Barely coping with a newborn and toddler? Learn how to survive the first few weeks and adjust to life with two kids.
I joke with friends and family that bringing the twins home was hard not so much because I had babies to care for, but a toddler to reckon with.
Like most toddlers adjusting to a new sibling, my son’s behavior took a turn for the worse. He’d whine, act out, and make unreasonable demands. I found myself yelling, then feel horrible for doing so, especially since I never really yelled at him before.
Thankfully, I had a few perks on my side. I enrolled my son in part-time preschool, and my husband took a long paternity leave. Still… there were those frantic days where I found myself alone, trying to tend to all three kids, while still managing to eat and use the bathroom myself.
At least as a second-time mom, I knew that the madness would end. But physically catering to newborn and toddler needs throughout the day on 25-minute increments of sleep was no easy task.
Caring for your newborn and toddler
Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you find yourself crying at least once a day, overwhelmed and wondering how you’re supposed to do this every day for the next few years. Or you feel like you’re going to have a mental breakdown any second juggling both kids (especially when they wake up at the same time!).
You feel like you don’t have enough hands: when you’re with the baby, you feel guilty you can’t give your undivided attention to your toddler. But when your toddler needs you, you feel equally bad for not holding the baby.
To say you’re struggling is an understatement.
And forget about sleep. When your eldest was a newborn, at least you could nap all day with her. This time around, you don’t exactly have that option, leaving you exhausted the entire day. And if your partner is back at work and you have no family living with you, this is a struggle you’re facing alone.
I hear you, friend.
It’s been five years since those frantic first few weeks, and I can reassure you that not only will you get through this, but you will be so much stronger for it.
I also wanted to share a few of the tips that, looking back, were the ones that truly helped me. Because yes, it does get better with time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it now, either. Take a look at these tips on caring for a newborn and toddler:
1. Encourage your toddler to be independent
So far, you have likely done a lot of things for your toddler, from getting her snack to putting on her clothes. And no wonder—all this time, she’s the only one you’ve had to care for.
But with a newborn in the picture, doing everything for her isn’t as easy as it used to be. Encouraging her to be independent will help free up your time, especially when the baby needs you. And besides, kids are meant to be more independent—this is when they learn essential life skills they’ll need as adults.
So, how can you encourage this independence?
Start by giving her plenty of opportunities to play on her own. Stock up on simple dollar toys to give her once in a while, or rotate toys to pique her interest once again. Provide her with art supplies she can work with on her own, buying you time to be with the baby.
Then, encourage self-sufficiency by teaching her how to do many of her daily tasks herself. Yes, it can take longer having her sort her socks or brush her teeth, but imagine how much more time you’ll have once she masters these tasks.
Even better? Ask her to help you with baby-related tasks. My toddler helped me on many occasions, from fetching a burp cloth to filling up my water bottle.
2. Don’t start feedings or sleep routines until your toddler is occupied
If there’s any time that I felt panicked, it’s when my toddler needed me right when I had just started feeding the twins or putting them to sleep. Sometimes I just had to continue nursing and deal with my toddler’s behavior, while other times I had to re-start the nap routine because my toddler really did need me.
Either way, only one person benefits while the others feel even more frustrated.
While you can’t always predict what your toddler will ask for, it’s still a good idea to make sure she’s occupied and has her needs met.
For instance, give her a new toy or project—one she can do alone—before starting a feeding session. Make sure she has a small snack before you put the baby down for a nap. Or perhaps you can even combine the two and read her a book while you nurse the baby.
Before every feeding or nap routine, ask yourself if your toddler has enough to do before you start. You’ll save yourself plenty of interruptions by doing so.
Keeping track of all your baby’s latest feedings and diaper changes can feel overwhelming. Join our newsletter and get this printable tracker, a convenient way to track feeding and diaper times—at no cost to you.
3. Get baby gear that frees up your hands
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You likely have baby gear from when your toddler was a newborn, and now is the time to use those once again.
A baby wrap lets you do simple chores and tasks at home, and even encourages the little one to fall asleep. Strollers allow you to take both kids on an outing without worrying about chasing your toddler down with a newborn in your arms. A swing lets your baby take a nap so you can read with your toddler.
