We had 4 kids in 5 years, and the hardest part of every newborn (after the first) was always the toddler. The clingy, confused, barely verbal, highly active toddler who does not understand why it takes you 45 minutes to feed the baby or why he can’t thrust his elbow into your chest for leverage to get up and down off your lap.
(Anyone else?! When the kids climb on me while I’m newly nursing, it takes all my self control not to literally shove them off of me…. I usually QUICKLY say, “ahhh that really hurts don’t lean on me please.” But inside, I’m crying. Just me?)
I won’t lie and say these tips for feeding your newborn with a toddler around will make it EASY… but they might help a little.
If you still feel like a hot mess, pour some more coffee and hang in there. The first 3-6 months with a newborn and toddler are insanely hard, but you can do it!
Billions of women before you have done it and it’ll all be a big, precious, happy blur in hindsight.
NOTE: We’ve nursed, bottle fed, and combined the two. Regardless of how you feed a newborn, you have to sit there and feed the baby. Whether you have a bottle or boob in baby’s mouth, it’s really hard to get up and deal with your toddler while you are feeding a newborn. Haha so this list of ideas is perfect for keeping your toddler busy while you take care of your newborn’s needs!
Take Care of Your Toddler Before Your Newborn Needs You
It is SUPER TIME CONSUMING to meet the needs of a newborn and toddler. It’s also very temporary. Just keep telling yourself that! Their needs will not be this all-consuming forever. (Just think: they might wipe their own butts someday……….)
My suggestion is to take care of your toddler’s basic needs before your newborn needs you.
1. Get the toddler a snack & drink
Leak proof cup recommended but not required. Before you start nursing, prep a no mess snack for your toddler to eat while you nurse. Heck, grab yourself a snack too so you don’t become a hangry momma.
2. Take toddler potty before nursing
If your toddler is potty trained, take him potty before you start. Because otherwise, he will have to go as soon as the baby finally latches. Ha!
3. Play something with your toddler for 10 minutes before you know you’ll need to feed the baby.
Think of this as “filling his/her time bucket up” before you spend time focusing on the baby.
Then say, “Okay mom is going to feed the baby. Let’s get your special nursing toys basket out! Do you want to help me wake baby up?” (I give the option to include the toddler in as many baby caring activities as possible – waking up baby, “helping” with the wipes, diapers, clothes, or whatever.)
Wait a minute… but how do I know when my newborn will need to eat!?
This is just one example of when setting a routine for your baby from the time she’s a newborn is helpful. Here are 10 other reasons to set a routine for your newborn.
Play with your toddler while feeding the baby
4. Action Songs!
Turn on some action songs your child is familiar with like “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” or “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Here’s my toddler playlist on Spotify.
It’s full of horrible kids songs that toddlers love like “Old MacDonald,” plus some I can tolerate like “The Goldfish Song” by Laurie Berkner and my personal favorite, “Children Obey Your Parents in the Lord,” by Steve Green… LOL
5. Teach your toddler some easy fun kid games such as:
- I Spy
- Simon Says
- Red Light, Green Light
6. Play Find the Puzzle Piece
Hide all the puzzle pieces to an ABC puzzle like this before you start nursing.
Put the empty puzzle next to you where you’re nursing/ bottle feeding baby. Then, have your toddler run all over the house looking for one letter at a time and bring them back and put them in the puzzle.
TIP: Hide them pretty out in the open the first time you play this. You can make it trickier next time!
Give lots of high fives and praise and say something like, “Yes! You found F. F says /f/ for /f/ /f/ /fffff/rog and /fffff/ish.”
/f/ = the whispered sound that f makes, don’t say, “fuh.” This video has an example of /f/ in the first 10 seconds if I’m being confusing.
7. Puzzle Mix Up
Set this activity up right near you on the couch so the toddler can work independently but feels like she’s playing with you.
Our toddlers have loved these chunky style puzzles!
