Every time my husband, mother, or in-laws left the house with my toddler I would be overcome with resentment. They would go to the park, the zoo, a friend’s birthday party – one of the many activities we arranged to keep my daughter happy and occupied during the month after I gave birth to my second baby. One of the many activities it didn’t make sense for me to attend. I didn't have any severe post-birth complications, but as a doula and birth educator, I know the importance of resting during the first few days and weeks postpartum and wanted to let my body heal well. I was thrilled that my daughter was enjoying herself and extremely grateful to have the extra hands, but overall, I couldn’t help but feel totally and completely left out of her life and their experiences.
We spend a lot of time helping folks prepare to have their first baby. And too many of us make the assumption that preparing to have a second means you’re doing it again! It’s totally normal to feel all the feelings after you have a baby, and having a second is no different. Having number two is inherently unique – mostly because of baby number one. While first time parents worry about the birth and postpartum recovery, second time parents most often worry about how their older kid.
Last time you considered which show you’d binge while the baby feeds and this time you’re worried about entertaining a toddler while you’re feeding. Last time it was wondering where you’d get your next meal, this time it’s making sure those meals are kid-approved.
More second time parents have been taking a refresher and VBAC-friendly class with us and it’s made me want to provide more specific postpartum recommendations since our Postpartum Planning Class just covers the basics. I asked my friend, postpartum doula colleague, and fellow mom of two Grace Veras Seely to chat with me about postpartum planning the second time around which you can go back and watch, or listen to, but I’m also writing them down in case anyone has time to read.
Here’s a random collection of a lot of thoughts. We hope they help!
First things first:
Respect Your Postpartum-ness! You already know that the weeks, months, and first year after you give birth should be filled with rest and nourishment. Between healing the placental site, riding the wave of regulating hormones, having organs shift back into place, and recovering nutrients given to the baby during pregnancy you more than deserve time and attention. If you’re planning to nurse your baby you’ll be trying to establish your milk production and get a good latch. If you have a history of depression or anxiety, you’ll want to be extra mindful of your mental health. It can be tempting to jump back into parenting your first child full on as you were before, but your body and new baby have special needs that have to be priorities.
Can you commit to doing something for yourself everyday? It might be using the bathroom alone at the start. You can work up to taking a walk around the block, or doing some stretches. When we welcome a new baby into our family the amount of neediness directed at you is magnified at an unbelievable rate. While it’s normal in our society to feel depleted, with planning and dedication we can ease the intensity. It will start with you protecting your own time. You have to know that you’re worth it! Things will go better if you have what you need (And it’s temporary).
With that, rely on your partner to parent as fully as you do. And, let them get creative. We know that the strength of relationships and family bonding increase when partners take on more responsibilities during the first year of a baby’s life. Obviously, if you’re in this with a partner they can spend a lot of time with your older kid, while you’re resting and bonding with the baby. But, it’s as important to consider that your partner will need 1:1 time to bond with the new baby as well (time you can use to reconnect with your older one). Laura Markman, the author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Siblings, calls this “special time,” and I highly encourage it when possible.
As soon as you’re up for being alone with both kiddos, your partner is too! We all need to learn on the job here so no need to micromanage or praise them for effort. Life with two kids, more than ever, is trial by fire. If you’re in a fairly typical cis-hetero partnership with an uneven divide in how much you each contribute to parenting tasks, domestic chores, and emotional labor “i.e., the mental load you can check out Fair Play, a new book and card game by Eve Rodsky that helps you break up who’s doing what and why.
Assuming partners are going back to work before you, and especially for those who are working from home these days (or have flexible hours) I want to strongly encourage time-creativity. It's going to be nearly impossible for someone to get a consistent stretch of work done in the house with a child and new baby. It’s not a personal or familial failing, it’s just reality. It’s also incredibly challenging emotionally when one person is actively parenting and the other is WFH. You’ll know there’s another body in the house but you can’t access them. If possible (and if you’re an employer, make this possible) it would be ideal if partners can work in two to four hour increments throughout the day. You can experiment with working from 7am - 11am, breaking to lend a hand and ensure everyone has their basic needs met (eat, sleep, use the bathroom, get outside), plugging in again before dinner and then after bedtime.
While we’re on the topic, if they’re not already partners have to become expert babywearers (i.e., strapping that baby to their body). Newborns can sleep for one to three hours at a time, and often sleep longer and really well in baby carriers. Birth Smarter meetings constantly have babies present, at at least one prepping dinner or folding laundry. If you have work from a home partner, hopefully there are ways they can multitask during work time!
