Any tips for feeding, sleeping, and caring for children born only a year apart?

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Photo by fekaylius, used under Creative Commons license.
My daughter is six months old, and I recently found out I am about 10 weeks pregnant. My last pregnancy was pretty rough, and after about 30 hours of labor, I had a Cesarean section. My OB says that I’ll have to have another Cesarean section with this child, since they are concerned about a uterine rupture. She also says that recovery will be longer, as I will basically have had two major abdominal surgeries in about a year’s time.

Most days it feels like I am just keeping up with my little girl, and she is barely crawling. She is going to be toddling around when I have a newborn, and I’ll be recovering from surgery. I am looking at the future wondering how and the heck I can cope with two little ones. My husband is in the Army, and gets 10 days of paternity leave to be with me and the little ones.

Does anyone else have back-to-back children? How do you do it? — Marie

Comments on Any tips for feeding, sleeping, and caring for children born only a year apart?

    • Ha! That’s what I get for scanning. I missed the bit about her husband leaving after 10 weeks and assumed your comment suggested that having two back to back babies would cause him to up and leave!

  1. I don’t have experience with two pregnancies close together but I do have experience with twins and a complicated c-section (with multiple incisions). Like you I was warned of uterine rupture and told my recovery would take a long time.

    First, it did take a long time to recover. Much longer then my friends who had the regular c-section. They were up and walking the day after surgery and fully mobile/ recovered within a few weeks. I really needed the full 8 weeks to recover. I was not able to stand for long and stairs were very hard for a number of weeks. While it was hard to be mobile it was possible with proper pain management and restricting my movement as much as was possible.

    Things that helped me:
    -friends delivered prepared food so I wouldn’t have to stand to cook dinner.
    -friends walked my dog.
    -family took turns coming by to help around the house.

    my kiddos were in the NICU during my recovery time so I don’t have advice on how to care for babies and toddlers during this time.

    Good luck mamma!

  2. My kids are 14 months apart, and no, it’s not easy. It was made harder when my second, my son, had to be hospitalized for 3 weeks, starting when he was a week old, for what turned out to be cysts on his bowels. During that time, my daughter stayed with my mom, leaving me free to be at the hospital and my husband to be at the hospital when he didn’t have to be at work. After that, it was me alone with 2 infants. My daughter didn’t start to walk until about 16 months old, and that sucked – trying to carry 2 at once, when you really need 2 arms to carry a newborn properly. Even though you’ll be chasing them, I’d try to have your older one as close to walking as you can before the baby is born. Also, as much as I loved to cuddle my son, I really relied on other safe places to put him – the bouncy seat, saucer, jolly jumper, etc, since I couldn’t just lie him on the floor on a blanket without my daughter wanting to poke him or step on him. A bassinet on wheels was handy too; I’d get him asleep and wheel it into the hallway in front of the bathroom and then take her into the shower with me, since she was extremely active and I couldn’t trust her to play in the bathroom without trying to “play” with her brother. Also, tag-team it as much as you can. My poor husband didn’t really get a break when he got home from work, he was just immediately handed a baby, usually our daughter. He took over bathtime, story time, and bed time with her, which we started a few months before the baby was born so she would be used to it. As soon as I could, I also got them on the same nap schedule. She only took one nap a day at that point, but I did whatever I had to do to get my son to nap at the same time, because then I got a nap too, or at least a break to shower or clean up in peace. We were lucky in that my daughter wasn’t a cuddly kid. She was content to play and have me hold or feed the baby and watch her. My son is much more clingy; if he had been born first I’m not sure what I would have done! It helped that even at that age she was independent. I encouraged her to bring me diapers or socks for the baby, and she took to it pretty well. They’re 3 and 4 now (and getting a baby sister in about a month) and they’re essentially inseperable. Neither has memories of a time without the other, so they’re used to sharing toys and parents’ time. It gets easier the older the baby gets and the more they can interact with each other. I wouldn’t choose to do it again, but I don’t regret it at all. Seeing the bond they have now, I love how close together they are. Good luck, and try to still take some time for yourself, even if it’s just having someone else watch them for half an hour so you can take a walk and grab a coffee or something, because it’s so easy to lose yourself completely when you’ve got TWO babies demanding attention.

