If you already have your hands full with a rambunctious toddler, then discovering you are pregnant with your second child may be met with mixed feelings of both excitement and trepidation. This is perfectly understandable, as looking after one busy toddler is hard work and you are probably wondering how you will be able to manage when your new baby arrives. However, there are ways you can make it easier for yourself, starting with before your second baby is born.
Before the Birth – Preparing Your Toddler
Your toddler is probably going to find the arrival of their new sibling very difficult. Suddenly they no longer have your undivided attention, and it’s more likely their needs will be second to that of your baby during the early days as you try to establish feeding and sleep routines. Whilst some children are incredibly resilient and adapt very well to the changes, most parents report that their toddlers had some difficult behaviours during those early weeks. Temper tantrums, disrupted sleep, and potty mishaps are normal and to be expected, as your toddler fights for your attention.
You can help minimise this behaviour by preparing your toddler before you give birth. It’s best to wait until after the 20-week scan (when you will find out if there are any complications) before you start to discuss the new baby with your toddler. Depending on his or her age, your child may not understand fully what is happening, but they will still pick up on the changes in your behaviour, such as your tiredness or reluctance to pick him or her up. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep talking to your child regularly about what is happening. You could show your child pictures of them as a baby and explain how they were once in your tummy (though be prepared for some awkward follow up questions!) or read a story about a child who gets a new sibling, such as “Waiting For Baby” by Rachel Fuller.
If your toddler loves helping, you could explain how when your baby is born you will need his or her help, such as with bathing and nappy changes. Alternatively, if your toddler is fond of a particular activity, you could suggest that he or she will be able to teach the baby how it is done, such as playing a particular game or painting a picture. However, make sure that you don’t raise your toddler’s expectations too much, as they will need to understand that for the first few months your baby will be too small to play with.
If you have family coming to help during and after the birth, make sure your toddler is familiar and comfortable with them, especially if the family live far away and don’t regularly see your child. That way your toddler will be happy for another family member to look after them, take them to the toilet, give them food, etc., whilst you are feeding the new-born.
Finally, whilst you may be exhausted and suffering other pregnancy related ailments, try and spend some quality time with your toddler, doing special activities, giving them lots of reassurance about how much you love them. This will boost their confidence and help them to better cope with the changes that are coming.
Before the Birth – Practical Ideas
You can make meal times post-labour easier for yourself by cooking a few meals in advance and storing them in the freezer. Dishes such as lasagne, stew, and curry freeze well and you can throw in plenty of vegetables to make them extra nutritious. Look for plastic containers that are both freezer and microwave safe to store the dishes in. If you don’t want to spend hours cooking, then consider making extra portions when you make your normal meals and freezing these instead.
You have probably packed a hospital bag, but what about a bag for your toddler? He or she may end up at a friend or relative’s house in the middle of the night, or in the worst case scenario, in a waiting area with your partner whilst you give birth on the ward, so it’s a good idea to be prepared for that possibility. Items you could pack include:
- A full change of clothes
- A pair of pyjamas
- Nappies / Pull Ups if appropriate
- A list of emergency contact numbers
- A small amount of money for snacks / meals, etc.
- A set of spare keys to your house in case your toddler’s carer needs access for any reason
- A few books, toys, colouring pencils, etc. to keep your toddler occupied
- Some snacks and a drink
You will need to have a plan for what happens to your toddler during your labour. It is unlikely that your child will be allowed onto the labour ward, so alternative childcare arrangements will be needed. It’s a good idea to have several people on standby, ready to care for your child once you go into hospital, in case your first choice of person is unavailable for any reason. If you live in an area far from your family, then talk to your friends about whether they would be available to help. If you don’t know anyone in your area, then now is a good time to start going to parent and toddler groups with your child to get to know other mums who may be able to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – you will be surprised at how many people are willing to assist knowing that it is a one-off situation.
Alternatively, look at hiring a Doula who can help you in early labour and then look after your child once you go into hospital. Visit doula.org for more information about the benefits of having a Doula and the ways that they can support you.
If your child has a good level of understanding, then explain to them in the weeks leading up to your due date that you will need to visit the hospital when it’s time for the baby to come out of your tummy, and that your family member, friend, etc. will look after them during this time. Be aware that this could cause your child to worry, especially if they understand that hospitals are places that people go to when they are unwell, so try and keep things as simple as possible and reassure them that you will be coming back after.
