeze in a shower before the kids wake up!).
- When I was working in an office, I would get up well before my kids (painful, but I was always so happy to have done it) so I could tidy up (if I hadn’t the night before), shower and get dressed in peace, and I would wear a full-length robe over my outfit until we walked out the door so I didn’t have to worry
ifwhen I got yogurt/spit-up/peanut butter/banana/diaper cream smeared all over me.
- If you don’t have a “leaving the house” routine, partner up with your older child to make one.
- This sounds overly-simplistic, but I found that telling my older child what was going to happen the next morning, and what I expected of him, had such a huge influence! Since he didn’t understand the calendar or time, and was enrolled in different day care centers on different days of the week, he loved knowing where he was going and when ahead of time. In general, he’d wake up more excited (and complicit) than when he felt left in the dark.
One fun hack is to pick a “time to go” song your child knows and loves that you can play when it’s time to leave the house. (Editor’s pick: Hakuna Matata :))
- If/when you’re on your own, wear the baby while you’re getting sh*t done around the house — Charlène would wear her second (in either her carrier or the ring sling when he was a little older) while she tidied up the house, vacuumed, or prepped dinner.
- Enlist the help of your older child! Toddlers and young children LOVE being helpers (and it’s good for them, too!), so you might be surprised at how willingly your firstborn agrees to carry something to the car, fetch the baby’s pacifier off the counter, or even help with actual cleaning.
- Consider implementing some sort of reward system for your older child to praise him for a job well done — you can use gold stars, stickers, marbles in a jar, whatever you like. These kinds of simple reward systems are super popular with little kids and a surprisingly-effective motivator.
- Have EASY breakfast options around to streamline the mornings — don’t kill yourself trying to dish up five-star meals at every sitting. (I like to pick one meal everyday where I “try” — the other two, I cut myself some slack. Oatmeal? Scrambled eggs? Canned beans? Perfect.)
- As with bedtime, if you have a partner who’s around in the mornings, share the work of parenting in the AM — you can each “take” a child, or you can divide up certain tasks, like serving breakfast or changing clothes. Even a little help can go a long way — if my husband has to leave for work before the real “grind” starts, even having him bring the kids’ backpacks and lunch boxes out to the car makes walking out the door easier.
We’re not gonna lie: many firstborn’s experience behavioral changes in the weeks and months after a new baby comes home — things like jealousy, increased tantrums, violence towards you or the baby, or sleep and potty regressions. (This isn’t universally true, so if your older child is happy as a clam about the addition, good for you! Savor that!)
Common parenting wisdom would advise you to deal with such misbehavior with time outs or tough love — after all, your big kid will have to learn how to make room, right?
In reality, these responses can sometimes make matters worse when the underlying factor is a new sibling.
First, a dose of empathy: your oldest child’s universe has just been upended. Is it that unreasonable that he may have a hard time adapting? (Aren’t you, after all?) His “bad behavior” may just be his best attempts to communicate that he’s confused or hurt.
You can refer to our discipline series to manage temper tantrums and other conventional “naughty” behaviors, but if you notice changes in your older child’s behavior that are conspicuously timed with the arrival of his new sibling, you’re probably best to take a different tack.
Finding time for yourself after you become a parent is hard. I’ll be honest: it’s even harder after having baby number 2. But here’s the deal: it’s still equally — if not more — important.
If you’re not taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of your kids. YOU ARE YOUR TOP PRIORITY, and are as important as anyone else in the world (yep, even your kiddos!). Remember that, preach it, and shoo away any nagging feelings of guilt or shame that may be associated with it. Just because you’re a mom of two (or more) now doesn’t mean YOU and your needs don’t matter. Quite the opposite. Your kids NEED you to be sane. Read also: Surviving Postpartum Depression Twice.
You don’t have a ton of time, I get it. I know. But that’s okay. Self-care doesn’t have to be a full luxury day at the spa or cost a small fortune (but if it is: awesome! That’s what babysitters are for!). Perhaps it’s five minutes of deep breathing first thing in the morning, a delicious bubble bath or warm shower every night, a piping hot cup of coffee to start your day, a Target or grocery run all by yourself, a fun workout, a night IN with no screaming kids (yes, your partner or baby-sitter IS capable of putting the kids to bed on his/her own!), etc.
Self-care looks different for everyone — what’s relaxing and fulfilling for some isn’t for others. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something. Without guilt. Or hesitation. Prioritize yourself just as you would your children.
Which takes us to our next point…
Ask others for help.
In order to take care of yourself, you’re going to need a solid support system. In the age of COVID, that may look slightly different that the normal enlisting of family members, close friends, postpartum doulas, and/or babysitters. (This sucks, we know.) But people can pitch in in other ways — bringing groceries, diapers, etc.
Taking care of two kids — and juggling all the responsibilities that go along with that — is hard. Ask for help when you need it! Do whatever you can to make life easier on yourself and don’t look back.
As time passes, you’ll get into the rhythm of having two (or more) kids, and everything that seemed impossible at first will become your new second nature (we promise!). Having two children may feel strange and overwhelming at the beginning, but life with two will slowly become your new normal, just like having your first kid once did.
(Remember when you had no kids at all, and you had all the time in the world to do whatever you wanted? Like watch hours and hours of Project Runway reruns? No? Me neither! Though I think I almost remember sleeping past 6 am… )
Soon, it will be crazy to think your family ever existed without baby number 2. In the meantime, take it easy on yourself. If the kids are fed, (mostly) bathed, and (mostly) clothed you’re doing great!
Hello! It’s 2:30am here in the Philippines and I just wanted to say thank you very much for this beautiful article! ❤
I love reading about motherhood specially now that I have a 3 year old very smart and handsome son like his Dad! And a beautiful 1 and a half year old daughter, of course! – Looking exactly as her Dad, too!❤
I found this article a great help!
Thank you and more power!
Sending virtual hugs and kisses!
It’s so hard to do self care when there’s a pandemic and you can’t ask for help bc it’s too risky to have anyone on your house 🙁
Currently crying. Lol thank you for this.. my daughter is 6 and my son is 1 and I’m struggling with spreading my love, time, and energy between them and my husband! Forget me! I’m just praying it gets better I pour my all into them ❤️ Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, they were right on time for me!