KEEPING YOUR TODDLER BUSY WHILE BREASTFEEDING YOUR NEWBORN
I remember being home with my newborn son, maybe one or two weeks after he was born, and I was doing what filled most of my days: nursing. From the bathroom in the hall, I heard my three year old call out, “Mooooom! I’m done!” signaling that she needed me to help her finish up potty duty, if you know what I mean.
Well, I was not about to break that perfect, hard won latch, so I continued breastfeeding with one arm while I assisted my daughter with the other. All while trying to not disrupt the baby.
As I left the bathroom to return to the couch, I had to laugh at how ridiculous I must have looked, living that two-kid mom life.
While going from one to two kids wasn’t as life-altering as zero to one (for me), there was still definitely a learning curve as I navigated new rapids on this same motherhood river. I basically knew what to do, for both my newborn and my three year old. The hard part was figuring out how to do it. And at the same time. To meet both of their needs with just my two arms. It felt like multitasking to the max. And that’s only with two! So many moms are juggling three, four, or more kids!
I’m tired just thinking about it.
It’s humbling to find that you can’t meet everyone’s needs all at once. You just can’t. At first it’s total chaos and then slowly you become more efficient at juggling everyone, while your children learn important lessons about independence, patience, and helping out.
In the beginning, when nursing sessions can take upwards of an hour at a time, just keeping your other children busy while you’re occupied with breastfeeding is a challenge. Here are some ideas to help you through those first weeks and months as you find your own rhythms and methods: (Note: not all activities are appropriate for very young children. Use your best judgement based on your child’s age and development level.)
- A toy or game played with exclusively during nursing time. Set aside something for them to play with that holds your child’s attention the longest. It doesn’t have to be new, it can be anything as long as you know it will keep them occupied for a good chunk of time. Keep it put away in a box until it’s time for a nursing session. Ideas: puzzles (especially ones that challenge them rather than one they’ve already mastered), card games (like a memory matching game), scissor skills activity book, pipe cleaners and pom poms, blocks for building, magnet tiles or magnets for the fridge, lacing beads.
- Snack time! When a nursing session will fall during a snack time for your older kid(s), take a few minutes prior to set up a picnic style snack area. Doing it picnic style isn’t a necessity, it just seems to excite and intrigue them more than a regular meal at the table. Keep items on hand that work well for this: cut up fruit, crackers, cheese, raisins, pretzels and hummus, etc. If it’s nice outside and you can easily set up outdoors, like on a porch or deck.
- Movie time! If you are rigid about about screen time for your littles – that’s great. I do believe in limiting screen time and being intentional about it. But many of us find ourselves being more lenient in this area with a newborn around, and that’s okay too! One idea is to allow your older child(ren) to choose a movie that they can only watch it as you breastfeed the baby. So that means that if nursing only takes you 25 minutes, then they only get to watch 25 minutes of the movie. (Make sure you prepare your child! Obviously if this will incur meltdowns, this method may not be the best fit for you. We definitely don’t want to create more stress in your home!) As you notice that the nursing session is ending, give a 5 minute warning and set a timer if you’d like. When time is up, let them pause the movie and then reassure them that they can pick up right where they left off at a later time. OR, if it’s easier to let them watch specific episodes of a favorite show due to the shorter time frame, then do that!
- Interactive play with you. This is more involved for you, the mom, since you’ll be tending to your baby and your older child simultaneously but it’s definitely doable. And it’s a great option for children who don’t play well independently yet. We love our Scavenger Hunt cards (you draw a card with a picture of an item and your child has to find that item somewhere in your home), as well as charades cards and good, old fashioned “I Spy”.
- Outside free play. During the warmer months, getting outside is beneficial for everyone. The kids can burn energy with bubbles, chalk, trikes, and scooters, and you can enjoy the change of scenery! Obviously this works best in an enclosed area, like a fenced backyard, where your kiddos can play safely while you watch and feed the baby.
- In room quiet time. Even if your older child is no longer taking naps, you can begin a daily quiet time where they play in their room with quiet toys. Things like books, legos, paper dolls, etc. This is a great independence builder, plus it allows for some wind-down time in lieu of a nap. I like to keep the monitor on in my daughter’s room so I can easily check on her.
- Reading to them; them reading to you. If your child is able to hold a book open and turn pages, you can read to them while you breastfeed. Have a stack of books ready for nursing time and sit somewhere that can accommodate you, the baby, and the older child. If your child is learning to read this is the perfect opportunity for them to practice reading aloud.
- Sensory bin. Sensory bins are simply a collection of items that entertain, encourage learning, and fine-motor development. You can include things like rice, measuring cups, small truck toys, scoops, funnels, etc. There are tons of options! This is one activity you’ll want to test with your child in advance to make sure they are old enough to play with it without making a total mess that you’ll need to clean up afterward. (You’d probably be surprised at how well most kids do at keeping everything in the container.) Here’s a very helpful link to get you started.
- Busy bags. Busy bags are made up of an activity or craft that your toddler can do on their own. Some ideas: lacing beads, magnetic fishing game, sticker books, popsicle sticks to make various shapes with. Just search “Busy bags” on Pinterest for tons of other ideas!
- High chair messy play. There are some things I just don’t trust my kid with, like markers, paint, and play-doh. Right?? I know I’m not the only one. BUT these things are a lot more innocuous when your child is contained to an area like in a high chair. So if they are still small enough to be in a high chair or booster seat, get them in place and break out the messy toys and games. They will love it!
I really hope these ideas are helpful for those of you finding your way through the early days of breastfeeding, while also easing the transition for your other children. Remember to use language that creates positive reinforcement and associations. For example, “you GET TO play with this toy while mommy nurses the baby!”, rather than “I HAVE TO feed the baby, so play with this while I’m busy”. More than likely, your toddler will start to look forward to nursing sessions since that means special play time for them. Win for everyone!
Please weigh in with any of your own ideas that we haven’t already covered above!