Caring for a newborn and a toddler alone can be a challenge, there are no two ways about it. What makes it especially difficult, in my opinion, is the continued lack of sleep and the unpredictability of both ages. There isn’t much to be done about the exhaustion however, as newborns often work on their own schedules. If you are caring for a newborn and a toddler alone, you need to find practical solutions and that’s why I’m here to help.
Through much trial and error, I survived to tell the tale and share my best strategies with you. While this may prove to be a challenging phase in your parenting journey, know that it also comes with great joy – there is nothing like watching your children develop a relationship with one another!
How To Care For A Newborn And A Toddler Alone
Before you climb into bed each night, put aside 10 minutes and prepare for the next full day. With two very small children, organization is key. For example:
- Re-stock the baby’s changing station
- Prepare ready-to-eat toddler snacks and at least one full meal to be served during the busiest time of your day
- Gather nursing supplies to a central location or clean/prep bottles (to the extent that you can)
- Organize and restock toddler activities (i.e. blocks, coloring books, stickers, play-doh, puzzles)
Baby wearing is incredibly helpful when caring for both a newborn and a toddler. Wearing a wrap provided comfort to my fussy son and allowed me to be handsfree for my daughter. I felt most confident and in control of the craziness while wearing a wrap in those early days. I used several different wraps and carriers, but the one I found most helpful for soothing my son was the Moby (once I figured out how to use it!).
Naps In The Crib
To avoid constant noise disruptions, I suggest putting your newborn in the crib for naps. My daughter routinely napped in her swing as a newborn and I wrongly assumed my second would do the same – I forgot however, how LOUD toddlers can be. Every time the poor little guy would close his eyes my daughter would inevitably scream and wake him up – absolutely not her fault, but frustrating nonetheless. Move the baby into a quiet room with a white noise machine and let your toddler play.
Involve Your Toddler
To the extent that you can, involve your toddler and encourage her to watch as you care for the baby. My daughter, who was exactly three-years-old at the time, loved watching her baby brother take baths – I know she felt included and important as the big sister overseeing the process.
I would also recommend asking for help with simple tasks, like fetching wash cloths or diapers, to establish a sense of responsibly and encourage a helpful attitude – hearing what a great big sibling they are goes a long way with toddlers!
Stock up on independent toddler activities; my favorites include coloring and picture books, stickers, puzzles, and blocks. I would often read my daughter a book while nursing the baby, asking her to turn the pages for me. I recommend putting aside a container filled with these types of activities and leaving it in a central location to where you plan to nurse/feed/change the baby (if you are looking for inspiration, check out busytoddler.com). Preparation and accessibility is key – riffling through a pile of toys won’t help in a pinch!
Oh, and don’t feel bad about enlisting the help of Daniel Tiger (and the like) – if it provides 20 minutes of quiet time, take it!
This tip is more of a mindset versus an activity; anticipating the needs of your toddler will go a long way in creating a calm (er) environment when caring for both children.
For example, take the initiative to set aside a meal for your toddler in a free moment EVEN if she says she isn’t hungry – the moment you sit down to feed the baby, hunger will inevitably strike. This scenario played out several times until I finally realized I needed to prepare for the unexpected (or really the “expected” with a toddler).
In addition, I made it a point to explain the forthcoming timeline to my daughter. For example, as we walked in the door I would explain that I would first prepare her dinner, then I would need to change and nurse the baby while she ate. Whatever the situation is, prepare your toddler for what’s to come – this strategy will help set expectations and minimize any hurt feelings when you need to tend to the baby.
Last, but certainly not least…
Special Activities for Toddler
Newborns are time consuming and often the envy of older siblings. Carve out one-on-one time or create a special project to work on with your toddler. Even a simple gesture, like preparing a favorite snack, can go a long way in making a toddler feel special. Bake cookies, take a walk, or let her stay up late to read a book with just mommy and daddy – the options are endless, it’s really the quality one-on-one time that matters.