When I was expecting Lil’ M, my mother-in-law kept telling me to prepare myself… that 1+1 did not equal 2. I would laugh, and think to myself, how much harder can it be?
How I Survived 2 Under Two
I had reached the honeymoon stage of babyhood. By the time Big M was about 9 months old, we had comfortably settled into a predictable daily routine. She slept 12+ hours straight at night and took two solid naps a day, leaving me ample time to myself to keep up with my DVR and to keep up with the house, laundry and cooking. I showered every day. I even did some consulting projects for my old firm. She was portable and happy to ride along on errands, trips to the mall, lunch with friends. She was so much fun – laughing, clapping, interacting with the world. I had this baby thing down – we were totally ready to add another munchkin to our family!
Many of my friends shared this sentiment. Lulled into this period of relative ease, we all found ourselves expecting baby #2 when our oldest was somewhere between 12 and 18 months old. And then, as though they sensed their little worlds were about to be turned upside down, the babyhood honeymoon came to an abrupt end. They started exerting independence, talking back, saying “No!” Our toddlers would go on nap strikes, or refuse to go back to bed at night. While Big M had always been a great sleeper, at 18 months, I found myself sleeping on her bedroom floor at 5 months pregnant to get sleep for the both of us! Well, whether Big M and we were ready or not, Lil’ M was on her way…
Here are a few tips for both before and after baby #2’s arrival to survive 2 under two!
Preparation: Before Baby’s Arrival
Talk About New Baby Coming
There will be lots of changes happening even before the new baby arrives – preparing the nursery, perhaps rearranging existing furniture, not to mention mama’s changing body! Remember that your toddler’s comprehensive vocabulary vastly exceeds his verbal one. They will understand far more than you might think, and rather than leave them wondering about what is going on, talk to them about it.
There are great books about being a big sibling or new babies coming. This was Big M’s favorite, and the corresponding brother version:
There are also some great TV shows. I wish these episodes of her favorite show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood were out BEFORE Lil’ M was born. The current season 5 began with a four episode series all about the impending arrival, and subsequent birth, of Daniel’s new baby sister, Baby Margaret. You can download episodes individually in HD for $2.99 each, buy a pass for the whole season, or set your DVR to record it on PBS and save these episodes when they air!
Last but not least, get big sib their own baby doll. Let them feed the baby, put the baby in its crib, change and dress the baby. Show them how to be gentle with the baby. Toddlers love to practice and pretend play is a great way to ease them into the reality of the real thing. They will also love to mimic your actions with the new baby on a baby of their very own. The Grandmas got Big M her American Girl – Bitty Baby Doll and Crib for Easter when I was expecting Lil’ M. She loves to put her baby down for bed, and feed her and push her in her Pink Stroller (that came for Christmas later that year).
Incorporate Big Sib in Preparations
As you prepare for baby’s arrival, include big sib in the preparations. Ask them if they have any toys they don’t use anymore that they think the baby might like. Let them help you unbox their old baby clothes; talk about how they used to use this blanket, drink from these bottles or wore this outfit home from the hospital. Leverage this to make some big kid transitions, like getting rid of the pacifier or potty training, if they are ready. Don’t push it though, as you should expect some regressions when the new baby arrives. If your oldest is still in the crib and happy there, get a new crib for the baby. Most cribs are convertible now anyway to toddler beds, and even full-size headboards. And it will keep your life simple, and them sleeping safely contained, while you are dealing with less sleep for a while.
Encourage Independent Play
I’m not saying to stop playing with your toddler. But if you find they are enjoying books or playing with a toy on their own, don’t be so quick to swoop in to join them like you may have in the past. If they are content to entertain themselves for periods of time, count your blessings and encourage them to do so. Encouraging independence before the baby comes will be a huge saving grace when the new baby arrives and has to be fed and changed every 2-3 hours, bathed and all while you are still caring for your toddler, your house and yourself!
Stock Your Freezer
I learned after my first. Yes, people may bring you a meal – often they will bring you so much food in the first week or two, you will not be able to eat it all, and it is not all freezable and ends up going to waste. For the last month or so before Lil’ M arrived, I started doubling my crockpot and casserole recipes. I’d prepare it all at the same time, so it was minimally additional work, and then I would freeze half of it in a gallon ziploc or foil pan either before or after cooking it, depending on the recipe. Check your local discount store for foil pans – Ocean State Job Lot sells a whole range of sizes and shapes for less than $1 each. By the time Lil’ M was born, my freezer was stocked! If you want some great crockpot recipes, that make for good leftovers, check out our favorite 10 here.
Read Moms on Call
If you haven’t already, read the Moms On Call series. I did not discover these until just after Lil’ M was born, but I especially love their tips for encouraging babies to sleep through the night and their recommended combined toddler/newborn routines by age that help you create overlapping naps and mealtimes. Fortunately, their recommended toddler routine pretty much already exactly matched Big M’s daily schedule, so all I had to do was incorporate Lil’ M into the mix. I recommend reading these before new baby arrives because 1) you won’t be doing too much reading for a while after and 2) if you need to get your toddler on a routine (which I highly recommend for your own sanity) before the baby arrives, you will want to invest some time doing that ASAP! They also have an app to provide easy access to their combined schedules by age!
