The thought of having two babies under two is enough to give any mum the horrors. Bringing a newborn home is challenging enough, but what if there’s already a little one at home who is 18 months old or younger?
Mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue has over 30 years experience guiding families through the tricky stages of baby and toddlerhood, and she has some practical and very calming advice on how to best prepare for this situation and survive those first challenging six months.
Don’t panic, just be prepared
During your pregnancy, Chris suggests taking the time to get organised, thinking practically about what you’ll need so that you’re mentally prepared for the time ahead. One of the first things to consider is upgrading to a twin pram.
“You can’t do it with one pram,” she says. “You might get away with one pram and a sling for a very short time period of time, but really children sit in prams until they’re two, two and a half,” she says.
Next, Chris advises sorting out your car seat situation. “Depending on what state you’re in, going by your legislation on child seats, make sure that’s ready by about 36 weeks,” she says.
Another must-have is a second cot. “You can’t get away with a bassinet and a cot and then put an 18-month-old in a bed, as that 18-month-old will just walk around,” says Chris. However, another option is to source a larger bassinet. “You can get quite large bassinets now, and that could last up to six months,” she says. “You might be able to do that before you have to squeeze two cots into one room.”
Who is your support?
You will need help, and Chris suggests that towards the end of the pregnancy, you work out what support you have and what it looks like.
“If you’re in a situation where you have no help, no family support around, and your partner might only have two weeks off, then I would take that two weeks from when you get home from the hospital,” says Chris. “If he takes a week off while you’re in hospital, then you’ve only got a week of help before he needs to go back to work.”
And if you are thinking about hiring a nanny, Chris suggests doing this during the afternoons. “It’s going to be most chaotic in that afternoon period, so if you can only afford a couple of hours a week, I’d be getting them from 2pm through to about 6.30pm,” she says. “You could probably manage the morning, but two cranky babies at the end of the day is pretty tough work.”
Create a safe space
When you bring a baby home, a lot of time is spent feeding, so Chris suggests looking at your lounge room or wherever you mostly feed during the day and creating a space where your little one can happily play.
“I’d make it safe to have a toddler in there because they’re often just moving around while you’re feeding. So if I’ve got a little box of toys, use a gate to block off an area so you can visually see him all the time while you’re feeding because otherwise, you get this interrupted feed pattern with your second baby and that becomes a bigger problem down the track,” she says.
One of Chris’s most common suggestions is to have a portacot setup in the lounge room.
“I make that the play area for the new baby because it’s safer than a toddler tripping over their toes,” says Chris. “And if you have to rush off to the bathroom, or you get distracted, you can put them in that portacot, and you know that for two or three minutes, that room is safe.”
Prepare your toddler
When preparing a young toddler for the arrival of a new baby, Chris advises using visuals rather than verbal communication.
“You might put a changing table in the lounge room so that there’s a visual that says things are changing,” she says. “Before the baby’s due, take your toddler past the hospital, stop outside, and say, ‘That’s where Mummy needs to go to have a baby’.”
Finding the balance
According to Chris, the hardest challenge of two children under 18 months is that it will feel like you’ve got a child in bed all day. But how do you make that work? Chris advises limiting extracurricular activities as much as possible until things settle down.
“If we keep our little toddler’s daily routine going – so say they do playgroup, they do some sort of gym class, and then they go to daycare two days a week – and nothing changes for them, then the little baby could become quite chaotic in behaviour,” says Chris. “Sometimes you just have to put the social side on the back-burner for a little bit until you get your feet and feel comfortable with two children.”
And while parents feel nothing should change for the older child, an 18-month-old doesn’t really mind. “I think we forget the simplicity of that young child and we get hooked into the ‘we need to do’ thing. But he’d be really happy with a bucket outside, just unloading water with a spoon.”