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The good news is that although it may sound daunting, it is actually easier to raise a toddler and a newborn than it might seem at first.
An age gap of anything closer than 24 months can actually be easier to deal with in many ways, compared to a larger age gap. For example, it’s really a positive to have a toddler still young enough to take an afternoon nap when you have a newborn. If you have a wider age gap, you have more of a risk that the older child may have stopped napping by the time baby is born.
Also, it’s only the first year when their needs seem so very different. After that, they are not too different in terms of the level of things they can understand and the activities they might enjoy, which also makes things easier than you might expect.
My two boys are 19 months apart so I’m sharing these tips for raising a toddler and a newborn baby. Ultimately, every family is different so just pick out what works for you. Be prepared to use a little trial and error to develop your routine to a great fit and you will be certain of ultimately having fun!
1. Get enough rest: try to line up toddler and baby nap times
Yes, it sounds very obvious, but the best thing you can do for yourself is when the toddler goes down for his or her usual afternoon nap, try to get baby napping too. If you can, hold off the toddler’s nap until just after baby has fed, then put them both down for naptime and go to sleep yourself.
Don’t even think about doing laundry, washing dishes, or anything like that during their combined nap time. Simply lie down and don't even look at your phone. This is the only way you will get enough rest, especially when baby is still not sleeping through the night. Of course, baby may not always decide to nap then, but odds are that their naps will overlap for at least a little time more days than not.
2. Shopping for groceries: use the bottom of the cart for your purchases
One of the easiest ways to shop for groceries with a newborn baby and a toddler is to use the type of baby car seat with a carry-handle. When grocery shopping, place baby in car seat inside the main part of the cart (where you would normally put the groceries). Then sit the toddler in the little toddler-seat area of the shopping cart. Now you have no room on the top of the cart, but you can use the space underneath the cart for your purchases. Be careful where you place things and don’t take tight turns or your groceries will fall off!
You will need to do a few smaller grocery trips per week instead of one big one, but frankly, that will be easier on a fussing baby and impatient toddler, too. It won’t be forever – you only need do this until baby is sitting up (about 6 – 8 months) and then you can put them in the dual-child grocery carts or have the toddler walk. Consider buying diapers online to save precious space in your grocery cart (you may find this also saves you money! – see next tip.)
Why a wearable baby carrier isn't always a good idea
Some people find a baby harness or front carrier helpful for grocery shopping – I recommend firmly against it. The reason for this is that it is possible for the carrier to cut off or slow down circulation to baby’s legs, depending on the fit.
If you really want to use a harness or carrier, only do it when it is warm enough for baby’s feet to be uncovered: be certain to inspect baby’s feet every few minutes to make sure feet are not turning purple (this is harder to see than it sounds when baby is strapped to your chest).
Also, make sure baby’s head is not slumped and the airway is unobstructed if baby dozes off in carrier. Ultimately, the semi-reclined car seat is a much better and safer option for shopping trips with baby.
3. Money-saving tips when raising a toddler and newborn
Buying diapers online can save you money, time and grocery-cart space. I found that by buying diapers eligible for Amazon Subscribe & Save, I was able to get extra discounts applied to my diaper purchases, making it cheaper than the supermarket price. Subscribe & Save means you have a regular, ongoing order which is delivered to your door. (You can make adjustments on the fly as needed, like skipping the next shipment or having one sent early.)
For grocery shopping, sometimes you can even find coupons on related baby and toddler brands so look out for these. For example, I found coupons which could get money off when buying baby formula with toddler snacks. Score! The stores are not necessarily being altruistic – I think they are counting on most people not needing both baby formula and toddler snacks simultaneously! Fortunately, you are someone who can take advantage of such an offer.
Also, when baby is starting on baby food, odds are that if baby refuses a food, you may be able to pass it off onto your toddler as ‘special sauce’ or dip for whatever solid food he or she is eating. In this way, you may get more savings from less food wastage. However, remember to do this in such a way that germs are not transferred between them, or at least not from the toddler to the baby.