Sign Up for Amazon Prime, Mom
Running errands with a toddler in tow is a cakewalk compared to doing it with a toddler AND a newborn. The annual membership fee for Amazon Prime is $99 and worth every penny. Two-day free shipping on just about everything, and it also gives you access to Amazon Mom. If you use Amazon Prime, with Amazon Mom, you can save up to 20% off cases of diapers, wipes, and more with their subscription service. Never run out of diapers, and never have to run out with two kids in tow to get them either. Check out our post on the Best Deals for Diapers to learn how to save $100s per year.
Set Up a MealTrain
I stumbled upon MealTrain when a fellow mom invited me to join one for a friend who was recovering from illness. Simply put, MealTrain is a free, web-based solution that simplifies the giving and receiving of meals. I used it for the first time myself when a friend was hospitalized on mandatory bed rest for 8 weeks, with a 2 year old and husband at home, and then had another 8 weeks at the hospital with her preemie in the NICU. It is so amazing – and eliminates the issue above of having 5 meals arrive on the same day, and then get wasted. The recipient can provide contact information, scheduling details, and family food preferences. You can then share or send the link to anyone interested in helping you in the weeks after baby is born. Participants sign up for a date to deliver their meal, and it’s all organized for you.
Survival: After Baby’s Arrival
Accept All Offers for Help
You often will not have a full-fledged shower with your second baby, but that does not mean that everyone from family to friends and neighbors will not want to offer assistance to you and your family. Say YES! to anything and anyone who offers. If the mom from your toddler’s playgroup offers to take your toddler off your hands for a few hours, let her know when she can pick her up. If your mother or mother-in-law want to come stay for a week or two, welcome them with open arms – no one loves your children as much as you do except for their grandparents.
I love when my Mom comes and takes care of me while I’m taking care of everyone else – she feeds me, folds laundry, reads every book on the shelf to Big M and then reads them again, and when I look bleary eyed and have baby spit up in my hair, takes the baby from my arms and throws me in the shower. If someone offers to bring you a meal, send them the link to your MealTrain and tell them to sign up for as many meals as they like! Oh, and all that talking and preparing with your firstborn – let them shine as the ‘Big helper in your family!’ They can bring you diapers, pick up dropped binkies, hand you baby’s blanket. It keeps them involved, makes them feel important, and gives you an extra pair of hands. As the old saying goes, “It takes a village!”
Favorite Toy and Book Basket
I highly recommend getting 2-3 of your oldest’s favorite independent play toys and some of their favorite books and keeping them in a basket near where you plan to feed the baby – be it in the nursery, your living room or bedroom. This will give you easy access to entertainment for your toddler who will inevitably want to be in your lap the second you sit down to nurse the baby. Better still, feed the baby somewhere your toddler can sit next to you – and multi-task. Read them their favorite book, while baby eats away!
I cannot tell you what a lifesaver Peapod is… Every time I go to the actual store with the kids in tow, I am reminded just how much I love Peapod. Peapod partners with your local grocery store to fulfill your grocery list and deliver groceries to your kitchen counter… all for a $6.95 delivery charge. They often run promotions for discounts off your first order (get yours below!), free delivery for your first month or two, and even once you use it regularly, I still receive discount codes for free delivery frequently. And even when I do pay for delivery, it is totally worth it.
When I just had one, grocery shopping with a toddler was kind of fun – she loved all the fun colors, sounds, smiling at the deli guys, waving to the produce stockers. With two, it was a nightmare – I would wear Lil’ M with Big M in the cart, begging to get out and walk (not gonna happen). Wearing the baby, my mobility was somewhat limited and picking up large items was tough. And in the winter, trudging both kids out in the snow along with a grocery cart of food – well, that sold me. I started using Peapod in the winter of 2013 and haven’t stopped since. I shop from my iPhone app, add items to my cart as we run out during the week, and get groceries delivered in a 2 hour window of my choosing every two weeks. To see how Peapod can save you money, check out our post on Meal Planning.
Eat When and What Your Toddler Eats
Or better yet, get them to eat what you eat! I struggle with this the most – I get busy, and instead of eating breakfast or lunch with the kids, I’m cleaning up the kitchen, refilling milk cups, serving seconds, and before I know it, I have a headache and am starving because I realized I haven’t eaten since dinner the night before. When you have a new baby, your body is healing and needs the nourishment, especially if you are breastfeeding!
To make sure I feed myself, I force myself to sit at the table with my daughter for meals and snacks… and bring the baby along! Get them used to the socialization of meal times. This will help you so much when it comes time for them to start eating too. And I stopped being a short-order cook. For breakfast, I don’t mind eating cereal and making her whole grain waffles (from the freezer) and fruit. For lunch, I often ate leftovers from the night before while she had her lunch of choice: PBJ, peach Greek yogurt and a piece of fruit. But for dinner, she eats whatever is being cooked. I will put “sauce on the side”, use compartmentalized plates so her foods don’t touch, and I try to cook at least one component I know she will eat, but she eats what is served, or doesn’t eat until breakfast. As her pediatrician says, “It’s ok; she’s not starving, and she’ll eat when she’s hungry!”