  3. I am due any day now with my daughter. My son is 10 months old. He just started walking, which I think will make things easier, since I might be able to have my hands free for the baby occasionally. I doubt I will be dealing with a surgery, and my husband will be home every night and weekend, but I am still kinda anxious about how things will go for the first few months for nap and food timing, getting into and out of cars, and many of the mommy skills it took me a few extra weeks to figure out how to do on my own like cook and take care of the kids. All I know is, it will be an interesting year. I will post again in a few weeks once I have the feeding/diapering/napping timing figured out and let you know if there is anything that will completely blindside you.

  4. I have twins, so I know a bit about the challenges facing you! Here is some of my advice:

    1) Line up your parents/siblings/friends/2nd cousins etc. to come and stay in your house to help you. I am NOT comfortable asking people for help, but that flew out the window when faced with two babies! If people can’t stay overnight, ask them to stay during the day while your husband is at work. Helpers can do all sorts of things – entertain babies, clean, cook, etc. so that you can just focus on feeding the baby and recovering from surgery.

    2) If you can’t get help from friends/family, consider either hiring a night nanny (expensive!), or a mother’s helper. I can’t afford a night nanny but I CAN afford to pay a college student minimum wage 2 days a week to help out. They don’t need to have lots of infant experience necessarily either. A set of arms to hold a crying baby is enough most days 🙂 And if you have help with your newborn, it will give you some one-on-one time with your older one, which will hopefully help head off any sibling jealousy.

    3) Get people to cook you freezer meals for after the baby is born so that you don’t have to cook. This can include preparing baby food for your daughter. Then, after the baby comes, try to get someone to help you once per week by bringing by fresh fruits and veggies (ones that are easy to prepare!). These jobs are great to ask of people in your church/book club etc. because they are short and don’t require a huge time committment.

    4)Think about rearranging your household about a month before your due date with an eye toward making it “C-Section Friendly”. Relocate the dishes and utensils you need to a place where you don’t have to bend over or reach up. Consider bedding options for the kids that don’t require you to lift them up an out of a crib (and get your older daughter used to the new sleeping arrangements BEFORE the new baby arrives). Even think about your bed – is it too high? Can you move the mattress to the floor? If you have a multi-level house, can you relocate evrything onto one floor temporarily? Do this for every room in your house. You can always put it back together later.

    5) Invest in a really good double stroller. It makes a big difference to your quality of life when it’s effortless to get around. My stroller is awesome – when I push it up steep hills I barely even feel it. It was the single best investment I made. (I went with the Baby Jogger City Select).

    Good luck! It’s a very exciting and tiring time but it will all be worth it one day when your kids are great friends 🙂

    • I really like the second option — I work with students finishing their Early Childhood Education degrees/certificates, and many of them have gotten mother’s helper/nanny positions as part time jobs to help through school. It’s invaluable real-life experience for the students, and it can be really enlightening for new parents too. If you have a college/university around you that offers this kind of program, I would try to find a student majoring in ECE to help out around the house & with the little ones.

      • Yeah! That’s exactly what I did! There are also a lot of people completing an undergrad degree who want to go to teacher’s college after to teach elementary school. These students usually need hands-on experience with children, and so they love to babysit because they can earn a bit of money but also use you as a reference.

        Furthermore, since I hired a “mother’s helper” and not a nanny it means that I’m home with them the entire time. This means that I have been able to give younger/less-experienced students some hands-on infant experience. As a teacher on mat-leave, I feel very good and virtuous about this 🙂 Plus, it’s cheaper.

  5. I had two very close together and my second is now almost 3 months old. I also had two c-sections due to frank breech babies, so I can certainly relate. Here are my top tips:

    1) You will not be able to pick up your first born for several weeks after your c-section, so start instilling that idea early. Several weeks before our second was due I started telling my first ‘Mama can’t pick you up bubba, I have to sit down first’. I would sit in the nearest seat and lift him carefully onto my knees or help him climb up next to me for cuddles. Teaching him this early meant that it wasn’t a shock when I got home after surgery and he didn’t associate this with the new baby.

