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Birth and Beyond - an extract from The Contented Baby with Toddler Book

Birth and Beyond

When you gave birth to your first child, you could focus all your time and energy on caring for your tiny baby. This time around, you'll be balancing this with the needs of your older child. You know how much of your time your toddler takes up and you're also aware of how demanding it can be to care for a newborn baby.

Trying to juggle both at the same time is not easy, but setting up a good structure as early as possible will make all the difference. This is why I stress the importance of establishing the routine you want your toddler to be in before the new baby comes along, and of making as many preparations as you can in advance, to help you through the first few months.

Recovery after birth

Having a baby is a physically exhausting experience, even for those mothers who have had a straightforward, natural labour. It will take time for your body to recover, and it is important to appreciate this. In my experience, some mothers try to do too much too quickly, feeling that they have to get their lives back to normal as soon as they possibly can. Shopping in John Lewis for missing baby equipment days after having a baby, or taking a newborn out for lunch in those early weeks, can be hugely counterproductive for both you and your baby. This is a time to rest and recuperate and, in the long-term, you will cope better if you have taken things gently at the start.

After a natural birth, the length of time you remain in hospital will depend on the well-being of you and your baby. Most women stay for a day or two after having their babies, but some are ready to leave on the same day. Being allowed home early should not be seen as a sign that life should get back to normal immediately.

Forty years ago, a woman would usually stay in bed for up to two weeks after giving birth and during this time she would be looked after and not expected to do anything other than feed her baby. We may not feel that this is necessary any more, but allowing yourself time to recover after the birth is vital, especially when you have an older child to care for as well.

From my personal experience, mothers who are realistic regarding their need for rest, and calm, not only recuperate more quickly but they fulfil the needs of their newborn baby and toddler more easily. A calm, peaceful home gives all the family time to adjust to the new arrival. I encourage mothers to minimise visitors in those early days, restricting guests to only close friends
and family. Some mothers organise a visiting hour two or three times a week, and this is so much more manageable than a continual stream of well-meaning guests. There will be plenty of time to introduce your new baby to a wider circle of friends when he is a little bigger, and I feel strongly that it is far more preferable for a baby to have this attention when he is three or four weeks old than in the early days and weeks. After all, your baby has been cocooned in your tummy for nine months. Those first days are a period of enormous change for him, and the calmer and less stressful his new world, the better it is for you all. I believe that babies do not like to be passed around like parcels, and stimulated by unnecessary handling or by seeing different faces. Your baby needs to be getting to know you, and your immediate family, in those first few days.

For your toddler, too, it can be beneficial to minimise visitors to those who really know and love you. Your older child will already have to cope with the excitement and disruption of a new baby. If this is your second child, it will be the first time your older child has shared her parents' attention with a sibling.

She will benefit from being given the time and space to do this gradually,
without the additional disruption of a constant stream of visitors
whose focus will be, inevitably, the new baby.

I've found that some women often try to do far too much immediately after the birth. Everyone wants to be the perfect mother, but you need to ensure your own needs are met if you're going to be at your best, and this means getting some rest. You should try to get a friend or relative to take your toddler to playgroup or nursery, and perhaps to take the baby and toddler out for a walk now and again, allowing you some time to recuperate.

Thinking about yourself at this time is not selfish, it is sensible, and your family will all reap the benefits if you are not permanently exhausted.

Recovery after a Caesarean

If you've had a Caesarean section, you will have to stay in hospital for three or four days. It has become so common for women to have Caesareans now that we sometimes forget it is a major operation, and that it will take longer for your body to recover.

Although you will be able to get out of bed fairly soon after the operation, it is important to rest as much as you can. You will be given detailed information about what you can do and when, and you must stick to this. You should avoid any strenuous activity or heavy lifting, and it is generally advised that you should not drive for six weeks.

You will need help around the house when you arrive home. I know some mothers find the area around the scar can feel itchy and numb at first, and it will take some weeks for the incision to heal fully. Do discuss this with your midwife or health visitor. In the longer term, being active will help your recovery but any physical activity should be low-key so that you do not overdo things.

