Yay! You are pregnant again and soon you’ll be a family of four—or more. As you, your spouse, and your toddler prepare to welcome a new baby, you may be anticipating some trouble balancing the needs and schedules of both your kids. It’s important to remember that while having a toddler and a newborn is difficult, it’s just a season. Before you know it, they’ll be playing together quietly while you cook dinner—or at least I’ve heard that can happen. Until then, read on for ideas about how to make this time work for your whole family.
The whole “sleep when the baby sleeps” thing is all well and good when you don’t have anything else to do while the baby is sleeping, but what if you have an active two-and-a-half-year-old bouncing off the walls while the baby is sleeping? The first thing is to enforce at least one nap or quiet time per day for everyone.
When the baby starts to be sleepy sometime in the late morning or afternoon, prepare your toddler that rest time is coming soon. If you can, settle the toddler with a book and some cuddles while the baby is still awake, especially if the baby needs you to hold them while they sleep or might only sleep for a short while. Even if your toddler isn’t going to sleep during quiet time, you can enforce a boundary like them staying in their bed or their room. Prepare them that you’re not going to be able to come help them with anything and they should be prepared to entertain themselves for a while.
Books, audiobooks, puzzles, and the like are great options for rest time activities. I don’t generally recommend art or playdough because then you’ll end up with crayons on the wall and gunk smushed into the carpet. If your toddler isn’t used to spending time alone, start with a short time period—maybe 10 or 15 minutes and then work up to longer stretches where they’re entertaining themselves.
In terms of night sleep, it’s best if your toddler doesn’t have to give up their crib for the new baby. If they’re still using it, either switch them to a big kid bed way before baby’s arrival or buy a new crib for baby. Try to keep everything as consistent as possible for your toddler, which will help them settle at night and rest well. If you usually put them to bed, have your coparent step in before the baby arrives, so that they can get used to the change in routine without linking it all to the new baby.
Feeding a newborn and a toddler throughout the day can be tricky—it seems like one of them is always hungry or they both are. Something that really helped me in the early days was to have premade snacks that my three-year-old could grab herself and to pre-make her lunch. Sometimes I packed it into her lunchbox, even if we planned to be home all day, and then she could get it out of the fridge herself. Then if I was trapped under a nursing baby, she didn’t have to wait for food. I also tried to have ready snacks that were easy for me to grab for myself, so that I didn’t get hangry too. In the early days, don’t worry too much about nutrition. Just have things on hand that everyone will like and eat and are easy to prepare.
Balancing the activity needs of an older kid when you have a newborn can be so tough. In the early days, newborns are very portable. They generally sleep well away from home, especially in a wrap or baby carrier, so you can bring them with you if you are up for getting out and about with your toddler.
But sometimes you’re not up for it, or your baby is needing to sleep at home more. If that’s the case, try to outsource as much of the playing as possible. You might not be going to the park as much, but maybe there’s a babysitter in the neighborhood who could stop by for an hour or two once a week and take your toddler out of the house. Or perhaps you have a backyard and you can get the water table set up, and then watch your toddler from the porch while you keep an eye on your sleeping baby on the monitor. Get creative if you can, but don’t worry if your toddler watches more TV than they did before baby was born. This is just a season.