    2) Cuddle your first born before feeding your second to stop jealousy. Be kind but firm and give plenty of notice ‘Mama needs to feed the baby now, would you like a quick cuddle first? What a lovely snuggle! Now I have to feed the baby.’ We found that technique incredibly helpful.

    3) Give your first born a doll – their own baby – before your second arrives. Help them to dress, burp, clean, etc their baby and then when your second arrives you can use it as a distraction technique if they are pulling at your second bubba. ‘No sweetheart, you can’t pull the baby, the baby is feeding now. Where is your baby? Does your baby need feeding too?’

    4)Invest in a playpen. This provides you somewhere safe and secure to put one or other child when you need to be hands free and are worried about leaving them in the same space (even if that is just going to the bathroom!). You can always take one baby with you but taking two is hard work.

    5) Get your oldest almost ready for bed, then have some ‘quiet time’ reading books whilst you feed your youngest. That way your youngest is fed and happy whilst you put your oldest one down – doesn’t always work out like that, but bed times can be a real issue with one or both crying. Try lots of techniques and find something that works for you.

    6) Enlist your oldest one to ‘help’ – many babies around a year old love to follow instructions, mimic Mama, and respond well to praise. Try things like ‘Can you give the baby a blanket? Where is the blanket? Oh there it is! What a good big brother/sister you are! Thank you!’ This works REALLY well for us and turned a lot of negative behavour into positive action very early and very quickly.

    Also like to say that I found my second c-section much easier to recover from although I was warned it would be worse – so there is always hope!

    Good luck! x

    • Also to add to this: I know a few people have had good results employing a lot of these tactics as well as a “feeding basket.” A toy basket for the older one that they only get to play with those things when it’s time to feed the baby. It makes that time where the baby is eating and they can’t get undivided attention from the parent into a fun, exciting, and special time for them too. Bonus, if you want the baby’s feeding time to be a quiet-time thing, you can fill the feeding basket with quiet-time toys.

  6. I’m not a mother but my mum had myself and my oldest-little brother 15 months apart. I am moth entirely sure on the specifics of how she dealt with us as tiny kids but i can tell you she did it without help from family (she has none) and minimal help from friends (she had just turned 20 and moved interstate). She get through it because as a mum you just Linda do. you do your best and make up a lot but it all works out. i promise.

  7. Same advice as for anyone with particular parenting challenges: give yourself a break. Parenting your second will not be like parenting your first, and the way that you parent your first will change too. That’s Ok.

    It’s ok to let the newborn cry in its crib for a few minutes while you’re getting the older one settled in the high chair. It’s ok that the older one watches some TV while you feed the little one. It’s ok if you supplement (or heck, even totally) bottle feed if you realize that you need to be able to feed while moving around, or sit in a position that’s comfortable. It’s ok if you don’t shower for three days and then realize that if you don’t shower you’ll go bananas and so you put the kids someplace safe and take a shower even if they’re unhappy. It’s ok if they sleep in your bed or you let them CIO.

    Remember that what you’re doing is really hard, that you’re doing your best, that you love them a lot, that they’ll always have a sibling who’s a playmate, and that bad days feel long and good days feel short, but all days pass. I’m sure you’ll do great.

    • “Remember that what you’re doing is really hard, that you’re doing your best, that you love them a lot, that they’ll always have a sibling who’s a playmate, and that bad days feel long and good days feel short, but all days pass. I’m sure you’ll do great.”

      I love you so much ;_;

      I had a very rough day with two kids under 2 years and I’m doing what I can, but today was horrible and chaotic and I was sure I am the worst mum ever. Now I’m better. Thank you, Jane!

  8. Oh I forgot to mention my wrap sling! Sometimes that can be a saving grace as I can wear my little one comfortably whilst dealing with my older one or prepping dinner etc. She even sleeps in it, so it can give me a real sense of peace when I am feeling a little overwhelmed.

    • I was just about to mention this! I had mine 22 months apart and that was still pretty darn close! My baby was colicky and lived in the moby wrap for 2 months since she wanted to be held TIGHT and by nobody but mama. Then she spent another few months in our ergo, which I learned to nurse in and THAT was also a game changer. The carrier allowed me to chase the toddler but also to hold him, which he needed often. Definitely invest in one or two different kinds.

