I remember feeling really happy, anxious and scared all at the same time, when I found out I was pregnant with my second child. My baby was still 15 months old and I wondered how the heck I was going to survive a pregnancy whilst taking care of a very active and demanding toddler. Then I thought about how I was going to care for a new-born with a “terrible two-year old” demanding constant attention and got even more anxious.
Thinking back now, a year and half after my second baby was born, I was right to be nervous. There is no roundabout way of going about it: taking care of a new-born whilst having another young child to care for takes parenting to a whole other level. It is challenging and beautiful, but mostly challenging in the early months.
Since I am quite certain that the anxiety and fear I felt when I became pregnant with my second child is something that is felt by most mothers in the same situation, I thought of writing a list of ten things I feel helped me survive the early months of raising two very young children. Hope they help at least one mummy get through this very trying time.
1. A gift from the baby. I know. This is cliché and these days there are some people that do not believe in it. But in my case it worked really well. We bought our daughter (J) something she absolutely loved. A play dough set. When she came to see us and the baby for the first time at the hospital, we gave her the gift, wrapped in colourful paper and told her it was from the baby. She was really happy and kept saying ‘thank you’ to our new-born son. It was actually the only word she uttered to him for at least a month after he was born. She would see him and say ‘thank you’; it was quite adorable.
2. Not sending her away. What I mean here, is sending her to grandma and grandpa or to nursery for a few hours in the morning so I could get time to focus on the baby (G) and maybe, you never know, rest a bit. Sounds great in theory. But in practice it made things worse. What I noticed when my son was born was that my daughter was not resentful at all towards him BUT she suddenly constantly wanted my attention. She wanted to be held by me when I was holding the baby, saying “baby down baby down”. Daddy, grandma, grandpa, cousins – no one was good enough – she wanted mummy. So sending her to grandma’s house whilst she knew I was home with the baby made things worse and she was more clingy and sensitive than ever. So after a couple of days I took the decision of keeping her with me. And believe it or not, things slowly improved.
3. Involving her. When the baby cried I explained to her that he was tired or that he was hungry and asked her what she thought I should do. Sometimes she got it right and sometimes she didn’t but being involved made her feel important and valued by me. I also involved her in nappy changes, by asking her to pass the wipes etc. and I didn’t push her away from sitting on me whilst I was breastfeeding. It was a little more work from my end but it paid off since the whining and clinginess from her got less and less every day that passed.
4. Pretending to say no to the baby in front of her. When my baby was born my daughter was 2. It is an age where I had to say no to her around 10 times a day. “Could I have chocolate for breakfast?”, “NO”, “Could I wake up the baby”, “NO”. “Could I eat cookies for lunch?”, “NO”, “Could we go outside now”, “NO”. “Could I fill this toy cup with water?” “NO” and so on and so forth. So I made sure that sometimes I pretended to also say no to the baby. Saying things like “Oh no now is not time to play, now is time to nap”. Showing her that I am also saying no to the baby helped her feel like I was not playing favourites and sometimes she actually showed empathy towards her brother, saying things like “Oh mummy I think he just wants milky, it’s okay”.
5. Accepting (and sometimes asking for) help. I know I said I found it best to keep J with me at home during the day, however when it came to the bed time routine which included bathing the baby, cluster feeding for around an hour and putting him to sleep whilst I also had to bath, feed my daughter and put her to sleep, it was extremely tough and when I did not have help it was extremely overwhelming and near impossible. I could not leave my daughter in the bath alone, but my son suddenly wanted to feed. What to do? Two crying babies and a very tired mummy is not the nicest of combinations. So it was really important for me to have help. When hubby worked late I was lucky enough to have my mum or his mum come over to help for a couple of hours at this time. The help was a lifesaver. My advice is, do not be too proud to ask for help. If it helps you remain sane then it is totally worth it!
6. Letting her hold the baby. I know it is really easy to say no. New-born babies are so fragile and little, it is really tempting to want to keep those sticky, snotty hands away from his delicate skin. But compromising by placing her seated with a large pillow on her lap and placing baby on it made her smile in a way that was so heart-warming. We did this routine around three times a day – everyday, as demanded by her.
7. Baby wearing. I’ll be honest. I was not a great fan of baby wearing with my first-born. Maybe it was because she was really highly strung as a baby, or maybe it was me that was highly strung as a new mother. But with my second baby having the “Manduca” sling saved me, especially when it came to going out. Going for a simple walk was possible in this way, as I strapped J in the pushchair whilst I wore G on my chest. We had to keep our outings short but at least we managed to get out of the house in this way.
8. At home entertainment. Yes I know. Screen time is not healthy for children but when you have 14 hours every day to fill with a new-born and toddler, a small dose of screen time can be a lifesaver. I found videos with children playing, dancing and singing the best because J used to join in with them and her dancing and singing kept my little one entertained too.
9. Me and her time. When the baby slept it was really tempting to just lie on the sofa and ‘play dead’ or catch up with housework or cooking. But making it a point to focus on J and play a game, read a book or play puzzles made her feel valued and also made me happy since I missed “us” and enjoyed this small dose of quality time together.
10. Being a second-time mum. The fact that I was taking care of a new-born the second time around made things easier. I didn’t panic every time I heard the baby grunt or cough. Or worry about every decision I took. I was more confident and this made things easier to a certain extent.
All the above do not mean the experience was plain-sailing however I must say that these factors did help make it all just a little smoother.
Do you have any tips for second-time mummies who are anxious about having their second baby? Feel free to comment below, we would love to hear from you 🙂