Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton gave birth to Prince George and Princess Charlotte a mere 22 months apart. And as any experienced mother knows, such a small age gap between babies is filled with challenges for you.
Even with the best help money can buy, you’ll be in for a busy, and potentially fraught, transition. However, coping with a baby and a toddler doesn’t have to be the stuff of nightmares.
Chireal Shallow, a child psychologist and mum of four, says that although it’s hard work, with a bit of planning, “two under 2” can be a fun and rewarding experience. She offers seven key tips on how to cope…
1. Make a basket of toddler toys
“Pack a small basket with a few toys or books for your toddler and leave it in the middle of the living room floor when you go to bed. This will buy you 15 minutes’ peace in the morning while you see to the baby,” Shallow says.
“One day, fill it up with wooden spoons and plastic bowls. The next day, make it toy cars or musical instruments. Look at the different types of senses, learning or interaction you might help to provoke.
It’s also important that you don’t put in too much, Shallow says. “Stick to a few items. You’re trying to capture your child’s attention and that’s best done by not giving too many distractions.”
"Being surrounded by your love will all help your children feel content and comforted."
2. Be present in every room
With two tiny children, it’s inevitable that you’re going to feel more needed than you ever have in your life. But Shallow says you have ways of preventing it from feeling as though you’re spread too thinly.
“I think it’s a nice touch for parents to record themselves reading their child’s favourite stories. If you leave this in a simple player in your toddler’s room, they can listen to your voice whenever they want to by just pressing a button. Similarly, I’d put up big pictures of you for your new baby by their changing mat. They will find your face soothing, even if someone else is changing her diaper. Being surrounded by your love will all help your children feel content and comforted.”
3. Get the double stroller ready
With two little ones under 2, your tandem stroller is going to be central to your life. “It pays to research which is going to work best for you well before the birth,” says Shallow.
“Buy it early and put it together. You should practise putting it up and collapsing it, and putting it in the car. The last thing you are going to want to do is struggle with it while trying to soothe a tired newborn.”
Four more tips for juggling the care of a newborn and a toddler…
4. Sharing a bedroom
“Many parents worry about having their baby share a bedroom with their toddler,” Shallow says. “But when you’re ready to move your youngest from your bedroom, having both kids together can actually work really well.”
Studies show that babies and small children like sleeping in the same room as their siblings, she says. If your older child sleeps through, it may encourage your baby to do so, too.
“You could place your baby in their cot and then read quietly to the older child. You can always bring your baby into your room for night feeds.”
Shallow also advises getting your little ones to share a bath, “It makes your toddler feel involved.”
5. Sync their routines
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” Shallow advises. “You might not know when your newborn is going to nap or want to feed, but you probably have a clearer idea of your toddler’s routine, so you can build the day around that.”
Shallow suggests that you try and put them down for a lunchtime nap at the same time if you can. And get used to feeding them at the same time. A great tip for this is to make a snack box for your toddler that you keep in the fridge, with breadsticks, chopped fruit, rice cakes and even bits of cooked omelette. “When you prepare to breast- or bottlefeed, you can produce this snack pack. The older child may feel excluded when you feed baby, so this helps.”
Studies show that babies and small children like sleeping in the same room as their siblings. If your older child sleeps through, it may encourage your baby to do so, too.
6. Divide your house into zones
“If you think about nurseries where they look after more than one child, it’s all about creating different areas where the expected behaviour is different,” Shallow points out. “In our homes, the whole place tends to become a child zone, but children respond well to distinct zones.”
If you can, create a “quiet zone” with cushions and a pile of books, where you can read books to your toddler, while feeding the newborn. Also, let the older child have a special play area where they can do more active activities and let loose.
“And use a playpen or travel cot as it’s somewhere to put one child while you deal with unexpected situations or when you need to separate them,” Shallow suggests.
7. Double the essentials
Keep one changing bag in the car, if you have one, and another in your stroller, as well as have snacks in both places. “Restock when you need to,” Shallow says. “Ten minutes of planning will make your day much easier.”
She also suggests doing “double duty” in other areas. “We normally keep medicines in the bathroom. Place another set in a tray that you can keep somewhere in the bedroom, out of your toddler’s reach. Then, if you need something at 3am, it’s easy to find.
“And when you’re making your baby or toddler’s bed, layer one sheet on top of another. If one of your children is sick in the night, you can peel off the top sheet and resettle them quickly.”