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Guest Blog: Lizzie Start of Cake Club tells us how to manage with a toddler and a newborn.

💛 A little summary and follow up from my live last night on how to manage with a toddler and a newborn…💛

Firstly – be kind to yourself! You have just had a baby. You have a toddler. Life is stressful with just one of those things. And you’ve got both. And you’re stuck at home. None of this is easy or normal right now! Do whatever you all need to get you through the day, through these early weeks, through the fourth trimester. THIS WILL PASS.

The practical tips…

💛 Get a sling. I can’t emphasise this enough. If you haven’t got one, or you don’t know how to use yours, give me a shout. The sling library is still available at Cake Club - Sling Library and Parenting Support in Southend. (If you're not local, drop me a line and I'll link you to your closest sling library or consultant.)

💛 Have a basket of activities for your toddler for while you’re feeding the baby, whether that’s breast or bottle – in the early days all babies feed A LOT, however they’re being fed, and the guidance is to feed responsively, whether that’s at the breast or not, so that can mean a lot of time sat on the sofa. Lean into it. Choose the Cbeebies programmes that you’re happy with and let the toddler binge on those on the really tough days. (Or nature documentaries, or educational stuff on YouTube, or Cosmic Kids yoga… Anything they can get absorbed in, learn from and interact with. Mindless cartoons tend to be less helpful, and Peppa Bloody Pig is only five flipping minutes long which is no use to anyone! Give me a 30 minute video of someone feeding the fish at an aquarium over that any day… 😉 )

💛 Ideas for your “feeding” basket – sticker books, colouring books (keep to a few colours of crayon or chunky coloured pencil – pens get everywhere, thinner coloured pencils need sharpening all the time, and little hands do best with shorter, chubbier things to grasp! They don’t need every colour under the sun either); little toys – ones that keep them occupied and practising fine motor skills can be good, such as shape sorters; fine motor Montessori style activities such as putting toothpicks into a salt shaker (I’m sure Emma has a video shared of that on her Instagram somewhere!) or threading pipe cleaners through the holes of a mini colander (the Ikea toy kitchen ones are fab); board books with flaps or textured pages for them to explore; fuzzy felt.

💛 Use your highchair – even if you’re not using it for meals anymore! Toddlers will often focus for longer on an activity if they can’t get away from it, and it stops the mess spreading too far. Perfect for playdough, painting, stamping (we loved the Melissa and Doug stamping sets), colouring (perfect time to let them use pens, rather than sat on the sofa!), even Lego, Duplo, Playmobil, Sticklebricks etc. They’re contained, they can still make choices about what they’re doing (if they’re non-verbal you can put a couple of activities in front of them for them to choose) and it gives you a chance to catch up with yourself.

💛 Go for walks at toddler pace, if it’s safe to do so – tick list scavenger hunts are good, draw a picture of a few things they need to look for on a walk, and give them a crayon and a clipboard for them to tick them off or collect them in a bucket as you go. A walk round the block may take an hour but you’ll have a happy toddler and probably a sleeping babe in the buggy or sling. If it’s not safe for them to walk, there’s no reason why they can’t do this activity from the buggy – stick baby in the sling or in the bassinet, toddler in the seat of the buggy, and give them a list of things to spot. You can count cars, look for rainbow pictures, wave at people going by. It sounds so simple but it’s so much fun for them.

💛 Get your toddler their own baby! Let them practice all the things you will need to do with the new baby – changing nappies, feeding, getting them dressed, going for a walk. Toy prams and slings are brilliant for this. They can care for their baby alongside you caring for their sibling, or you can use it to practice gentle hands, etc.

💛 Play “going to bed” – ironically toddlers who are totally crap at going to bed themselves are usually utterly brilliant at pretending to do so! Have a change of scenery (rather than staying in one room all day) and go to one of your bedrooms, preferably somewhere you can all lie down, and have the toddler go through the motions of putting mummy and baby to bed. It’s great practice for them if they’re struggling with bedtime, and it’s a lovely lie down for you… (And of course, you can be feeding the baby while you’re doing this. But it’s part of the game. Everybody wins.)