  9. Thank you guys for this post. So much. I’m two weeks (exactly) from having my second via planned c-section and have a very mobile 19 month old son at home already. My Dad is coming to help for two weeks once the newbie arrives, but otherwise I have no support system whatsoever: my family and friends are in Florida, my inlaws are in New York & Minnesota .. we’re in Cleveland, and my husband is a regional sales manager with an 11 state territory, which basically means he’s home for about 7-10 days a month. I completely understand the fear of “how am I going to do this?!” And I really really appreciate the post and everyone’s advice. Specifically RomanyRivers at this point.. who offered some amazing advice that I’ll be using. 🙂

  10. Would your husband be able to take more time off? Just wondering since my spouse is Navy and took a full 30 days off since he took regular leave after his paternity leave was up. I am sure it really depends on his job, but sometimes they can be flexible when it comes to things like illness in the family and I imagine major abdominal surgery qualifies as a special situation.

  11. Hey! I SO feel with you! My boys are 13 months apart and now 21 and 8 months old. It is hard. So. Hard. But my older son, even though he didn’t know or understand what was going on, learned to cope with it. As I grew bigger and sicker – both pregnancies were hard but the second was harder – he learned to do things on his own like holding his bottle or looking at books. He also formed a stromg bond with his father and his grandma. As soon as he was born my younger son got dragged along. We went to bed together – sleeping all in one bed did wonders, I could cuddle the one and breastfeed the other at the same time – we took a nap together and YS was always involved with watching his brother play.

    Today he crawls everywhere his brothrr goes, the older gives him his water bottle or something to play with, he throws diapers away and cuddles and kisses his little brother all the time.

    For me, even though my husband is here in the evenings and nights, and my MIL comes a few days a werk, it is great and depressing at the same time. I am often at my limits but I got SO strong! I never knew I could pull this off, but I can and so can you! I’m sure of it! I managed to put my own life on hold for two years now and I will patiently wait until I get it back 😀

    I’d really like to get into contact with you. Maybe I can help if you ever need someone to cheer you on once in a while 🙂

    • Maybe we could start a page on facebook where parents could vent/get support when they needed – especially those of us who spend a lot of time on our own due to spouses’ careers, stay-at-home parents, etc. Anyone a fan of the idea?

  12. I had kids 13 months apart, they are 2 and 3 now. My oldest was a very very active 13 month old dare devil so first concern was keeping the newborn safe, I would suggest getting some playpens with the bassinet attachment and setting them up as changing/napping spots in multiple areas of your house (I found some used on craigslist), that way you can put the newborn down and keep them safe from the toddler. It is very hard physically (I didn’t have family around to help out), but remember that IT GETS EASIER. When the newborn is 8 weeks old, its easier, and 6 months is even better. Hang in there, when they start playing and relating to each other you’ll have so much fun.

  13. My friend had babies 11 months apart. Their house had a big open plan living area, but during the pregnancy they rearranged everything so that there was one baby and toddler safe room with all the necessities in it where the three of them could camp out all day.

  14. There are great points in previous comments, so I will try not to be redundant. My babies are just shy of a year apart. My husband was deployed when the youngest was born, and just recently returned home (the kids are now 17 and 5 months old). The toughest part was making sure the older child was given enough attention, since I was the primary caregiver and spent hours breast feeding the newborn. My wrap carrier saved my sanity, as did a bassinet on wheels that I kept in a gated-off area (the older child had just started walking and wanted to push the bassinet everywhere). The older child and I established a bedtime routine long before the new baby arrived, so that was our special time–even if it meant the new baby had to cry in the other room for a few minutes. I did find that if we hadn’t spent much quality time together during the day, my oldest would really drag out the bedtime routine to compensate. I felt horrible when I realized that was why he suddenly hated bedtime, so I really made an effort during the day to read books or play with him, with the new baby lounging in the boppy pillow beside us. And bedtime became normal again.

