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Double Duty: Adjusting to Life With a Second Child

Mother laying on bed with daughters

JGI/Jamie Grill/ Getty Images

During my second pregnancy I was so consumed with raising my 3-year-old son, Leo, that I barely gave any thought to what life would be like with two children. But once Eva arrived, all heck broke loose. I never had a free moment to get things done. I was up nursing every two hours at night, and because my kids didn't nap at the same time, I could never catch a snooze during the day. Leo demanded my attention every time I started nursing. Whenever I got my very energetic boy out of the house, I was scared that my baby girl might be exposed to germs. If you're feeling anything like I did during those first few months, you have questions about how to manage this new dynamic. Fortunately, we've got expert answers.

With my first child I often dozed off when he napped. Now I'm stuck playing Chutes and Ladders -- and exhausted. How can I get more rest?
While it may be tempting to play Supermom, remember: Nobody wins a medal for doing it all by herself. You need help with two kids. Say yes when someone offers assistance, and if no one does, ask for it. If you're pumping, delegate the first nighttime feeding to your partner, suggests Parents advisor Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., the author of Sleeping Through the Night. Once your baby is around 8 weeks old, she'll likely start to develop a predictable sleeping pattern and you can tweak her nap schedule to match at least one of her naps to her sibling's. By 12 weeks she'll be developmentally ready for sleep training, which will make the biggest difference in your ability to get the rest you need.

My baby takes his morning nap in a car seat while I'm schlepping my older child to preschool. Is it bad that he doesn't always sleep in his crib?
No. Your older child has a life too. If that means your infant needs to snooze in a car seat, stroller, or baby carrier now and then, so be it. However, having your baby nap on his back in a crib is still the safest way to prevent SIDS, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. "It's a good goal to have him take at least half of his naps in the crib," suggests Dr. Mindell.

I'm worried my baby isn't getting as much attention as my first child did. Is she losing out?
There's no way to provide two kids with your undivided attention 24/7, but that's actually a good thing. "You're forced to give your second child more independence," says Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., coauthor of Baby 411 and Toddler 411. Your baby will figure more things out for herself, which will boost her self-confidence and problem-solving skills. Second children also learn to assert themselves, since they're used to fighting for toys and being told what to do by an older brother or sister. The next time you become concerned that your little one is getting short shrift, remember how much she'll benefit from having a big sib (and great parents) to help her navigate through life.

I take my 3-month-old to my toddler's playdates because I have no alternative. I'm worried he's more likely to get sick. True?
Your first child may have lived in a bubble, but you don't have that option this time. "Yes, it's likely he'll get sick more often earlier in life," says Dr. Brown. But, this actually helps build up his resistance to colds in the long term. Be sure to limit his exposure to young kids and anyone who's under the weather during the first two months, since his immune system is immature. After that, use common sense (such as asking people to wash their hands before holding your baby), but don't shield him from the world.

My 2-year-old acts out around our newborn, especially when I breastfeed. What gives?
Breastfeeding is a common trigger for toddler tantrums -- your child sees you cuddling the baby and feels left out. Try to make the experience special for your big kid. Let him pick out a book for you to read before you start nursing. Also compliment him when he helps out, for instance by bringing you a fresh diaper for the baby. "Praising good behavior gives him the attention he craves," says Dr. Brown. Still, don't be surprised if it takes a while for him to get used to the new family addition. It could be months before he's okay with sharing Mommy and Daddy, and even then he may not like it very much.

What You Need to Know About Your Youngest Child
What You Need to Know About Your Youngest Child

Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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