Our kids’ favorite puzzles at ages 1.5 -3 Fish Puzzle | ABCs 3 pack | Shapes | Farm | Transportation
8. Read with your toddler while feeding the baby
My first daughter especially loved reading together while I nursed the newborn. She was only 17 months old when her sister was born, and she just loved books.
We lived in a small ranch, and she would run down the hallway to get a book from her room, bring it to me on the couch in the family room, and we’d read it while I nursed. Then she’d run to put it back and get another.
The running back and forth took extra time and made it feel like a game. My 3rd little guy loved this game too when he was 21 months and I was nursing our 4th.
TIP: Use special books that you get to read during nursing only. (The library is great for this!)
Blokus is for older kids + adults but my toddler LOVES to fit the pieces together like Tetris. He did this several times a day, often for 20-30 minutes at a time… for weeks on end!!
You can set it up right near you while you feed the baby and help the toddler learn how to do it. We gave it as a family game gift one Christmas – I think I paid $10-15 on Amazon.
10. Set up CD books or Music CDs nearby you
We have 2 of these little portable CD players, and my kids love to use them with picture books on CD from the library.
Their grandma gives them CDs occasionally and they love listening to them and looking at the little booklet from the CD case 🙂 A new CD makes a great gift for a new big sister or brother.
A few of our favorite toddler CDs are:
- Laurie Berkner – the least obnoxious fun kids songs I’ve heard!
- Hide ‘Em in Your Heart– my favorite songs for teaching scripture to toddlers. They’re sung verses verbatim and also not annoying. (Cheesy, but not annoying.)
- Beethoven’s Wig – my kids LOVE these. Plus it gets the tunes of famous classical music in their heads with silly, memorable lyrics. When the original classical song comes on somewhere randomly, the kids will exclaim, “Hey I know this song!”
Feeding the Baby Out and About!
11. Plan to Feed Baby at the Library!
This obviously only works if your toddler will stay nearby. I would sometimes get ready to leave, wake the baby before she got hangry, then pop her right in a carseat and go to the library.
This worked well with my 1st and 2nd kids because our library had kind of a closed off kids section and my 1st daughter was particularly cooperative with staying nearby.
This would have NEVER worked with my 3rd and 4th because my 3rd child was a runner when his younger brother was born. 🙂
Plus, the 4th was born in February and I had 4 kids ages 5 and under. It was that point in the winter where you’ve given up on life and we basically never left the house… except to go to a kid’s gym (see next point.)
12. Plan to Feed Your Newborn While Toddler Plays at an Indoor Kids Gym
Our 4th was born in the dead of winter, and the kids’ grandma had given them a membership to a place like this for Christmas. It was AWESOME!!! I could see the whole place from a chair while nursing, and the kids could run around like crazy.
Try finding a place like this locally by searching: “Kids gymnastics play open gym Jonesville” or whatever. There are 3 near us with varying pricing structures and open gym times. You can usually just drop in a pay per visit too 🙂
If you have people who are asking you what you need for your second or third baby as a gift, suggest a gift card to a local kids gym!
13. Feeding the newborn while Your Toddler Plays outside
If it’s nice out, feed the newborn outside in the backyard or at a playground while your toddler runs around. Our toddlers loved this water table, or any sort of dirt moving activity.
DIRT PLAY –Have a few pots and one shovel. Fill half full of dirt, one empty. It’s amazing how long a toddler will scoop that dirt back and forth if you let him be.
TIP #1: plan for a huge dirt mess, and think twice before saying, “don’t do X with the dirt Johnny.” Because you don’t want a situation where you can’t follow through on discipline and disobedience.
TIP #2: Dirt is always better than sand, my friends. Just as fun and 100x easier to wash off.
Other fun (independent) activities for toddlers while you are taking care of the newborn
14. Cheerio Necklace
Help them make a cheerio necklace before nursing and then they can eat it while you nurse. I like tying string to these plastic needles. The plastic needles are easier for toddlers to “thread.”