And if you have a few items, rotate through all of them. You just might find that your newborn likes the variety, or prefers an item that perhaps your eldest hadn’t.
Here are a few favorites to check out:
4. Wake up earlier than both kids
Mornings with a newborn and toddler can be hectic, especially since any routine or consistency you may have had are now disrupted. There’s nothing worse than waking up groggy, only to realize that both kids need you right that minute.
To feel less overwhelmed, wake up earlier than both kids and use those early minutes of the morning to get yourself ready. Then, start preparing their morning things, such as:
- your toddler’s preschool lunch
- your toddler’s water cup and breakfast
- the baby’s bottles and formula
- both kids’ clothes and diapers for the day
Then, once you have everything ready, get your toddler up first. Once she starts getting dressed, wake the baby and get him changed and dressed as well. Next, seat your toddler at the table to have her breakfast, giving you a chance to feed the baby next to her.
By having everything ready, you can focus on guiding your toddler to her next task and tending to the baby. No need to fuss about preparing breakfast or finding clothes—you already did that while they were asleep.
5. Synchronize naps and quiet time
Does your toddler take a midday nap? Try to synchronize one of the baby’s naps during that time. This gives you a few moments to be alone while both kids are asleep.
And if your toddler has already outgrown her naps, encourage quiet time while the baby naps. For instance, for one of the naps, she can play quietly in her room. This will still allow you to be alone while both kids are in their rooms.
Then, for the baby’s next nap, you could spend one-on-one time with your toddler. You might read books together, work on a project, cook lunch, or otherwise hang out without the baby.
Spending time alone with your toddler every day—even if just to read bedtime books or when the baby is napping—will help ease anxieties she might be feeling from all the changes at home.
And one-on-one time should also be with both parents. It’s tempting to assign toddler tasks to your partner while you take on all the baby’s needs (especially if you breastfeed). But your toddler should be able to spend time with both parents instead of feeling relegated to the same one all the time.
6. Stop telling yourself it’s hard
Most of the struggles we experience start inside our minds. In fact, one of the biggest shifts I’ve had to make wasn’t in a daily routine or a discipline strategy. It was to stop getting inside my head, including listening to all the stories I was telling myself.
You see, the more you tell yourself that caring for a newborn and toddler is hard, the more your brain will find as much evidence to prove you right.
This doesn’t mean you sugarcoat sleep deprivation or brush your emotions aside. But it does mean you don’t dwell on these unhelpful stories. So yes, admit that it’s hard… then find ways to make it not-so-hard. Better yet, think of things to be grateful for, even when it feels hard.
Maybe it’s that you got the baby to sleep a little longer by putting a pacifier in his mouth mid-nap, or that your toddler was able to put her shirt on by herself. These are the simple wins that can make the challenges you face less defeating.
There’s no doubt about it: tending to newborn and toddler needs is a change that can surprise even the most seasoned mom. Still, we can do plenty even in these hectic moments to make life easier.
Start by encouraging independence in your toddler, whether it’s giving her more time to play alone or teaching her how to do tasks on her own. Make sure she’s occupied before you start feeding the baby or putting him to sleep—anything to prevent a sudden interruption.
Use baby gear to free up your arms and make you more mobile. Wake up earlier than both kids to get everything ready—that way you can focus on the kids instead of starting tasks you could’ve prepared in advance.
Synchronize their naps as much as possible, or use the baby’s naps to spend one-on-one time with your toddler. And finally, stop telling yourself over and over that this is hard—your brain will gladly find all the ways to prove you right.
Before my twins arrived, I never imagined that the biggest challenge to balancing all their needs would be my toddler’s behavior. Still, it was what I needed to be the patient and empathetic mom he needed me to be—even on 25-minute increments of sleep.
Get more tips:
- On Balancing Newborn and Toddler Needs
- Clever Solutions to the Newborn Witching Hour
- 13 Ways to Cope with Newborn Sleep Deprivation
- What to Do When Your Baby Wants to Nurse Constantly
- 7 Reasons You’re Not Enjoying Motherhood
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