Sleep, whenever, wherever, however. My best advice is to release all that you think you know about sleep, especially as it relates to what’s culturally appropriate. Where, when, and how you sleep no longer matters. Go for the singular goal of clocking as many hours as possible in a 24 hour period.
Sure, you can try and cozy into your bed at night, but you can also take a nap in your toddler’s bed, on the sofa, on the floor next to the baby gym, or in your car (crack the window. Seriously I’ve been intensely woken up three times by strangers worried about me during what would have otherwise been a blissful rest). 10-15 minutes rests aren’t as restorative but they really can get you through!
Carrier, stroller, and car naps might also be your only option for getting the kids to sleep at the same time during the day.
As someone who generally struggles to nap, my personal favorite tactic has been adopting toddler bedtime. If you can read a book, sing a song, and lay in a dark room for more than five minutes without falling asleep, congratulations! If you’re straining to stay awake though, because your circadian rhythms are calling you into deep slumber – I suggest you listen. At least sometimes. In the first year postpartum, I happily let myself fall asleep for the night by 8:30pm at least four nights per week and it was glorious. As an aside, I can tell you that getting ready for bed with my 3 year old daughter was an incredible exercise in modeling behavior. We put on our pajamas together. We put our clothes in the hamper together. We brushed our teeth together. She was so much more willing to do everything with me, than “for” me. I never got dressed). To this day I look forward to the days I can turn in with the kids before 9pm.
Also, if you don’t know about Coffee Naps, this might be the time to learn (though caffeine made me feel awful postpartum). Pro Tip: drink coffee right before you go down (ideally during baby’s first morning nap) and you’ll wake up right when that caffeine is kicking in. We highly suggest having childcare at least one morning a week so you can take that first nap with the baby. Coffee or not. It’s a rejuvenating time to rest.
5. Fit breastfeeding and bottle feeding into your life. Since you’ve already had a newborn you know, when they’re hungry they’re hungry and it will be better for everyone if they just eat. So, first tip (even though this is relevant to many situations) I highly recommend buying a stash or inexpensive items to stash in a closet for a literal and figurative rainy day. Depending on the age of your older kid it might be sticker books, a small toy, or new book – something so you can say “hey, I need five minutes, here’s a____”.
Logistically, gone are the days of sitting for hours in a glider or on the sofa feeding your hangry newborn. More often than not, nursing or bottle feeding will now take place on the floor while you’re playing Paw Patrol or while you’re at the table supervising crafts. While it may sound daunting, working up to this is a phenomenal way to multitask and bring your kids together. Most often toddlers and young children want our attention while they’re playing.
I love the idea of making a nursing station that can move around easily (think basket or rolling cart) and has everything you and your child might need during a 30 minute feed. Water bottles, nursing / pumping supplies, snacks, and a basket of toddler activities that are nursing friendly. You’ll learn to turn pages and peel stickers and maybe even wipe butts with one hand.
Pro Tip: If you’re breastfeeding, spend time researching and practicing feeding in a baby carrier. This is life-changing. It may seem impossible, but like anything else it just takes information, practice, and support. So worth it!
5. Drum up outside support! Granted this looks different in a COVID-19 world. In the past we would have recommended in-person support from family, friends, a postpartum doula etc. These days we have to improvise. Can friends and family drop off home cooked meals at your door? Pick up your laundry and drop it off clean and folded? Go food shopping for you? Sneak into your house when you go for a walk and unload the dishwasher and tidy a little?
If you’re in a position where folks can cook or order you food, go through the exercise of singling out items that your older child likes to eat. It would be amazing if you all are more or less the same thing, but if not, be ready to offer folks suggestions on what they can cook / order that your kid will eat.
If you’re working on a registry for your virtual sprinkle, Be Her Village is an amazing new cash-gift registry for new moms that allows you to list services such as lactation support and housekeeping as opposed to more stuff that you know you don’t need.
6. In general, adjusting to baby number two means recalibrating your expectations. Some people might say lower your standards, but there’s a nuanced difference there that’s important. Might you become the parent whose kid scoots up the block without shoes on, or the parent that puts a piece of buttered toast directly on the table, because who needs to wash another plate? You might. And that’s ok. This is not about perfection. It’s about making it through day by day without leaving too big a piece of yourself behind. One day you’ll have both kids napping at the same time and you’ll let yourself go to sleep too, or you’ll clean the bathroom, or you’ll watch a show and for that moment you’ll think you’re the greatest parent in the world!