15. Play dough
My kids like muffin tins, ice cube trays, toothpicks, butter knives, and mini rolling pins for play dough! Don’t get TOO much out… toddlers get easily overwhelmed! Less is more!!
We always purchased play dough, but recently tried making our own with this recipe – it was super fun.
Super Mom Idea: Play dough “Invitation to Create”
As you can see from the above pictures, my play dough set up never looks this cute! But the momma over at “Fun Learning For Kids” set up this pond life play dough invitation! And it looks so FUN!
17. Do a dot paints
Do a dot paints are a very easy, minimal mess activity! Here’s a fun book to go with the do a dot paints, or you can google “do a dot printables” and print off some sheets.
Or just give your toddler a giant piece of paper from a roll like this.
Related: 22 Tips to Survive a Road Trip with Toddlers & Preschoolers (Tons of other good activities in this post!)
18. Busy Toddler Dot Sticker Ideas
I love love love everything that Susie over at Busy Toddler says about early childhood learning. She has so many ideas for activities and she loves DOTS. Her instagram account has a whole highlight section with ideas for these dot stickers!
(They’re cheaper on Amazon than in stores as an “add-on”!! Just add them to your cart and then next time you checkout over $25, they’ll be in there.)
And every single one of her dot sticker ideas takes less than 5 minutes to set up, but keeps your toddler busy for a while! She is one of the very few people I follow on instagram! I highly recommend her blog + IG for ideas!!!! (Is that enough exclamation marks!?)
19. Rice Bins
The first several times you introduce rice bins, you should be nearby and available to help your toddler understand the rules and boundaries. (I.e. no dumping it out, no throwing, etc…)
But once your toddler is a rice bin pro, rice bins are perfect for while you’re nursing!
Susie @ busy toddler has a great article about starting rice bins!! Susie for the win again!
20. Sink Play
Sink play is another activity that depends on your child! If she/ he can be trusted to play nicely at the sink, this activity can last forever!! It takes time for your toddler to learn to do this “responsibly” though.
TIP: Keep old beach towels in your kitchen and place one or 2 under the chair the child is standing on to catch water spills. Water spilling is inevitable so don’t stress… it’s just water. They obviously shouldn’t be purposefully dumping it on the counter, but otherwise, just embrace that water spilling is a part of water play at the sink 🙂
21. Water Wow
My 2, 4, and 6 year old are OBSESSED WITH THESE! We use them exclusively on road trips or during homeschool time when I need to work 1-on-1 with my oldest.
Just give one pad (not all 3) & fill it up before you start nursing 🙂
Create a Special Toy Basket For Playing With Only When You Feed Baby
The key to making a toy basket work is these toys only come out when you’re feeding baby.
Newborn nursing sessions take so long. Your toddler will probably be bored of the toys in the special nursing toy basket when you’re finished feeding the baby anyway.
When you’re done feeding the baby, clean them up together. Have your toddler help you put the basket away and say something to the effect of, “That’ll be fun to play with those toys again next time I feed the baby.” Stick to your guns on this!! It’ll pay off.
We’ve found less is more when creating a special toy basket.
Put 1 or 2 things in the basket. Choose something new to your child, and something that only comes out during nursing. After a couple weeks, if it gets old, rotate in something new.
Some ideas for a nursing toy basket are:
22. New crayons or markers + coloring book
Just keep a magic eraser around and it’ll be fine!
23. Playmags / Magnatiles
We have both brands… The Playmags are stronger than the Magnatiles and hold their structures better. This is the exact set we have and all my kids LOVE them!
Even my one year old walks around holding a few tiles, taking them apart, putting them together, sticking them to the fridge, etc.
24. Pipe Cleaners + Beads
Try large wooden beads like this. Put 10 beads and 1 pipe cleaner in a small tray/ basket of some sort. Show the child how to do 1 or 2 and loop a bead on the end so that they don’t fall off.