Wear Your Baby
I didn’t babywear much with Big M. I had a BabyBjorn – she hated it, I found it hot and uncomfortable, and we maybe used it three times. To keep pace with a now running toddler, and to keep up with our weekly routine of playgroup, trips to the library, class at MyGym, playing at the park, errands and even just cooking dinner, wearing Lil’ M was the way to go.
I got a Baby K’tan, and I loved it! It’s a modified wrap, and way less complicated. It is made of soft, t-shirt-like cotton, so it is breathable and washable. And it folds up into it’s own travel bag, which doubles as a sash for extra support as the baby gets bigger. It fit in the diaper bag, and I brought it everywhere. Lil’ M lived in it when we were on the go from birth until about 9 months old, when she started crawling, and then walking, and wanted to be on the move herself! Note that they are sized, and if you are between sizes, you should order down. I consider myself a medium in most things, but based on their size chart, I ordered a small, and it was perfect. There are also short YouTube videos demonstrating how it compares to a traditional wrap and different ways it can be worn.
When Big M was born, I found the perfect time slots for a daily shower even as her routine evolved over her first year – after her 5am feeding, when she went back to sleep until 8am or so. Then later, during her AM nap. With two kids, this was trickier. Big M wakes up at 6:30, and had given up her AM nap by the time Lil’ M arrived. Confession: I now shower every other day. Gone are the days of my daily 20 minute hot shower, 10-15 minutes to blow dry my hair smooth, and maybe another 5 minutes to put on concealer, mascara, and bronzer. I maybe get one of those a week on the weekends when hubby is home to watch the kids, and I relish it like a trip to an expensive day spa.
Most days, I rush through a shower at night after I get both girls to bed, and 80-90% of the time, I let my hair go ‘au naturale’ because I’d rather get more sleep (or work on another blog post!), than blow dry it. I’ve learned to embrace my wavy locks with some help from Marc Anthony Dream Wave Beach Spray. It smells like vacation. You just spritz it on your damp hair, give your locks a few twirls around your fingers and let it dry. Voila – tousled, wavy beach hair.
Everyone tells you when you are expecting your first child, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” And it’s true – even when you are up multiple times during the night, if you catch a nap or two during the day while the baby is sleeping, you can manage. The problem with this advice when you have your second child is that the toddler does not always cooperate with this plan. In fact, count yourself lucky if you get their PM naps to align and you get one full hour of blissful, uninterrupted quiet. However, that hour is also the only time you have to do anything else.
I forced myself to relax during that time, especially early on when my nights were less sleep-filled. Laundry, dishes, etc. could be done while one or both children were awake. Laying down for even just 15-20 minutes could not. Also, go to bed early. Lil’ M’s longest stretch of sleep was always the first part of the night. If I went to bed as soon as she did, I could get a consecutive 3-4 hours, which in those early weeks, feels heavenly!
Baby Led Weaning
Many people have heard of baby led weaning, but don’t know exactly what it means. It’s a British term, and by weaning, they really mean the introduction of solid foods. Simply put, it means letting your baby feed themselves when they start solid foods vs. spoon-feeding them purees and cereal. To learn more about BLW, check out our post on what it is, why you should do it and how to start. This won’t come into play until your baby is 6 months old, but I promise it will make your life so much easier!
With Big M, I fed her purees for a couple months but because she always ate meals at the table with us, she quickly demonstrated interest in “real” food and moved on. With Lil’ M, I started with real foods right away. From the start, she has always wanted to do and have exactly what her sister has, and that was big support in my favor. You still introduce foods one at a time to test for allergies. You just give them in solid form… start with softer foods in pieces they can hold with their fist and gnaw at or cut smaller than your pinky nail to prevent choking. Bananas, roasted squash or apples, melons and avocados are all great foods to start with, and you can build from there. Basically, by the time Lil’ M was 8-9 months old, she ate exactly what we were eating for all meals.
Know that it will not be easy. Know that your toddler may not fawn all over your new baby like those perfectly posed photos from newborn shoots all over Pinterest. Lil’ M, who literally pooped once every 5-10 days for the first 5 months of her life, blew out her diaper, through her outfit and all over my husband’s shirt right as the photographer walked in the front door. Then, Big M had a meltdown for the entire hour of the shoot, and wanted no part in a family portrait – we miraculously got one that involved the photographer high fiving her between every shot to make her giggle (thank you TBM Photography!). Know that your toddler may have reactions beyond anything you might expect. Big M went on a hunger strike for the first 5 days when we got home from the hospital, eating 10-20% of what she normally did. She finally caved one night when we ordered her favorite, pizza… that or she was starving and realized the baby was here to stay!
But also know that it does get easier. The first three months are the toughest, and it gets easier every three months thereafter. And at 3 years, and 17 months, I may just have reached that blissful level of comfort enough to begin to consider (just consider) a third.