While you may have planned for the transition from one to two and daydreamed about what it will be like to bring your new baby home there’s one member of the family whose reaction may not be quite as predictable: your toddler. Adding a new sibling to the mix can cause some big emotions in your little one(s). We’ve got some ways to handle the change with a minimum of tears (from everyone!)
The big shift
The arrival of a new sibling can be a confusing time for everyone, including your toddler. Regardless of how much preparation you may have done, an actual, real-life newborn turning up at home is going to take some adjusting to. Changes in behaviour, sleeping or eating habits, the desire to be with (or, indeed, ‘on’ you at all times), even changes to their toilet habits are all common reactions to a shift in the home environment and the stress of a new sibling. Think about it this way, before bub arrived, your toddler was number one. They didn’t have anyone to ‘compete’ with for attention. They likely had a regular schedule. Mum and dad were always available for attention and reassurance. And while those things are still apparent, they’re different. Suddenly, the day starts at a different time. There is crying and movement in the night. Mummy can’t always come for middle-of-the-night cuddles. Toddlers and young children are hugely perceptive to change, and they notice these things and react accordingly.
The new normal
The best way to handle this shift in both life and your toddler? Reassurance and routine. Reassurance can come in many different forms, but toddlers and young children often respond very positively to physical contact and touch. This may mean extra cuddles when baby is asleep, time spent snuggling up between activities, even holding hands while walking or taking baths/showers together are all great ways to physically demonstrate to your toddler that they are still just as important as the baby. Finding some time to spend one on one and giving your toddler a ‘special’ (age appropriate) job can also be great ways to make bubs arrival a positive, not negative, thing.
A return to routine can be challenging, especially in the early weeks and often you will feel as if you’re winging it most of the time. It can be helpful though to try and establish some simple routines for your toddler that can be put into place by you, your partner and/or anyone else who may be helping in those early days and weeks. It can be as simple as having a designated spot and (loose) time for breakfast each morning, possibly even with the same bowl, cup, placemat each day. Or a set bath and bed routine each night which includes a favourite bath toy and book before sleep. Little things like this can help provide a comforting structure for your toddler without too much extra work.
Be alert, but not alarmed. Yes, challenging behaviours sound scary. But you’re not alone in dealing with them. Many toddlers will express their frustration at their new life with an increase in tantrums, frustration and sometimes an active dislike of their new sibling (“can you send the baby back now mummy?”). Add in your usual terrible two and ‘three-nager’ behaviours and you can be in for some wild times. The best way of dealing with these behaviours? The two R’s. Yep, reassurance and routine. Remind your little one regularly of just how special they are and what a great big brother or sister they are being to their baby. Reinforce the idea that while baby is here to stay, they are still just as important as before and can-do special things that baby can’t. Help guide them towards making good choices and let them express their emotions if, and when they need to. Integrating physical activities and things like sensory or messy play can be a great way for toddlers to regulate their emotions and work through feelings.
Making breastfeeding work with a toddler
While breastfeeding with your first child may have seen you able to relax on the couch and log some serious Netflix hours, breastfeeding when you’ve got an active two-year-old is a totally different kettle of fish! Your newborn will likely be attached to the boob very regularly in the early days and weeks after birth which can be challenging with a toddler who probably won’t be keen with sitting around and waiting for you to finish feeding every 2-3 hours. The key to survival? Keep them busy. Learn to breastfeed while babywearing and lower your expectations. When my second baby arrived, I set up a ‘busy box’ for my 2.5-year-old. It had a selection of toys and activities that he was only allowed to use when I was feeding. I put in a mix of old favourites and some fun new toys then rotated the contents regularly to keep him engaged. I also tried to save TV time for when I was feeding as I knew I was guaranteed at least 20 minutes of peace (and if I was lucky, a hot cuppa). Learning to breastfeed while babywearing can also be a total game changer as it allows you to feed while on the move. We’ve got some great tips for how to do it here.
There is also a chance your toddler may want to jump into the breastfeeding action. This is often the case for toddlers who may have recently weaned. Whether you decide to tandem feed is a very personal choice. Some mums find it works well for them in that it offers the chance to share that breastfeeding time with both their little ones and has the added benefit of helping to regulate milk supply thanks to the super strong sucking power of a toddler versus a newborn. Other women find it too much and end up feeling very touched out. Whatever you choose to do, know that your choice will be what works best for you and your family. Just because your toddler decides they want to breastfeed again doesn’t mean it will be something that works for you. Likewise, if you do decide to tandem feed, it can be helpful to have some boundaries in place for your toddler to ensure that you’re able to manage the increased load.