If your family is growing and you are worried about surviving with a toddler and a newborn, these eight tips should help you – and your toddler – adjust to life with a new baby.
When my oldest child was a newborn, I remember laying on the couch with her on my chest for hours on end, sometimes reading or watching a show; sometimes, just soaking in her smell and those precious moments. I also have a specific memory of waking up from a nap with her laying contentedly on my chest and thinking, “I won’t be able to do this with my next baby.”
I was mostly right. I had my next baby just 17 months later, and then three more babies every two years after that. Yes, that’s five kids in less than eight years. While I was blessed to have enough support to still get some rest and cuddles in those first few weeks postpartum, caring for my newborns with toddlers (and preschoolers) also vying for my attention was different from the first time around.
Eight tips for surviving with a toddler and a newborn
There’s no easy answer on how to cope with a toddler and a newborn, and no one-size-fits-all answer either, but below are some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned as a postpartum doula and from my experience four times over.
1. Accept that it’s going to be a challenge and prepare accordingly.
Accepting from the beginning that caring for a newborn and toddler is hard – even for the most super of moms out there – will help. It’s best if you can begin to prepare and glean wisdom from other mamas who have been there while you’re pregnant, but even if you’re newly postpartum, you can still accept and get ready for the challenge ahead.
Once you’ve accepted that it will be a challenge, you can prepare yourself and your household. Gathering support should be your number one priority. Consider who you can call on when you’re desperate, but also consider who you can call on before you get desperate (see point seven).
Meal prepping or asking a friend to set up a meal chain is another way to prepare. Consider what you’ll be eating and what you’ll be feeding your toddler for all three meals plus snacks! This brings me to my next tip on surviving life with a toddler and a newborn…
2. Snacks. Lots of snacks.
I’ve had more experienced moms tell me that when all else fails with toddlers, snacks, or water play almost always fixes whatever problem you were facing. Water play might be tricky to supervise when you’re also caring for your newborn, but snacks are a great distraction.
Depending on your diet and preferences, you might have more or less prep work to do to make sure you have lots of snacks on hand (cutting up lots of fruits and veggies vs. buying bags of goldfish), but make sure you have some prepackaged emergency snacks that you can pull out when you’re desperate, and you didn’t get a chance to chop those veggies.
Some easy toddler snack ideas:
Bonus points if you store your toddler’s snacks in kid-friendly reusable bags (like this cute animal set) to help encourage independence and a happy tot.
3. Select a few favorite books.
Most toddlers love sitting and listening to a book. There’s no need to go out and buy new or special books for your toddler, though. In my experience, they tend to have a favorite two or three and are content to have those read to them repeatedly. If you have a special place where you feed your baby, keep a pile of favorite books there, too.
4. Prioritize time outside.
If you have a yard or a park nearby and the weather is agreeable, outside time is beneficial for your baby and toddler (and also for you!). Soak in your vitamin D while your toddler plays in a safe space.
My mother’s helper and I took my kids to the beach when my newborn was 2 weeks old (we live in Florida)! They mostly played gleefully in the sand, and my newborn slept in the sling while I enjoyed my happy place. We all needed it after two weeks of being inside.
5. Create a safe room.
If you can, make a room with a door safe for a toddler to play in. Take out anything dangerous or super messy, and make sure there are a few favorite toys. Then, when you need a breather, or things feel out of control, take the kids into the “safe room” and close the door. Sit with your back against the door and feed your newborn while the toddler plays. You can read or listen to a book or just scroll on your phone.
6. Sleep while the baby sleeps (?!)
I appreciate this sentiment when people have said it to me – and sometimes it’s possible and needed. But when you have a toddler and a newborn, you might have an hour or two when they are both asleep at the same time during the day.
There’s a good chance you might want to use that time to take a bath or shower, do a quick workout (after you’re cleared, of course), clean up the house so you can breathe (is that just me with clutter?), or watch a show in peace. Or any number of things.
Sleep is crucial, and a lack of it can lead to depression and anxiety, so if rest is what you need and want, then do it. But I hesitate just to say, “sleep when the baby sleeps,” to new moms of more than one child because sometimes it’s not possible, and sometimes it’s not actually what she needs most on that particular day.
7. Get help – at least occasionally.
My fifth baby was born in one of the most financially difficult seasons of our lives. As much as I would have loved to hire a postpartum doula, it just wasn’t possible at that time. But I was able to pay the little sister of one of my good friends to be my “mother’s helper” twice a week. She is a teenager and a family friend, so it was less expensive than someone I might have found through a formal website.
If you can afford a postpartum doula, though, I highly recommend it. Postpartum doulas help with everything from light housework like folding laundry and doing the dishes to sibling care – like taking your toddler outside while you rest with the baby. They also are excellent at helping you become confident as a mom of two. Many postpartum doulas also will do nightshifts, which allow you to get more sleep but will wake you for nursing (if you’re nursing). Other options for help include a nanny, a newborn care specialist, a “night nurse,” or a night nanny.
8. Give yourself and your toddler grace.
Above all, remember this. You just had a baby, and your toddler’s position in the family as the “baby” has been revoked by this tiny human that they’re not sure about yet. Give yourself and your toddler grace.
This means when your toddler throws a screaming fit right when the baby fell asleep, instead of losing it, try to take a deep breath, count to ten, and calmly deal with it. Remember that your toddler is going through a major transition and didn’t all of a sudden become a “big kid” because they’re not the youngest anymore.
It also means that if you don’t calmly deal with it, and instead you yell or cry or lash out, try not to beat yourself up. You will try to do better next time, but remember that you also just went through a significant transition, and it takes time to settle into this new groove.
Giving yourself grace might also mean letting your toddler watch more tv than usual or letting them eat snacks they wouldn’t usually get. It might mean asking for help more often or using paper plates for every meal. Mostly it means not feeling guilty for doing what you need to do to care for your family during this season.
Final thoughts on surviving life and a toddler and a newborn
Many mamas of older kids will say, “Enjoy this season! You’ll miss it one day.” If you find yourself thinking that there’s no way you’ll miss this – don’t fret. You probably will miss newborn snuggles and toddler giggles at some point, but it’s okay if you don’t enjoy every minute and don’t think you’ll miss the hard parts. I don’t!
I 100% did not love every minute of the years with a newborn and toddler. But I also have realized that you don’t have to love the moment to be content in the moment. Find peace in knowing that it won’t last forever, but while you’re living it, do what you need to do, and you’ll be ok.
So press on, sweet mama of two or three or more! Prepare what you can, ask for help more than you think you should, enjoy the good times and let the bad times go, and give as much grace as possible. You can do it. You were made to do it.
Resources on navigating family with a new baby
- How to Set Boundaries with Family After a Baby is Born
- Couples-Based Communication Tips for After Baby