Balancing act: How to make sure your toddler doesn't feel left out after a new arrival
Giving your toddler the attention he or she needs when you've also got a newborn can be a challenge. Andrea Mara gets expert advice, and talks to mums about they how they coped
Having a first baby is arguably the biggest adjustment in the whole parenting journey, but going from one to two can also be unexpectedly challenging.
Just when you think you have it all figured out, you find yourself at home with a toddler and a newborn, and the world is again turned upside down. In previous generations, grandparents were often nearby, and could help with minding the older child, but today, that's not always the case. So who looks after your toddler, when you're nesting with a newborn?
"The change from one to two was so much more than I thought it would be," says Dublin mum Nicola. "I remember when I was pregnant, a guy in work saying, 'When you go from one to two it's more than double the work.' It made absolutely no sense at the time - how could it be more than double? But soon after, I knew exactly what he meant!"
Nicola quickly realised that it wasn't so much about the challenge of minding her newborn, but entertaining her two-year-old. "I think a child who has never been to crèche at all might be easier to mind, because they're not used to all the activities and structure of a crèche. But my little girl wakes up every morning and says, 'Where are we going - what's the plan?' - there has to be a plan. It wouldn't have been that feasible to say we're not going anywhere, we're just going to sit here with this baby all day."
Caoimhe, whose daughter was born when her son was just 17 months old, also found the early days demanding. "Both the baby and I had complications after delivery, so the early months were pretty difficult. One of the things I found hardest was the mess. It sounds ridiculous - with a sick baby and me not being well either - but it was just chaos. Everyone kept saying to ignore it, but when you have people in and out of the house all the time, you end up apologising for it. Stupid in retrospect, but it definitely wasn't like the blissful early months portrayed in glossy magazines. It probably didn't help that my two were born around the same time as Prince William and Kate's children… What I wouldn't have done for the live-in nanny, cleaner, cook, hairdresser, and make-up artist!"
Parenting coach Aoife Lee (parentsupport.ie) sees this all the time with families she meets. "Many have two children under three, so there's that overwhelming feeling of trying to meet the demands of both baby and toddler. And toddlers don't truly understand what's happening when a new baby arrives. Nobody asked them what they wanted - so when they see the baby staying for good, it can be quite overwhelming. And that can turn into behaviours that you're not used to seeing. But if parents have an element of understanding of where toddlers are at, it makes a huge difference."
So what can you do - how do you look after your toddler, but also allow yourself time to recover post-birth, and get to know your new baby?
"Round up the troops," says Lee. "Take all the help you can get. Prepare in advance of the birth, if possible - who is nearby who can help? Are there grandparents who can take your toddler for a few hours or do preschool drop-offs? Maybe you have neighbours with children the same age, who can help out by minding your older child, giving you some time to focus on your baby?"
Although Caoimhe lives 45 minutes from her extended family, they jumped in when she needed them. "My sister was amazing - she came over between school runs at least once a week, and my mum would visit too. I don't have friends locally - it's a commuter town and I was a commuter - and there isn't a breastfeeding group or anything. I found it pretty isolating. We are lucky to have four grandparents in the picture, and they were great support as well - my mum probably hung out more laundry than she had for a long time!"
Not everyone has extended family who can help out, but formal childcare can also be a good option, says Lee. "If you are in a position to continue using crèche or a childminder for your toddler, do it. It will give you a chance to bond with the new baby and recharge your batteries."
Indeed, keeping an older child in crèche when a new baby comes along is not uncommon. "Roughly 85pc of families tend to do this here," says Caitriona Barrett, manager of Wee Care Day Nursery in Monkstown, Co, Dublin. "A lot of families do reduce their hours or days - for financial reasons, and also so that they can spend time with the new baby, and then have the afternoons with both children. I personally did this, as I felt that my son needed to continue on with his daily routine in the crèche, which he loved, and it also provided me with the time to spend with my new daughter."
This was the route Nicola took too. "I was going to leave my two-year-old in crèche for six weeks after the birth, but when it came to it, the baby was still feeding all the time, so I kept her in full-time for another month. Then she stayed in three days a week for the rest of my maternity leave."
Like many parents who keep an older child in childcare, Nicola felt an element of guilt. "Any time I told someone she was in crèche, I used to caveat it with, 'But she loves it - she's really used to it' - making excuses."
Lee is adamant that parents shouldn't feel guilty for keeping an older sibling in childcare. "By allowing your child to go into the crèche setting or to a childminder, you're giving them consistency, and giving yourself time for nesting and bonding with your new baby. Your toddler may be coming from an environment at home where it's all a bit hectic, while you're still trying to establish this new balancing act. Having them in crèche creates routine and predictability - they're alongside their peers and with their key workers. You're providing that environment while you're getting back on your feet, and that's good. Remember, we're human, we're parents, we're not trying to take on the world. It's OK to give yourself a break."
1 Try reading books about new baby's arrival, such as There's a House Inside my Mummy by Giles Andreae.
2 In the hospital, consider putting a picture of your toddler on the bedside locker, so they'll see that when they come in.
3 Avoid holding your newborn when your toddler first comes to visit in the hospital - your partner could hold the baby perhaps, so you're free to welcome and embrace your older child.
4 Organise a token gift from your new baby for your toddler.
5 If possible, find ways to have one-to-one time with your older child, and allow them to take the lead with what they want to do - even just lying on the bed flicking through books is perfect.
6 Don't introduce too much change when a new baby is arriving, like changing from cot to junior bed - too much change is very overwhelming for small children.
Aoife Lee's six tips for preparing a toddler for a new sibling