    I don’t know what your plans for feeding your baby are, but I had been nursing my oldest when I found out I was pregnant again. By the end of my first trimester, when my son was about six months old, he was weaned to formula because my body simply could not handle nursing while pregnant. I had had big plans of tandem nursing once the new baby arrived, and it was pretty crushing to realize that I wouldn’t be able to, but it was better for my son to thrive on formula than be hungry every hour because I wasn’t producing enough milk. Some women can tandem nurse and some can’t. I felt pretty guilty about giving my son formula at first, but it was the best decision for all involved, and that’s something that I came to be proud of.

    Just keep in mind that you will do the best you can, but you certainly can’t do it all. And that’s okay.

  15. Keep a playpen for the newborn. Newborns need their own space too, and your other little one won’t be able to physically put the love on her baby sibling!

    Pre-made freezer meals. Do them. Do LOTS of them. If you don’t have family who can grocery shop for you, most grocery stores will deliver, either for free or for a very reasonable extra fee.

    Have a toddler safe space, gate it off. Pretty much on par with the comment as above. It’s her space, totally baby-proof it so that you know you can leave her to play if you need to go and do other stuff, and she’s happy as a clam. As your baby gets bigger, this will stay a safe place for the baby, too!

    Don’t be hard on yourself. SERIOUSLY. Also, it WILL get better. You don’t mention if you are still breastfeeding the first, there’s lots of stuff out there about tandem nursing.

  16. So much good advice! Ours are 11 months apart and it is a challenge. In some ways they’re like twins and some ways like traditional siblings, so we troll the twin forums and pick out the advice that seems relevant and discard the rest.
    Is there any chance of sending your oldest to a relative for a week or two at least in the very beginning?
    I will also say that it does get better, and different, and you are not alone in this experience.

    • My cousin’s second child needed heart surgery immediately after being born. This had been detected early on, so it was an expected series of surgeries, but it was still pretty scary. To help T, her oldest son, from feeling too much of the stress we started hosting sleepovers the summer before L, her second, was born. This got T used to sleeping at family members houses and made it an exciting, fun thing for him to do. It also helped show him that even though sometimes mom and/or dad were really busy with doctor’s appointments for L, he still had a LOT of family that loved (and still love) him very much. I think this security helped my cousin avoid most jealousy issues between her two boys, and also helped her otherwise very shy firstborn become a bit more sociable and comfortable with himself in newish surroundings.

      Not everyone has family they trust living close enough for this to work, but if you have a network of close friends that you can trust with an almost-toddler, it really can be a great experience for kiddos & parents alike. Plus, now if both T & L need to come over for a sleep-over so mom & dad can get renovations done, or have a date night or whatever, it’s not actually that much of a disruption to the kids’ routine. They’re already comfortable, so their naps go as normal and they sleep well during the night knowing mom or dad will be there when they wake up. Often, we’ll all have a meal together when mom or dad picks them up, to make it a little special (but this also gives the adults time to do a little catching up and go over how the sleepover went).

    • It’s funny you mention the twins similarity, because I’ve always felt that way about my sister who’s 18 months younger than I am and then our youngest two sisters are 12 months apart. We function separately in some ways, but in others it really has always been like she’s the other half of who I am in a way my other sisters just aren’t and the youngest two now mention the same feelings (though really I always think it seemed obvious). 🙂 — Any twin forums you recommend?

  17. So much good advice! Ours are 11 months apart and it is a challenge. In some ways they’re like twins and some ways like traditional siblings, so we troll the twin forums and pick out the advice that seems relevant and discard the rest. Is there any chance of sending your oldest to a relative for a week or two at least in the very beginning? I will also say that it does get better, and different, and you are not alone in this experience.

  18. So much good advice! Ours are 11 months apart and it is a challenge. In some ways they’re like twins and some ways like traditional siblings, so we scan the twin forums and pick out the advice that seems relevant and discard the rest. Is there any chance of sending your oldest to a relative for a week or two at least in the very beginning? I will also say that it does get better, and different, and you are not alone in this experience.

  19. My two sons are 18 months apart. Realistically, the first few months were hard. The older one was not very self-sufficient yet (still needed some help with eating, couldn’t entertain himself for more than about a minute at a time it seemed like, etc.), so trying to adjust to caring for him and a newborn was tricky.