25. Pipe Cleaners + Colander
Again, less is more. Give the child 15 pipe cleaners and 1 colander. A parmesan cheese shaker will work too…
26. New Stickers + Blank Paper
This giant bag of foam stickers is fun! They’re easy to peel for toddlers who are new to stickers. Set out 1 piece of paper, a small tray/ plate/ bowl of stickers, and a trash bowl/ bin. Show the child how to peel, stick, and where to put the trash piece.
27. Self correcting Number Puzzles
Self Correcting Number Puzzles are the perfect activity for a 4-5 year old to figure independently! If you have a younger 2-3 year old, here are some ideas to make this more fun and less overwhelming:
OPTION 1: If this is the first time your toddler is doing self-correcting puzzles, give them just 3 or 4 pairs. Then they won’t get overwhelmed!
OPTION 2: You could set 3 or 4 of the “picture” side of the puzzle on the floor, then keep the “number” side of the puzzle near you. Hand them the 3 and say, “Okay this is the number 3. It fits with the fire trucks. Can you find the fire trucks and fit it together?”
28. Large wooden blocks with a shape sorting top!!
If they don’t know how to sort shapes, help them dump out the bucket before you start feeding. Then put the empty bucket with a lid near you on the couch and show them which slot to put each block in.
29. Duplo Squares
Around 2, my kids have been very entertained by duplos. If you sort out the ones that are just squares, this activity can last FOR 30 MINUTES! Which is an eternity in toddler time.
And if you just keep a basket of squares out, they will go back over and over again.
This could probably work with mega blocks too, but we’ve never had any!
30. Wooden trains
Easy to assemble bridges & a small amount of tracks are the key to making wooden trains super fun for little ones!
Help your toddler set up a track before you start feeding the baby and kinda show him/ her how to build it. They’ll probably want help at first, but after a few months of trains practice, your 2 or 3 year old will be able to build some herself. We love this bridge, this bridge, and these tracks. All brands of wooden tracks are compatible though (#FunTip) so it doesn’t matter which you get!
31. Media Help
We have generally found that using touch screens to “pacify” our toddlers isn’t worth it because they seem to become more monster-like overall.
Though it was initially hard to cut touch screens out entirely, it paid off major dividends. They stopped asking, and thus stopped throwing fits when the answer was “no” because they didn’t ask anymore… Ya know?
I know this isn’t everyone’s experience – grace, grace, grace, my friends. Do what works for your family in this area.
What works for us is no touch screens for little ones.
We do allow kid shows, though. Our general rhythm is to do one episode of a show after nap time. Because again, it’s just easier to have a blanket rule so they don’t ask to watch shows all day long.
When I was nursing a newborn, we’d often do a show during a nursing session at some point too. Whenever we add shows in at other times throughout the day, the kids inevitably ask more frequently: can we watch a show?! (This is why it’s easier if you can stick to one consistent time per day.)
At some point, I announce, “Okay, we’re not doing TV anymore except for after naps. You don’t need to ask.” And I just remind them of that every time they ask until they stop asking 🙂
The favorite toddler shows around here have been: Thomas, Chuggington, Dora, and some PBS Kids Shows. We turn our $5/ month PBS kids subscription on and off depending on what the kids are into. Super Why and Wild Kratts are my personal favorites that the kids like!
It’s a season…
As with most things in parenting, the newborn-with-a-toddler-running-around is just a season. Here are my 12 best tips for surviving the season of life with a newborn and a toddler.
It’s hectic and messy and exhausting, and yes, frustrating at times; but, try to let a lot of things go. Focus on taking care of your little ones’ basic needs and taking care of yourself.
Get sleep, eat well, try to get them napping at the same time ASAP. Preserve your toddler’s afternoon quiet time even if they outgrow sleeping.
A sibling is the best gift for your little ones! Just keep telling yourself that even when you feel like you’re loosing your marbles!! They’ll be best friends in no time 🙂