Introducing your toddler to the new baby

The first meeting between your toddler and her new sibling is an exciting time, and I know mothers tend to want everything to go perfectly. It is true that first impressions are important, so try to strike the right note, but don't worry too much if things don't go quite to plan; it is the way your children get on in the longer term that really matters.

If the first meeting is going to take place in hospital, try to feed your baby before your toddler arrives, so that you are not feeding and cuddling the new baby when she walks in. This will enable you to make a big fuss of your toddler, and will help the children's first meeting to be a happy one. Ideally, introduce the toddler to the new baby in his cot, and look at him together. Then you can give your toddler the gift from the baby (see page 37).

You could consider having a small treat for your toddler each time she comes to the hospital, since her interest in her new sibling is likely to be quite brief at this stage.

If you had a Caesarean, you may remain in hospital for a few days and therefore want your toddler to come to the hospital. It is not easy to be separated from your child for this length of time, although you may find it more difficult than she does.

A hospital ward can be an alien and rather daunting experience for your toddler, so if you're only spending a short time in hospital, you may prefer to wait until you get home to introduce your toddler to the new baby, rather than her coming to see you.

Arriving home

Bringing your new baby home for the first time is a big moment, but try to make sure that the focus is on your toddler during those first hours, particularly if you have been apart for a few days. It is preferable for your partner to carry the baby into the house as this will enable you to concentrate on your older child. Focus your attention on her. Ask her what she has been doing, and who she has seen, while you have been away. Most children are very excited to meet their new brother or sister, but occasionally a toddler can be either disinterested or obstreperous. Don't worry about this - she may become confused if she senses she is supposed to react in a certain way.

The first few weeks

You will feel tired following the birth, and looking after two children can feel overwhelming during the first few weeks. Mothers sometimes have unrealistic expectations about what they will be able to do when they are first at home with a new baby and a toddler. It will be easier to cope if you have prepared as much as you can in advance, and I firmly believe that how well you manage will be closely related to how much help you get (see page 50). Try not to be over-ambitious about what you can achieve, and don't feel too proud to accept support.

Don't expect too much from your toddler during the early days, either. It will be quite normal for her to experience some jealousy and resentment. She has probably imagined a picturebook infant, gurgling and smiling, and the reality of a crying baby who takes up so much of your time may come as something of a shock. She might have expected the baby to be her new best friend and playmate, and her initial interest may fade rapidly once she realises that little babies aren't interested in playing toddler games and don't really seem to be able to do much at all.

Encourage your toddler to understand that the baby is part of the whole family, and is her new baby as well as yours. Some toddlers feel a real sense of pride towards their younger siblings, and you might be able to interest her in helping out now that she is the 'big sister'. She may enjoy going to get clean nappies when you need them, or passing the baby wipes. You could even let her choose what the baby is going to wear. Make sure you tell her how much you appreciate all that she is doing for you. If she makes it clear she doesn't want to help, don't insist. The last thing you want is for her to resent having to do things for the new baby.

It is important to find some time to spend alone with your toddler when the baby is asleep, and to use it to do something she enjoys, such as playing a game or doing a jigsaw puzzle together.

Tell her that this is your special time and make sure she realises that you enjoy being with her in just the same way you did before the baby came along. If the baby starts crying during this time, wait a moment before jumping up and leaving your toddler in the middle of whatever you were doing. Explain that you have to check the baby, but you will be back as soon as you can and will make sure you spend some extra time together later on. Also explain to her that she was just the same when she was a baby, and you spent lots of time feeding and changing her when she was very little.

When you start to have more visitors, you can involve your toddler in this by asking her to introduce people to her little sister or brother. People often like to bring gifts for the baby, but may not always think about bringing a small present for your toddler, too. It can help if you have a supply of little items stored away so that your toddler doesn't feel overlooked if the baby is showered with gifts.

If your partner has some time off when the baby is born, one of the difficult transitional stages will be the day that he first goes back to work. It is often a good idea to ask a friend or relative to spend at least part of the day with you. It can feel very lonely and overwhelming to be by yourself with a toddler and a baby for the first time.

