Double trouble: five top tips on becoming a second-time mum
Mother to two young children, The Parenting Chapter's Sakina Windeatt, explains why becoming a mum for the second time around isn't quite a walk in the park, but is much easier to adjust to than the first time...
Becoming a mum for the first time was a rollercoaster of emotions. Going into the total unknown is pretty scary, and the shock of suddenly surviving on minimal sleep was tough. The second time around the excitement and nerves were still there, but knowing what to expect was both calming and terrifying all at once. However, you have already done the hardest part of actually adapting to life as a mum. You know what sleep deprivation is and will likely still be surviving on minimal sleep anyway.
My main worry the second time around was, ‘how the hell am I going to care for a newborn AND my crazy toddler?’. Well, fear not, I can tell you that yes it is hard. And yes, you will be all sorts of delirious with exhaustion, and yes you will struggle with trying all the tricks to get your baby to sleep and feed (what worked for baby number one doesn’t necessarily work for baby number two. Who knew!). But do you know what? It is so much easier the second time around. I was calmer and much more relaxed about the whole parenting thing. You know that each phase is just that and won't last forever; the long sleepless nights will come to an end soon and you start to cherish those 3am feeds just with you and your newborn, as you know they might never happen again (unless you are planning a third baby!). You won’t fret as much when they cry and will revel in the fact they cannot move. You can plonk them on the sofa, make a cuppa and they will still be there when you return. Amazing!
So a year on from the birth of my daughter (and second child) here are my five top pieces of advice for any mums with a second baby on the way:
1. Prepare your toddler before the baby arrives
Talk to your toddler about their new sibling and get them involved in the preparations. I took my son out shopping with me to help choose some baby grows and a new cuddly toy. We sat and went through all his old baby clothes, and I showed him photos of him wearing the little outfits. He also helped to set the nursery up and proudly tells his little sister that he put her cot mobile together. Get your little ones to listen to your belly and chat to their new baby brother or sister. My toddler would always sing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' to my tummy and this was the only song that would sooth her once she was born. We had a fab book called I'm a big brother (there is a sister version also) by Joanna Cole, which we read both before and after the baby was born. He loved reading it and it helped him to understand what was going on.
2. Get your toddler to 'help out'
Once the baby has arrived, get your toddler involved in changing and caring for their sibling. That extra pair of hands can be useful to fetch the wipes and pass a clean nappy. This made my little one feel grown up and ensured he wasn’t left out. We bought him a dolly, which meant he had his very own baby to look after and we would change and dress them together. He loved carrying it in a makeshift sling as we went to the shops and would even breastfeed it!
3. Keeping your routine
Try to keep your toddler's routine the same as much as possible, to keep disruption to a minimum. I found that the new baby soon started to follow the same sleep and wake times, which made life so much easier. Although do be prepared to adapt to fit everyone’s needs. As I was breastfeeding, we got into a routine of me putting the baby to bed while my husband did my son's bedtime. One day my boy turned to me and said that I no longer loved him anymore as I just loved the baby. Oh my gosh. It broke my heart! Since then, we introduced a bottle for bedtime, so I could spend some nights doing his bedtime routine, which he loved.
One area that can be hard is keeping the toddler entertained and not feeling left out during the long feed times in those early days. We created a special box of toys, games, puzzles and books, which we only got out at baby's feed times. I was able to read stories to my son with him snuggled into me while the baby fed on the other side.
4. Accept help where you can
That saying ‘newborns are wasted on a first-time parent’ is so true! There is no chance for snoozes on the sofa and PJ days watching box sets with an energetic toddler around. While I was on maternity leave, we kept him going to nursery for a couple of days a week, which was definitely needed and helped to not only let me have some one-on-one time with the new baby, but also meant he got a day to run around and have fun with his friends, too. If sending them to nursery or a childminder isn’t an option, perhaps ask family members to take your toddler out for the day or even arrange for your partner to work from home once a week.
It is also essential to make time for yourself. I was absolutely craving just being alone for an hour to sit in peace. Having two kids constantly attached to you crying and talking can wear you down. Even just a long bath or walk to the local café so you can sit and drink a hot cuppa while browsing Instagram will recharge you.
5. Encouraging their bond
Watching your toddler cuddle their little sibling for the first time is one of the best feelings in the world. I would encourage you to allow them to play and interact with the baby as much as possible. It can be hard not to jump in if you feel they are getting a bit rough, but you will soon realise that newborns are slightly more robust than you thought!
Spend time together with the baby trying to get them to smile, laugh or clap their hands. My toddler loved making his sister laugh; whenever she gave him a smile I would say, ‘wow look how much she loves you. You are the best big brother ever.’ There is still no one that can get such big belly laughs from her than he can! She is his number one fan, whose little face lights up when he walks in the room. It fills my heart with so much joy and makes all the stresses of motherhood – and having two children – so worth it.