💛 Get outside. You all need the fresh air and vitamin D, so if you have a garden or a safe balcony, get yourselves outside. Scavenger hunts work in the garden too! You can hide little toys or animals around the garden for them to find, then they can wash them. Two activities in one. Chalks on the pavement, painting with water on the wall or fence, collecting fallen leaves. None of these need much involvement from you, and they don’t create a huge mess. Always have a towel to hand for anything wet or messy, so that in the worst case scenario you can strip them off at the door and wrap them up in it! You will probably find that your baby sleeps well outside, possibly even in a pram or basket, so you may be able to have a coffee in the sunshine or get stuck in to playing with your toddler, with baby having a lovely fresh air nap.

💛 GET THEM INVOLVED. They may not be able to actually change the baby’s nappy, but they can pass you the wipes, get the nappy out of the drawer, put the wet one in the bin/washing basket. If you’re bottle feeding, let them “help” wash up.

Sling-specific suggestions!

💛 If you have a sling that you’re comfortable using, it may be possible to learn to feed in it – get help from a babywearing consultant to make sure you’re doing it safely, but that will take some of the stress out of going out for a walk with your toddler or getting stuck into an activity, rather than being worried that you’ll need to stop to feed the baby. Being able to feed on the go has definite advantages!

💛 If you don’t already have one, try a toddler carrier – again, we have several available to try at the sling library, or can advise on how to use what you may already have at home (Ergobaby, for example). That physical reconnection with your older child may be just what they need.

💛 If you have a partner or another adult at home, particularly if they’re working from home, give them the sling and the baby at nap time and you might get an hour or so that you wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s a great way for the second parent to bond with the new baby, and get them used to another way of settling, without necessarily needing to physically be with you the whole time. Equally necessary for your own mental wellbeing – that feeling of being “touched out” can increase massively when you have the demands of two tiny people (or more) and that will be particularly intense while everyone is stuck at home at the moment. A sling can help share the load of that fourth trimester baby who needs physical comfort, a heartbeat, movement and warmth. Daddy/Mum/Nanny/older sibling can provide that, it doesn’t have to be the breastfeeding parent or primary carer all of the time.

And a few end of the day suggestions…

💛 If bathtime is stressful or too stimulating, DON’T DO IT IN THE EVENING. There is no rule that says that toddlers have to have a bath at 6pm every night. (Obviously if they’re filthy and need to be hosed down that’s another matter!) If baby is cluster feeding and your toddler is overtired and overwhelmed, then adjusting your evening routine so that it no longer includes a bath might be the best option for everyone. A bath can be a really awesome way of keeping your toddler entertained for half an hour (or longer, I’ve definitely been known to sit in the bathroom for a good hour and just keep topping up the warm water if they’re happy in there…) so use that at a time in the day when it’s most needed, if doing it in the evening is not working!

💛 Don’t stress about creating bad habits at bedtime. Your toddler has gone through a massive upheaval in their life, they need you more than ever. If the best way to get everyone to sleep is a feed and a cuddle and a story in your bed, then do it. This phase will not last forever. You won’t still be doing it in a year’s time. I promise. If you are really worried about bedtime, then start making changes during pregnancy if you can. But if you can’t, or it’s too late (i.e. baby is already here!) don’t panic. Do whatever you need to do to get everyone to sleep, and worry about shifting things later on. Babies don’t cluster feed forever, the witching hour ends eventually, and one day your toddler or pre-schooler won’t want to be in your bed anymore. If nighttime sleep is really tough, look at what is happening in the daytime – sorting out naps is likely to make a real difference. Overtired babies and toddlers are much less likely to sleep well at night, and sleep really does breed sleep. (I highly recommend speaking to Lizzie Noble from Little Sleepers_Little Explorers for local sleep support, or check out Care It Out Sleep Consultant Consultant online.)

You’ve got this. You can do it. And there is so much support out there for you if you are struggling, even in these strange and unsettling times! Join us over at Cake Club Community - Parenting, Slings & Support, ask for support in here, or reach out to a friend. #ittakesavillage

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