After Labour – Introducing Your Toddler to Your Baby
Depending on the circumstances of your labour, you may be introducing your toddler to your new-born at hospital or at home. In either situation, it’s a good idea to have someone else holding the baby when your toddler enters the room, so that he or she can have a cuddle with you and not feel as though they have been replaced by the baby.
Make the meeting more about your toddler than the baby. You could use phrases such as “What a great big brother / sister you are going to be” to make them feel special. Furthermore, have a gift ready in your hospital bag to give to your toddler and explain that it’s from their new baby sister or brother to say thank you for being a good sibling to them.
The First Few Days
The first few days at home with your new-born and toddler will be tough. Your baby will be waking every two to three hours to feed and even if your labour was quick and complication-free your body will still need time to recover from the process. During these few days your toddler may start to have some challenging behaviours, such as temper tantrums, hitting, toileting accidents, and he or she may wake up during the night, either by being disturbed by the baby or simply because they are feeling somewhat unsettled.
Don’t be too hard on yourself during this time. Your toddler won’t suffer any long-term effects if they spend a week watching more television than usual or eat ready meals for a few days. Try not to focus on what needs to be done in the hours and days ahead, but instead, concentrate on the here and now and the task at hand. This will help you to feel less overwhelmed and more able to cope. Worries about housework or whether or not your toddler is getting enough time at the park will only add to your stress.
You may have decided to keep the first few days free of visitors to help you and your family bond with your new arrival. If that is the case, then make sure that your partner gets the paternity leave he is entitled to. You can find out more about the eligibility for paternity leave here. Your partner can take on the bulk of responsibility for looking after your toddler, whilst you focus on establishing breast feeding and recovery from your labour.
However, you may want to consider getting additional help from a close family member during the first few days. This family member can help with cooking and other household tasks, and they can help look after your toddler. This additional support can be particularly invaluable if you have complications during labour or if you required a caesarean section, as your mobility will be significantly reduced in the weeks that follow.
The First Three Months and Beyond
During the first few days, routine will be something alien and you will wonder if you will ever have any sense of order ever again. However, once you have moved past those first few days and your new-born’s sleep becomes a bit more established, getting a routine will help you manage the day to day tasks that come from being a parent to more than one child.
Bedtime with one child can be frantic enough, and many parents who have a second child find it difficult to manage at first. If your toddler has a special bedtime routine, keeping this going for the first few weeks will go some way to helping him adjust to the new baby, as he will see that not everything in his world has completely changed. Have your partner look after the baby whilst you put the toddler to bed or vice versa. After the first few weeks, or if your partner is unavailable to help at bedtime, try and fit your baby into your toddler’s routine. For example, you could try bathing them together, or feeding your baby whilst you read a bedtime story. Reading to your baby even at this early age is a great way to develop their communication skills, so by including your baby in your toddler’s story time you are giving them the best possible start.
In the UK, all pre-school children are entitled to a free childcare place from the start of the first full term after their 3rd birthday. For more information on childcare, check out our information section here. Not only is this a great way of developing your older child’s social skills, but it is also an opportunity for you to get some time to focus solely on your new baby. If your child is under 3 years old and you can afford it, you could consider arranging some childcare for them, even if it is only one morning or afternoon per week. You may feel guilty about sending your older child to nursery whilst staying at home with the baby and this is normal. However, try to focus on the positives. The chances are your toddler will have a fun time and you will feel surprisingly refreshed with only having to look after one child for a few hours.
Parent and Baby / Toddler Groups
If you didn’t go to any parent and child groups with your first, you might find them useful now you have two children. These groups will give your toddler a chance to run around and play with other children, whilst you can sit down with a cup of tea and your baby and chat to other mums about their experiences. It will also give you the opportunity to meet mums with children of a similar age to you and set up play dates for your children. If you are struggling to cope with having a new baby then sometimes just getting out of the house and meeting other people can make a big difference to your state of mind.
Don’t be disheartened if you don’t feel like you fit in with the first group you attend, sometimes it can take a while to find the right group for you. Furthermore, if you are lacking confidence about meeting new people, remember that the chances are that many of the other mums in the group are feeling the same way.
Go Easy On Yourself
Being a parent to two or more young children often involves dealing with the unexpected and letting go of a little bit of control. So, try not to let it get you down when things don’t always go to plan. When you are feeling overwhelmed, try not to think about what needs doing, instead focus on the task at hand before moving on to the next thing. You will eventually adapt to your larger family, and quickly forget what life was like with just one child.