"How am I going to feed the newborn and entertain my older child(ren)?”
I receive this question at almost every prenatal visit when I’m working with a family who has at least one older child. It’s especially common when the older child is a toddler.
As a postpartum doula, and as a parent of two children, I have some tips and suggestions for just this scenario. Sometimes the tips work, and other times, well, we need to get more creative!
If it’s a time when I’m there, that’s a little bit easier. While not all children will immediately feel comfortable with a stranger like me in the home, I’m able to distract the older child, provide a snack or drink, read a book, play outside, or a variety of other things to keep the older child happy while the parent can tend to the baby.
But inevitably, there will be many a time when the parent is with two children and no other adults in the home. And then the big question comes up…”how do I feed the newborn and entertain the toddler?”
As you could guess…I have a couple thoughts for that! Actually, many of these are directly from Dr. Laura Markham’s book Peaceful Parents, Happy Siblings, specifically pages 247-249. This is sure to be a trying time, especially at first. You’re learning how to feed your newborn and your older child(ren) wants your attention. Even the smallest requests are relatively unachievable during this time, as feeding your newborn will take all of your thoughts, efforts and attention. But, there are some ways to keep siblings occupied while feeding your newborn.
Tips for Juggling Older Siblings and Newborn Feedings
1.Spend quality time with the sibling before feeding the baby. Find a way to connect with your older child in a meaningful way (think of the book The 5 Love Languages for Children and connect using your child’s love language), then prepare your child for the end of play and your need to transition to feeding the baby. Bonus points for getting belly laughs, as this will help release energy and fears for the sibling. Give a minute or two warning when playtime is up then explain what is next for the sibling (you can get a snack, you can pick out your activity, etc.)
2. Welcome your child to stay close during feedings. You may have to logistically figure out how to feed in a space able to accommodate you, your newborn, and your older child(ren) while feeding. This might mean that feeding in a single-seat rocking chair is only done at night.
3. If your child is developmentally ready, considering dedicating a shelf or drawer in your home as a place for sibling snacks. And those snacks are only allowed when your feeding the baby. Siblings can get their own snack (but may need help from you to open) and can eat it alongside you and your newborn with little worry about making a mess. A special water bottle or even a special drink are fun at this time too.
4. Read a book. Allow her to pick a few books and read while your feed. Depending on her age, I Spy or hidden picture books are very fun, as your child will do a lot of the work herself but you can easily participate.
5. Let him engage in parallel caretaking activity. Have your child pick a doll or other stuffed animal and he can mimic your actions. If you are breastfeeding, allow him to nurse his baby. If you bottle-feed, allow him to bottle-feed his baby as well. You can engage your child by asking him to tickle baby’s feet, or maybe even change his baby’s clothes.
6. What to do when he still climbs all over you when you’re feeding the baby? In the future, work to release that energy and fear in advance of feedings. Roughhousing, tickles, hide and seek, and other physically active activities allow for the connection as well as a temporary rush to occur in advance of the focused time. Consider it like recess before a class session.
7. When the going gets rough, do what you need to do to make it through this tough, short time. Maybe older sibling likes the bath – consider setting up a bath for older sibling then feeding newborn in the bathroom. Maybe sibling enjoys play-dough – set up a safe spot for play-dough and pull up a chair to feed newborn. Or, in this day of technology, maybe sibling will be content to play with your phone – take pictures, push buttons on the locked screen, use the flashlight, etc.
8. Create a sibling basket, complete with activities they can do own their own or activities that are easy for you to help with (reading a book, for example). Allow child to pick one or two activities from the basket prior to sitting down to feed, just in case one of the activities requires a bit of adult participation.
9. If your child does not want to do any of these things and still only wants you, it might be a sign that you’re child is still seeking connection with you. Some options in this situation include singing songs, telling stories, playing a live version of I-Spy, words of affirmation, or a gentle touch or snuggle once your newborn is feeding. Continue on this path for a few minutes until you sense your child ready for a transition and then lovingly offer one of these options again.
I want to share more about the sibling basket. I love baskets (like, I really like having lots of baskets and trays!) but I really like the idea of having baskets all over the home for various purposes. I encourage a diapering basket on every level of the home where baby might be. A “mother’s basket” in every bathroom mom might need to use. A breastfeeding/feeding basket in every spot the parent might feed the baby. And finally, the sibling basket - to be used only when the baby is eating.
There are so many fun and creative things you can include in your sibling basket and I’ll list the recommendations I often provide when discussing this basket.
1.I like for the “basket” to be metal and magnetic. I also like for these to have a lip of some sort to keep the contents easily inside. So, I usually opt for baking pans - either a square pan or a rectangular cake pan.
2. I focus on including activities that are extra safe for kids and pets. Remember, you’re likely going to be stuck when feeding the baby so you wont have the ability to chase after your toddler when he runs around the house with a marker or starts putting marbles in his mouth. I love the mess-free coloring sets from Crayola! Melissa and Doug’s painting with water pads are fun but there is potential for that water to get all over the place so keep an eye on your toddler if you’re including those. I also love lint rollers. IKEA sells them for $.99! That’s cheap fun for hours! Stickers and puzzles are great no-mess activities for this time too.
3. Snacks should be easy for the toddler to eat on his/her own, require minimal prep, be pet friendly if you have pets (i.e. no chocolate or grapes), and be as easy to clean up as possible (think - pet friendly here as your pet will love to help “clean up” these snacks!).
4. Have family send your child mail and incorporate this into your routine. You and the child walk out to the mailbox before feeding the baby. She receives a piece of mail (which is always awesome!) and can then read it while you feed the baby.
5. Include a few books in the basket and be sure to rotate them out. Also, consider a recordable book from a distant relative. It’s a fun change of pace for your child and it’s a great way to connect with that distant relative.
6. Magnetic toys and activities are fun here too. Magnetic gears are great as kids can set them up any way they want. MagnaTiles (and equivelant) are fun here too because they have a magnetic base (though, when they crash down onto the pan, then come down with a loud noise which may startle baby).
So, there you have it. A big, long blog article geared to help you and your family all work together to make daytime feedings more enjoyable for your whole crew.
Bottom line though…follow your intuition, as no one knows your family and your children as well as you. And, whatever you decide, do not regret it! You are parenting a older child AND you have a newborn.
You got this!
Owner, From The Start, Postpartum Doula