A few months after the birth of our child, my husband and I went on our first date night. Nine months later we welcomed the arrival of our second child. After a blur of diaper changes, feedings and non-stop cleaning, I have to admit that being the mom of "two under 2" is tough. However, I have also found that there are some simple ways to make life easier.
For moms who have a baby at home and a baby on the way, here are seven survival tips from healthcare experts and other mothers.
Write out your schedule for a typical day, and try to follow it. Valerie Akong, RN, a labor and delivery nurse and mother of two, knows from professional and personal experience that this is necessary.
A large number of the moms she sees have other children under age 3, and her advice to them is always the same. "You don't make time, you use your time wisely," she says. Keeping a routine allows moms to work smarter, not harder. It can be intimidating to wake up in the morning and know that the day is already planned with a full set of activities, but many mothers agree that this is the best way to make sure they actually schedule some relaxation time for themselves.
"The biggest piece of advice I can give to moms of back-to-back kids is to carve out mom time during the day," says Dr. Stephanie Hassel, an Atlanta-based pediatrician. "The most realistic way to do that is during a child's naptime." Of course, back-to-back babies don't always sleep at the same time, but this does not have to be an obstacle.
"The other child is more than welcome to have quiet time or independent play time," says Dr. Hassel. This is actually beneficial because he or she can learn self-soothing behaviors.
Try to limit time spent shopping to once every few weeks. Elaine Quainter has four children, ages 4 months to 4 years. When she goes to the grocery store, she knows she needs to stock up for a while. "I try to run errands only twice a month," she says. In order to do this, she keeps an ongoing shopping list. Quainter also suggests that moms try to complete tasks during the day, when older children are in school.
When she must bring the entire family on trips, she frequents child-friendly stores. "I don't go anywhere that doesn't have a cart," she says. She places her infant's car seat inside the shopping cart, while her toddler sits in the front section. Her older children often want to explore their surroundings. To keep them close by, she encourages her 4-year-old twins to "help" her push the shopping cart. "That way I can make sure they stay near me."
Another way to limit shopping trips is to enlist the help of relatives and friends. "Don't take on more than you can bear," cautions Angela Guzman, a mother of five. "I've had a lot of support from my family." Letting others run errands for you is also a good way to accept help from friends or family members who are not comfortable babysitting.
Learn to overlook perfect strangers who make not-so-perfect remarks. It is impossible to ignore everyone all the time, of course. Just be aware that when you have small children with you, people you don't know sometimes make careless comments.
This always seems to happen to me at the supermarket when one child starts crying and the other one decides to throw his food on the ground. I have heard everything from amazement ("Are you crazy? How do you do it all?") to pity ("Next time make sure you have more help!").
Quainter rarely goes out in public with her four children without hearing something similar. Her advice is not to dwell on what anyone says. Sometimes she will even initiate a conversation with a quick, lighthearted remark. Many moms suggest having a common reply prepared. "I will enjoy them while I can" or "they tell me it will get easy in a few years" are my favorites.
Organize children's clothes by size and season, and make sure they are easy to access. Moms of back-to-back babies will find that they are unpacking and repacking infant and toddler attire every few months, since children outgrow clothes quickly at these ages. Constantly organizing little shirts, pants, or dresses can be overwhelming if there is no simple system in place.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I received some outfits that were too large, so I put them in storage. The problem with that strategy is that by the time he was ready to wear the clothes, I had forgotten about them. I didn't unpack the outfits until the next year, when he had moved on to a larger size. When my second son came along, I got smart and reorganized the children's closet.
I keep their current clothes in convenient dresser drawers, but I no longer store out of season and off-size items in a garage or attic. Instead, I keep them in clear, medium-size plastic bins that are placed neatly inside the nursery closet. These containers are usually found wherever home organization solutions are sold. I label them by size and season: 0-3 Months Summer, 0-3 Months Winter, 4-6 Months Summer, etc.
Now, when a child outgrows his clothes, or the weather changes, his appropriate outfits are always in easy reach. Akong says another "clothes" minded idea is to wash each child's belongings separately. This makes it much easier to sort and fold different sizes of outfits for everyday use. Guzman advises moms to prepare the next day's clothes for everyone each night before going to bed.
Though it is important to have a "clothes" mind when storing outfits, try to keep an "open" mind when it comes to accepting secondhand items from others. Once you have a packing and storage system in place, it's easy to accept presents and store them for future use. I estimate that I saved more than $1,000 in the year after my first son was born just because I accepted clothes from friends and relatives.
Do simple exercises, like walking, while your children are with you. After delivering back-to-back babies, moms' bodies need a fitness routine more than ever. Yet with little children, complex fitness routines are harder than ever to keep. Walking with your little ones is an easy, excellent way to bond with them while getting back into shape.
If the weather permits, try to squeeze in at least 15 to 30 minutes of walking during the course of a normal day. Until my younger son was able to sit up, I wore him in a baby sling while I pushed my toddler in a single stroller. For older babies and toddlers, consider investing in a double stroller.
During bad weather, you may need to plan to do a stationary exercise while the children are sleeping. Guzman likes to work out early in the morning, before her children wake up and before she gets distracted with the tasks of the day. In addition, she warns moms not to forget to take care of the general nutrition of their bodies, including taking supplements when necessary, and not eating a lot of junk food.
Encourage brothers and sisters to bond with the new baby by giving the older child a role in caring for the younger one. Akong suggests having moms introduce older children to their new sibling by using phrases such as "let's look at our baby" and "we're going to have fun taking care of our baby."
She also suggests letting the older child spend time in mom's lap, while a trusted caregiver holds the infant nearby. This lets big brother or sister know that the baby is being added into the family, but is not replacing them. When the new addition comes home, let siblings help by handing you a diaper, a storybook, or by playing the quiet game so the baby can go to sleep.
Because pregnancy surprises can happen when mothers have to deal with everything from irregular daily schedules to irregular menstrual periods, make sure you know common birth control choices for moms (including breastfeeding moms) if you aren't quite ready to add another baby to the bunch.
Here are some popular preferences:
Barrier methods: Diaphragms, condoms, and the use of spermicide are also common choices that do not use hormones, so they do not affect breast milk. Diaphragms are prescribed and fitted by a healthcare provider, while the other methods are available over the counter.
Regardless of the method you choose, it's best to check with your doctor before making a decision.
Yes, life with little ones can be tough, but these simple tips can help make your time spent with your children more enjoyable and less stressful — what more can a mom ask for?
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