4. Diapering a baby and a toddler
It is really up to you whether to have one changing station in the house for use by both children, or two stations: one in each of their rooms. It all depends on your home layout, available space, etc. What worked for me was a dedicated diaper changing station for baby, while for toddler I simply unrolled a towel onto an existing surface (desk, floor, mattress) to use as a changing station – after which the space was returned to its normal use.
5. Playtime is easy!
You will find that even the most active toddler will generally want to be near where you are, and of course your newborn baby is portable… so just have them both nearby to you with toys they might each like. Don’t expect your toddler to want to be involved with what baby is doing.
Simply pay equal attention to both of them and get involved in what each child is doing. For example, your toddler may want to be stacking blocks or playing with cars while baby is doing tummy time or playing with a rattle.
6. Use verbal mantras to help decrease jealousy
I found that shamelessly using verbal propaganda helped instill the idea that siblings should love and care for one another. Because mine were both boys, I worded the propaganda this way: "You are brothers together. Brothers help each other. Brothers love one another. Brothers are gentle to each other." I do this at odd moments any time – whether at home or out and about.
You should also show the toddler exactly how to "be gentle" with baby: take toddler’s hand and stroke it very gently on baby’s arm or leg, saying "gentle, gentle". If toddler tries to hit or isn’t being gentle enough, then simply remove baby from arm’s reach and inform the toddler that he or she doesn’t get to touch baby until he or she can be gentle. Be certain to praise toddler whenever he or she is gentle with baby.
Yes there is an easy solution for this! Obviously, you won’t be able to bathe a newborn baby in the same bath as your active toddler. An ideal solution is to bathe baby in the morning with the toddler looking on and maybe even helping by handing you items. Rest assured, most toddlers find this to be interesting entertainment to watch. (Baby will be having a sponge bath or be in a baby bath with an inclined ramp for this.) For toddler’s bath, do it when baby is safely asleep in the crib for his or her morning nap.
Remember, a newborn baby only needs to be bathed every 2-3 days, and the toddler may not need a bath every day either, so it’s not as big of a deal as it sounds. You’re only doing separate baths until baby can sit (and preferably stand) independently, around 8 or 11 months of age – and then you can bathe them together.
You will get surprisingly adept at using both hands at once at feeding times – this is true whether you are breastfeeding or formula feeding; whether you are at home or out and about. Rest assured you will manage to feed baby while attending to toddler’s table food needs.
9. When they are both cranky…
Make sure to have a default plan for when the newborn and toddler are both miserable and nothing seems to help, as otherwise you will start feeling stressed out too.
A great way to snap them out of their funk is to make sure you have music cued up on your phone - you’ll be surprised how everyone’s mood lifts. I usually use YouTube for this. Something classical but fun is appealing to adults and children alike, for example Spring from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, or a piece by Johann Strauss II.
Other options are for everyone to have outdoor time together – this can also be an instant fix. If the weather is too hot or cold, try going to the local library or some other place for a change of scenery.
10. Time-saving tips
If you are trying to do any task around the house (e.g. laundry, cooking, washing dishes), just do it incrementally in little bits here and there while caring for your children, and allow yourself lots more time than usual to complete the task fully. Don’t fall into the trap of waiting until you have a bigger block of time available. Yes, a big block of time would make the task more efficient BUT when you have a big block of time available you should instead use it to get some rest or just do something for yourself like having a cup of coffee. This way you’ll put the little bits of time here and there to good use doing tasks, while still not encroaching on your precious nap time.
Also, don’t expect too much of yourself, especially when your newborn baby is still waking up at night. Learn to let go of some things, at least temporarily. Simply try to strike a balance by getting the most essential items of housework done while still spending proper time caring for the needs of your children and yourself.
It is not as difficult as you might think to raise a toddler and a newborn baby at the same time. In fact, it is lots of fun! Enjoy this new and exciting time of your family life.