Tips for juggling a newborn and toddler

August 29, 2011. Posted in: Breastfeeding Basics,Common Newborn Concerns,Parenting FAQ,Preparing to Breastfeed,Tandem Articles,What is Normal?

(not literally… well, usually not literally!)

First off, per a wise friend of mine who is a mom of five: Be creative, patient, and hold tight to your sense of humor!

What can I do to prepare my older child for a new baby?

  • Before baby is born, it can help to talk with your older child about what newborns are like – what they look like, that they mainly nurse and sleep and cry, and how they need to be held much of the time.
  • Tell stories about what your older child was like as a newborn and how you took care of him.
  • Discuss things that your older child can do to help with baby: talk and sing to baby, get diapers and wipes, get mom her water bottle.
  • Make opportunities for your children to see young babies and nursing babies (a La Leche League meeting can be a great place for this, especially if you don’t know any nursing moms), and read books that show newborns and nursing babies.
  • If your child has weaned or was never breastfed: Explain that mom makes milk for baby, that nursing is how baby eats, and that nursing also helps baby feel better when he’s sad or scared or feeling bad.
  • If your child is still nursing and you expect to tandem nurse: Talk to your child about how he and baby will both nurse after the baby is born. Point out that since baby can’t eat other foods like your toddler can, he will need to nurse a lot. Look at pictures of tandem nursing siblings with your child. Here’s more on tandem nursing.

Should breastfeeding be “hidden” from your older child or other children?

Absolutely not! Modeling nurturing behavior and breastfeeding to your children is one of the best things you can do for them.

By seeing you nurse, your child is learning that breastfeeding is the normal, healthy way to feed a child rather than a “shameful” thing that needs to be hidden away. Breastfeeding is not something that should be hidden from children (or anyone else).

Since most everyone in our culture equates babies with bottles, it’s not unusual for other children to be curious when you are breastfeeding your baby. If other children are curious when you are breastfeeding, simply tell them that you are nursing the baby and that nursing is how we feed babies. Again, you are teaching them by example that breastfeeding is the way to feed and nurture babies.

General tips

Could you use a free hand when you’re nursing? While you’re nursing, a pillow can help bring baby to breast level so you have a hand or two free (sometimes it takes weeks or even months to get that free hand… keep trying). If you need to support your breast with your other hand, try using a small rolled-up towel.

A sling will also free up a hand or two. Are you comfortable with using a sling and nursing baby in it? In addition to nursing while you’re lying down, this is another lifesaver for many moms. It frees at least one hand and allows you to keep nursing or holding your baby while tending to and playing with another child. Also, as someone I know once mentioned, when baby is in the sling your toddler can’t be pulling baby’s toes, or trying to get baby out of the crib, or trying to brush baby’s “teeth”, or dropping toys on baby.

It can be handy to have your toddler around, as many times you can ask them to fetch things for you (a diaper, a wipe, the remote, the phone, a water bottle). I don’t know how many times I got settled on the couch with my first baby, then realized I was going to have to get up again to get something I forgot – the second time around I had a helper all day long, instead of only when Dad was home from work. She couldn’t hold baby while I took a shower, but it sure did help with the little things.

Activities to do with your older child while baby is nursing

  • Read books and snuggle and talk with your toddler while you’re nursing. If you don’t have a free hand, get your toddler to hold a book and turn the pages while you read.
  • Play games – “I Spy” and “Simon Says” are often a big hit with toddlers.
  • Play with your food – try counting (and eating) cheerios or raisins with your toddler.
  • Some toddlers like to pretend-nurse their dolls or stuffed animals (or trucks!) while mom is nursing baby.
  • Look at your toddler’s baby book or baby pictures. Tell stories about when your toddler was a little baby. Tell stories about what your toddler can do now that he/she is bigger.

You can also set your toddler up with other activities to do while you’re nursing. Drawing, coloring, puzzles, blocks or big legos, cars/trains, etc. Some moms keep a box of toys that is out only when baby is nursing. We have a play kitchen that keeps my kids interested for a long time – they bring me food to eat and fix food for their dolls and stuffed animals and plastic dinosaurs, and have tea parties. Things like playdough and painting and water play can keep kids interested for a long time, but depending upon where you can set it up and your child, this may or may not be something that works when you’re nursing.

If you need a nap and your toddler doesn’t

Childproof a room of the house that has:

  • a door or a baby gate (so your toddler can’t “escape” and play in the toilet while you’re resting)
  • a bed or comfortable spot on the floor where you can lie down and nurse
  • interesting toys that your toddler is likely play with without much interaction – some moms also put on a favorite video
  • a snack and a drink for toddler

When you want to nap (or at least rest) while baby naps, close off the door so you can lie down with baby without worrying about what your toddler is getting into. A friend says she would lie on the floor with baby and let her toddlers use mom as a “road” for their matchbox cars – rest and a massage all “rolled” into one!

What if your older child asks to nurse?

It’s pretty common for a toddler, or even an older child, to ask to nurse at some point after the new baby arrives. Many just want to know whether mom will say yes – they may also want to be held like a baby or “babied” in other ways. If given the opportunity to nurse, most children will simply touch or kiss the breast, giggle, and go play. Some moms prefer not to offer, but might offer breastmilk in a cup to taste, or simply distract the child with another activity. See What if a “weaned” child asks to nurse again? for more on the subject.

Additional Resources

The New Baby by Elizabeth Pantley

PDF First-Born Jealousy by Elizabeth Pantley

Including a Sibling When Breastfeeding by Ann Butenas

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