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Motherhood

Surviving the Fourth Trimester with 2 Under 2

The first 12 weeks after you welcome your baby is often referred to as the “fourth trimester”. It is the time of your pregnancy journey that, while no longer pregnant, your baby is so delicate and needy that they are practically still a fetus. For them, it is a period of great change while adjusting to life outside of the womb. It is also the time where your baby thrives on skin to skin and close contact regularly.

“While there are only three trimesters in pregnancy, it is often said that there is a fourth trimester after giving birth. That trimester, while exciting, new, and fun, also comes with challenges, exhaustion, and recovery!”

– Christine of Jar of Lemons

Bringing your newborn home offers challenges. Having your life turn upside-down in a blink of an eye is a lot! All of a sudden, you are completely responsible for a helpless little human who needs you to cater to them while also trying to find your new normal – it’s not always easy!

However, bringing home a newborn when you already have a toddler at home offers its own set of unique challenges. Not only do you have this tiny little one who you need to cater to and learn, but you also have your toddler who is full of energy and may even be getting into the mischievous stage.

The Fourth Trimester is Different This Time

The fourth trimester this time around won’t be full of naps and expending little energy (unless your child is the opposite of mine and is a perfect sleeper who just loves to “chill”). Instead, it will probably be full feeling like you are being pulled in a hundred directions at the same time and being unsure what you next moves should be.

Heed my words: it may feel like this fourth trimester is taking forever to pass, but it will be over before you know it. As they say, “the days are long but the years are short”. In this case, the ‘years’ being refereed are only three months long and are they ever short.

Surviving two under two is not a walk in the park, but with a couple tips and preparation, it can be close. Maybe even as closer as a walk in the park on a rainy day!

1. Prepare Your Meals Ahead of Time

After my first, Charlotte, was born, I didn’t even want to think about dinner, let alone make it. I hate cooking as it but cooking with a newborn isn’t easy. Unfortunately though, I didn’t think ahead and prep meals ahead of time so I had to worry about dinner every single day. It sucked. Charlotte hated being put down and slept very little for a newborn so more often than not, Tim would come home after a long day and have to immediately figure out what we were eating. We did a lot of cereal and sandwiches for dinner back in those days.

When I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with my second, Michael, I knew I wanted to have meals arranged ahead of time to save me the time and stress. My daughter is picky, so thinking of meals that has food I know she likes (while also having new/disliked foods to target the picky eating) AND making sure it is relatively healthy can be super time consuming.

Taking a day here and there to prep some meals probably saved my sanity. I didn’t have to spend an entire day wondering what I was going to make. Instead, I could just throw it in the oven when the time came and take it out when it was done. No stress!

2. Write Down Your Routine, Stick to It

Kids thrive off routine. When they know what is going on and what is going to happen next, they are able to handle any stress that enters their life a lot easier. Not perfectly, they are only kids after all, but definitely easier.

In this time of your kids life, the biggest stress for them is on it’s way – a person that they need to share Mommy and Daddy with. This alone will stress your child out a lot. Without having a routine in place, you’re adding extra anxiety to your child by not teaching them what comes next. They begin to get scared and will sometimes even lash out.

Instead, you will want to keep things as normal and habitual as possible from the weeks before giving birth and to the weeks way after. Write your routine down so that not only do you stick to it, but any friends or family who babysit your child can stick to it.

On top of that, try to keep both your kids to the same schedule as much as possible. Wake up at the same time. Change diapers at the same one (one after the other). Nap at the same time. Play at the same time. Go to bed at the same time.

Obviously your new baby will sleep more often than your toddler, but working hard to establish one same nap time will provide you with extra “you-time” in the future! Obviously when putting your baby to bed, they will wake up 3 to 6 more times until morning, but teaching them early that that is bed time will avoid conflict down the road.

My Family – who probably came once a day – at least respected the times they were allowed.

3. Establish Visiting Hours

Having a set time that visitors are and are not allowed helps keep your days as normal as possibly, which helps your toddler ease into this transition. It may sound and feel strict, but without visiting hours, people may be tempted to drop in whenever it suits them – without really considering if it suits you.

When you set specific hours people are allowed to come by, it also gives you freedom to not worry about being “presentable” or having the house “presentable”. Instead, you can fully worry on taking care of your toddler and your newborn’s needs.

If you’re scared of being too strict, at least forbid people from coming until after your toddler has their nap. Having people drop in unexpected before or during your toddlers nap time is only going to create an overtired and overexcited child. While the visitors may not care that the toddler is “a little cranky”, you’re the one who is going to have to get that cranky toddler to nap and it will not be a fun time.

4. Let Go of the Guilt

When I first found out I was pregnant with Michael, I was plagued with guilt. I felt like a horrible mother for “stealing my daughter of her infancy”. This guilt had me not even tell my family about my pregnancy until I was 13 weeks along. I wanted to wait until my daughter was one so that she “had a full year as the only grandchild”. Don’t get me wrong, Tim and I were super excited (and very nervous) to be welcoming another little one into our family. I just was drowning in mom guilt.

Realistically though, I didn’t steal Charlotte of anything. Instead, I gave her the perfect play buddy. She was just under a year and a half when her brother was born, and she immediately loved him. The first week home with Michael, Charlotte was constantly wanting to hold him and kiss him and play with him. Even now, more than four months later, Charlotte is still obsessed with her little brother.

I know one day, they will banter and batter, but I have a feeling the fights will be minimal compared to the friendship they experience due to their closeness in age.