    I ended up giving up on breastfeeding my younger son after 2 weeks because it wasn’t working, and it was stressing me out. What a relief that was! So do what you need to do. Give yourself grace, especially in the first few months, because those are the hardest.

    My boys are 3 years and 18 months now and they are pretty much best friends, which is so awesome. Yes, it was hard at first, but it’s so worth it when you see how much they love each other.

  20. I am two months in, with my little ones 16 mos apart… There have been a lot of helpful comments. So I just want to add a few things.
    Prepare freezer meals for yourself now, so that you will have a good stock when the next baby arrives. I know you are probably exhausted being pregnant and taking care of a month old… But try to cook one extra meal a week of something. Also, use a crockpot to help cook dinners. Maybe find a few recipes you like now.

    And find a good baby carrier so you can ‘wear’ your baby once you have recovered from your c-section. Yes, a bouncer and swing and playpen are all good, but I’ve found the carrier to be a life saver when the newborn is fussy or you want to be with your older child at the playground…

    It’s hard, but many, many women have made in through… and your children will be very close!

  21. Being the parent of two girls, 15 months apart, was nothing short of a struggle (juggle?) all the time.

    That being said, now that they are 11 and 10, I tell you having them that close together was the best decision I could have ever made! They are each others best friends, rocks, defenders, and backbones. They fight like any other siblings, and share the bond most akin to twins.

    In talking with my husband about having another child, I even lean toward having two back to back again. I can’t imagine them anything other than together…and as they get older and entertain each other IT DOES GET EASIER!

    I never hear I’m bored, pay with me… they always have a built in friend. It’s companionship at it’s strongest!

  22. My daughter was born 5 days before my son’s 1st birthday, so I know many of the challenges you will face. We don’t have any family close by, but we fly my mom in a few times a year. It’s easier (and cheaper) for one grandma to visit than four of us to go her way. Mine are now 4 and 5 and great friends.

    I actually found the first few months to be easier than I thought. She slept in an elevated bassinet that I moved from room to room. I think because my oldest couldn’t see the baby, he wasn’t too stressed. He went about his playing and learning to walk. He had a special basket with toys that came out during feeding time. I sat in a rocker with the baby and he played on the floor. He loved to crawl up into the rocker with us when he was ready for more cuddling. I really made a point to get out in the fresh air every day. We bought a tandem double stroller, so she could lie on her back flat, while he sat up front and looked at the world.

    As time went on and she became more active, typical sibling rivalry behavior sat in. I got very good at carrying both of them at the same time and taking care of two babies. I always checked both diapers at the same time. Even if the older didn’t need to be changed, it gave me a few minutes to tickle and love and sing to him exclusively. We had two cribs in one room, but did eventually separate them. To this day, my youngest is wiggly and harder to get to sleep, which interfered with the other one.

    I didn’t even try to keep up with a baby book. I got baby calendars for each one. I kept them on top of the dresser with a pen and just jotted notes most evenings. Honestly, I can’t tell you off the top of my head when they crawled, walked, talked, etc without going back to the baby calendar. It is a blur. But that’s OK. Take lots of pictures and worry about printing and organizing later.

    As others said, try to go easy on yourself. This is hard work, but it WILL get easier. A central station is great – comfy chair, phone, TV or computer, drinks and food for you, bouncy seat or activity center for you oldest, diapering area. I also bathed my kids for a long time in the kitchen sink, using a baby bathtub. We lived a very simple life during those first two years – pasta and salads, lullaby singing, walks around the neighborhood. And sometimes I cried, because it is difficult. That’s OK, too. When I finished crying, we’d just go outside – either sit in the sunshine or I’d put the baby in the baby carrier and put on a huge fleece jacket around both of us and off we’d go.

    My husband took over the 8 pm feeding, so I tried to sleep right after the 5-6 pm meal until the one around midnight. I functioned much better if I could get one stretch of pretty uninterrupted sleep. He would bring the baby to me for the early morning feeding, so I didn’t have to wake up too much. He was up getting ready for work, so that helped me a lot, too.

    Good luck to all of you. I am really happy with them so close together now. They can play together for hours.

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