Feeding the baby

It can take a while to feed a baby, and your toddler may find it extremely frustrating that you are unable to focus on her during this time. In the early days, when you have support in the house, it may not be so difficult, but once you are alone with your toddler and baby, you will want to make sure she is occupied before you start feeding the baby.

Consider letting your toddler do something special that she enjoys while you are feeding the baby, such as watching a favourite DVD or pretending to feed her toys. Try to make it feel as though it is a special treat that she gets when you feed the baby. Some children like to have a baby doll of their own that they can dress or feed with a little bottle while their mother is busy with the baby.

If you can find something that works for your toddler, this will ensure she feels less resentment about the time you spend feeding the baby, and will keep her safely occupied.

Ideas for how to keep your toddler occupied, while you're feeding (or settling) your baby, include:

  • Crayons and large sheets of paper for drawing
  • Simple picture books and stories
  • Talking books on CD or cassette tape
  • Large two-, three- or four-piece jigsaws (depending on your toddler's age and abilities)
  • 'Magic drawing' boards, such as Megasketcher, Aquadraw or Etch-a-sketch
  • A bag of 'pocketmoney' toys all wrapped individually so that your toddler can choose one a day
  • Homemade play dough or salt dough
  • A child's tea set for a doll and teddy tea party (with or without water

Eating well

I've come across mothers who get so overwhelmed by all that there is to do with a new baby that they simply forget to eat. As you will be even busier with two children, this is even more likely to happen, but I can't stress enough how important it is that you eat properly when your body is recovering from birth and when you are breast-feeding.

It is a good idea to stock up the freezer with some home-cooked meals for you and your partner when you are still pregnant (see page 30). You should also freeze some healthy meals for your toddler. This way, you can all eat good, nutritious food with the minimum effort in the early days after the birth. Try not to rely on ready-meals at this time, as most are full of additives and preservatives, which are not good for breast-feeding mothers. Eating
properly will give you the energy you need.

Some mothers worry about the weight they have gained during pregnancy and want to try to lose it as quickly as possible, but this is not the time to start dieting. It is normal to eat more than usual when you are breast-feeding as your body is having to work harder than usual to provide food for your baby. Keep to a balanced diet with a good intake of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit and dairy products, and make sure
that you are drinking plenty of water.

Shopping

You should get in some supplies before the birth (see page 29) - if you can stock up on non-perishable basics, it will be one less thing to worry about. You won't want to drag yourself around the supermarket with your baby and toddler during your first few weeks at home, and it should be possible to avoid this.

You will need to do food shopping at some point, and I suggest doing this online if you can. Try to arrange for your shopping to be delivered when you are going to have someone else at home with you; that way you won't be attempting to put the shopping away while looking after two children. If you can't get an online delivery, ask your partner, or a relative or friend, to get any shopping you need. If you have a local shop that sells groceries, this may be a good alternative for the first few weeks.

Getting out and about

You will probably feel too exhausted to go out much in the first week or so after the birth, but once you are sure you are up to it, try to get out of doors every day. Just a short walk to the park or the shops will make all the difference. If your toddler is at home with you all day, this becomes really essential as she will need some fresh air and exercise on a daily basis. You will find you both feel much better once you have been out.

I have worked with some mothers who found it could take them up to half an hour to get out of the door with their baby and toddler. There are a few things you can do to make the 'leaving the house' process quicker and easier:

Always have a bag on the back of your pram and in your car containing everything you need. As well as spare nappies and wipes it should hold a change of clothes, warm tops for both children, a beaker of water, a healthy snack that you know your toddler will enjoy and a favourite book or toy.

Make sure you always have your pram's rain cover with the pram.

In the summer the bags should include sun-cream and sun-hats for both children, as well as a light raincoat for your toddler.

Check the content of the bags regularly to ensure you always have the right size nappies and clothes in them. I know of many mothers who discovered, too late, that the spare set of clothes they were carrying was too small!

Keep coats and other outdoor clothes, including wellington boots for your toddler, near the pram.

Ten minutes before you are due to go out make sure your toddler has been to the loo and, if your baby is awake, change his nappy. In the summer, allow an extra five minutes to put sun-cream on both children.