Samantha Mac Photography

5. Let Go of Expectations

Something I was worried about when I first found out I was pregnant with my second was if this birth experience and baby would be a clone of my first. I didn’t have a bad birth experience with Charlotte (you can read about it here), but I also didn’t love it. Who loves labour? (Well ok… I actually did with Michael! Mainly because it is such a funny story. You can read it here.) However, Charlotte as a newborn was hard. Capital H, even. Hard. She never slept. Newborns are suppose to sleep and she never wanted to sleep. She just wanted to play and look around at the world. This wouldn’t have been too bad if she at least slept at night, but no. Sleep was not her strong suit.

Throughout my entire pregnancy, I basically expected that Michael would be the same. Same painful labour with the same tears; same wide awake baby with the same activeness. I tried not to even think about it because I knew that would just cause unneeded stress.

Now you may be opposite and want your second to be like your first to which I say – let go of that expectation. Your children are unique individuals and deserve to be seen and treated as such. Worrying about what your two children will have the same and will have different won’t do you any good.

Stress comes naturally to a pregnant women, but it’s up to us to let go of the unneeded stress when we can.

6. Prepare Your Toddler

Surprising your toddler with a brand new baby probably wouldn’t work out too well. Have you ever held another baby in front of your toddler? I bet it didn’t work out to well. Instead, prepare your toddler for the big change coming. Talk to them about babies. Show pictures of babies. Bring them around other babies if you can. Show off your belly. Let them feel baby move. Let them pick clothes for baby. Read books about babies. Read books about big siblings. Even read books about helping.

Make it “their” or “our” baby instead of “mommy’s” baby.

Keep in mind, the last two months of pregnancy and first two months with a new baby is not the time to place a big responsibility on your child. This is not the time to potty train, to wean from a pacifier, or to start sleeping in a big-kid bed. This is a time to provide stability and comfort to your child as they are going through probably the biggest change in their life.

7. Sleep Train Early

No, I absolutely do not mean let your newborn cry it out. What I mean is: teach your newborn how to sleep. For most newborns, sleep comes pretty easy. My son was one of them. However, for others, it is a difficult challenge to master. My daughter is still in training.

Teaching your baby to fall asleep in their crib as opposed to your arms will help massively when they need a nap but your toddler needs to eat. Teaching them to sleep in reasonably loud environments will help when they need a nap but your toddler is wanting to play and laugh and dance. When you teach them to sleep in a bright environment, it will help when they need a nap but your toddler wants to play outside.

Teaching your baby how to sleep from the start will only better your life with young children.

(Some people argue that your baby should be taught to sleep only in a dark, silent environment, and while I do believe that is necessary as well, it is not realistic as the “only”. I believe you should teach your child to sleep in all environments.)

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8. Let Your Toddler Help

Your toddler is a naturally caring little human. Helping is their love language. It’s how they know you love them and how they want to show love to their new baby sibling. Let them.

You don’t need to start letting your 18 month old change your newborns diapers, but letting them throw the diaper in the garbage is a good start.

Baby has spit up on their face? Ask your toddler to use a cloth and wipe it away.

Baby needs a bottle? Ask your toddler if they want to help feed baby.

Baby is crying? Ask your toddler to offer some kisses and say “it’s ok”.

Your toddler will love to help and allowing your toddler to do so will build a beautiful bond between your two little ones! As long as you watch closely and step in immediately when needed, any jealousy should be minimal. It’s not “Mommy’s Baby”, it’s “Our Baby”.

9. Invest in a Comfortable Baby Carrier

Having two under two and trying to do anything can be immensely difficult. The simplest task such as getting your morning cereal can turn into an obstacle course involving little legs and little voices and never-ending cries of demands. With your newborn smack-dab in the “please never stop snuggling me” stage, it can be hard to find any time for chores or hobbies while also fulfilling your baby’s needs.

This is where a baby carrier can save your sanity. Being able to wear your newborn allows you to give them the cuddles they need while still having access to both your hands to do the things you need to do. For the second month of Michael life, while we were at home, he was almost always snuggled against me in his carrier. (The first month, he basically slept non-stop on a travel bassinet that sat on our couch.)

10. Get Outside

When you have a newborn, it’s easy to say no to doing anything and going anywhere. However, that will quickly lead to a cabin-fevered toddler. Try to get out even just once a day for a couple minutes. Not only will this heighten your toddlers mood, but you’ll probably feel refreshed with all that fresh air and vitamin D as well.

Having a baby in the winter can make going outside difficult, especially due to flu season. Personally, I relied on my husband to take my daughter outside when he got home from work for a quick walk to the park while I made dinner. When we would make the venture as a family, I put Michael in a snow suit, in his stroller, and under some blankets with a fitted hat that perfectly covered his ears.

For either winter or summer season, be mindful of the weather (temperature, humidity, wind chill, etc) and if it is safe for your toddler and newborn to go outside.

11. Encourage Interaction

I think one of the best things I have done to help with the fourth trimester is encouraging my kids to interact. Some parents are quick to butt in when their toddler wants to “help” or “play with” the new baby, and that’s fine if that’s what they want to do! Personally, though, I want my kids to be able to interact with one another without fear of Mommy or Daddy putting an end to it.

Charlotte loves to hold Michael. She loves to “read” him stories and sing him songs. She holds his hands and sometimes even grabs both of them to make them clap! Thankfully, she caught onto the limits pretty fast. She knows she is not allowed to pick him up or sit on him. Instead, she will come to myself or Tim and say “Michael up, please” or “Charlotte’s turn” when she wants to hold him. I’ve encouraged the relationship from the start and it has been beautiful to watch it grow.

I once received the advice: Make up a voice for your newborn and use it when your toddler interacts with the baby. I have only ever heard good things about this advice and the wonders it worked! Unfortunately Charlotte was not fooled. Probably because my voice acting skills are just pathetic! However, it is definitely worth trying if your toddler is apprehensive on interacting with their new sibling.


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