Things will get quicker with time as your baby grows and you adjust to life with two children, but the more prepared you are the easier you will find leaving the house.

Household chores

This is not the time to be too house-proud. Try to accept that you may need to lower your standards a little - no one expects the mother of a newborn baby to be spending all her time tidying.

You won't want to be playing hostess, so during the first few weeks invite only those close friends and relatives who will make their own cup of tea and be happy to help out with your toddler if need be. Ask for help - find out if they would mind taking your older child for a walk to feed the ducks or play on the swings, so that you can give your baby a more relaxed feed or have a lie down if your baby is asleep.

Looking after yourself and your children should be your priority at this time. If you try to do too much, you will just end up exhausted and that won't help you or your children.

I know some mothers who find it difficult to live in a less-than-spotless
home, but you need to try to ignore these feelings during
the first few weeks at least.

I have always encouraged mothers 'to have less stuff, more staff' at this time. Parents spend an enormous amount of money on what they consider to be essential baby kit: new buggies, prams, cots and accessories. However, I would encourage any mother to borrow bits of equipment if it means they can spend a little money on some paid help (see page 34), even if it is just a couple of hours a week. It only takes a few hours for someone to clean the house and to do some laundry, and yet this can make an enormous difference to a new mother.

Getting help from family and friends

When you already have an older child, it is even more important to accept any offers of help during the first few weeks at home with a new baby, even if you have some paid help as well. I know many mothers believe they should be superwomen, able to cope with anything that life with a newborn and a toddler can throw at them, but it is usually tough going at first. In past generations, mothers usually had an extended family network close at hand, with grandmothers and aunts to call on for help and advice when things got difficult. Nowadays, families often live long distances apart from one another, and it is quite rare to have this kind of help at hand.

If you are fortunate enough to have family members nearby, don't feel guilty about asking them for some support. If you have friends with children who may be happy to invite your toddler over to play now and again, make the most of it. You should never feel that accepting help is a sign that you aren't coping, and things will get easier far more quickly if you have some help at the start.

If friends ask what they can do, don't be too embarrassed to ask if they could unload the washing machine, or heat up your toddler's lunch. People like to feel that they have been useful, and if you think of something they could do that would really help you out, you will both feel better afterwards.

Your toddler's reactions to the new baby

You are never going to avoid sibling rivalry entirely, no matter how well prepared your child is or how much she was looking forward to having a baby brother or sister. However, you can keep it to a minimum by making sure your toddler feels secure and loved, and that her life is not subject to too much change and disruption because of the new baby.

Explain that the baby is interested in her and proud to have such a lovely big sister. Once the baby can focus, show your toddler that her brother likes watching what she does. It is often hard for toddlers to be sufficiently gentle with newborns, but encourage her to interact with the baby as much as you can. Don't leave your toddler alone with the baby. If you have a playpen, put your toddler into it temporarily while you go to answer the phone or the front door.

Don't panic if your toddler seems to start to go back a few stages in her behaviour and skills at this time. It is not uncommon for toddlers to suddenly want to be treated as babies - to use a dummy, to be carried around and to sleep in a cot. It can be annoying, but do your best to remain patient. It may help if you try to explain that it is really not much fun being a baby. The baby can't tell you how he is feeling or what he wants, he can't go out and play or have fun. Most of the time he just lies about and sleeps. Tell your toddler that the baby can't wait until he is as big as his sister, so that he can do all the things she enjoys.

Your toddler is likely to get annoyed with the new baby at some point, and may show signs of jealousy. Try not to get angry with her, but instead work out why she may be feeling this way and whether there is anything you can do to improve the situation.

When you are talking to her, don't blame the baby for the fact that you have less time and are tired. Try to focus on the one-to-one time you set aside to be with your toddler, making sure that she knows there will be some space for her every day, and that you look forward to this and appreciate being with her.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do at this stage is to ensure there is as much continuity as possible in your toddler's life. If her routines are firmly established, she will know what to expect each day, and this will help her feel more secure. Keep her busy, ensure she still has fun and you will make things easier for your entire family.


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