by Elizabeth Ariola
I’m so excited to be a guest writer on HEA for the day! I live in New Canaan, CT, and I am a boy mom to a very energetic 3-year-old, Charlie, and a very active 2-year-old, Ford. I launched my blog, Mrs. Nipple when I was blessed with a super-surprise pregnancy (like the kind that you wonder if the Holy Spirit placed this child in your womb-type of pregnancy 🙂 ) landing my boys 18 months apart, commonly referred to as Irish Twins. After I processed the news, I thought, there’s no better time than now to share my motherhood journey with others, and with the last name Ariola, Mrs. Nipple seemed too right to be wrong.
I know the thought of having babies close in age can be terrifying, and yes, it is very hard at times, but I’m here to tell you it’s also pretty incredible. Once you make it through the growing pains, you are left with siblings that will 100 percent have their own identity but can choose to have each other by their side as they experience many significant milestones in life together. Just remember that the first year will be a distant memory sooner than you can ever imagine, and you will be experiencing the benefits of having kids close in age for years to come. Through this article, I hope to help ease any nerves you might have with my story, provide tips for surviving two under two, and get you excited for this new journey. So for any moms out there that are anxiously awaiting your second, or for any moms thinking about spacing their kids close in age, I hope you find peace and clarity in my words and advice.
I remember finding out we were pregnant with our second baby like it was yesterday. I was feeling off. I can’t explain it, but the only other time I had felt this very same way was when I was pregnant with Charlie. I honestly thought there is absolutely no way we could be pregnant. Charlie was only eight months old, I was still breastfeeding full-time, and I recently went back to work with a daily commute into NYC. I pulled out a leftover pregnancy test, and when the positive double line appeared, I stood frozen in complete shock. A sense of panic went through my entire body. Every thought imaginable ran through my head, followed by many Google searches, including “can I breastfeed while pregnant?” (and yes, you can. I was shocked!) I immediately decided to trust that this was meant to be, and by doing that during every single step of the way, I learned there were many positives to having babies close in age. So I took a deep breath and embraced this crazy journey.
Here are my top five tips for getting ready to welcome baby number two…
1) Let people help you. Even people you might not know that well or might not usually like having around, always say yes to help during those first few months. It doesn’t always have to be help with the baby, it could be a few meals, a run to the grocery, or an outing with your firstborn. Just say YES. Letting others help during this transition is extremely important when you have babies so close in age.
2) Let go of the guilt. Yes, I know easier said than done, but schedule some alone time with your firstborn each week, and it will lessen the guilt of bringing another baby home so quickly. Schedule a weekly outing, a mommy + me class, or 30-60 minutes of engaged parent/child play. It does not have to be fancy; you just have to be present. Spending this time with your older one will help proactively squash any jealousy and can even make them feel more secure in his/her new role.
3) Be easy on yourself. Things are very different with two. You might not have the very consistent routine you had with one, and though it was essential for us to get there eventually, we were very flexible in the beginning. Our baby would nap on the go more times than I can count, I turned on the TV to help with getting used to managing two, some days I ate my feelings, and I even sobbed in the shower. Having two babies so close in age is a huge change, and sometimes the pressure can feel like too much. Let yourself go through these emotions and also try to recognize when these feelings are something more than you can deal with alone. Feeling these things does not mean you are not strong; it means you are human. Please be easy on yourself.
4) Take things off of your plate. Make a list of things you can either hire someone to do or hand off to a friend or family member. For me, it was laundry, meals, and cleaning. We had our nanny at the time help with our laundry and cleaning. We had a conversation with her before the baby was born around what would be most helpful. When someone asked to help, but I didn’t trust them with a colicky newborn, I asked if they could cover a few meals for the week. My husband leaves for work at 6 am and gets home at 7 pm so prioritizing this was very helpful. Even if you do not have help you can still take things off of your plate in other ways. One thing you can do is make a few weeks’ worth of meals before the baby arrives and freeze them! This way mealtime will be quick and easy.
5) Have a plan but be flexible. Of course, it’s smart to think about what your plan will be when the new baby comes, but lower your expectations and be flexible. There were days that shit literally and figuratively hit the fan. Just always remember, tomorrow is a new day, and you are doing your best.
MY MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT HAVING KIDS CLOSE IN AGE…
What can I do to prepare?
This is one of my favorite things about having babies so close together! You don’t have to do much at all to prepare because you JUST did this. Our primary focus was on preparing Charlie to be a big brother, and with a baby so young, we had to get creative. We focused on two things, one which we called watch and repeat, and the other was pretend play. Watch and repeat: Whatever Daddy did Charlie wanted to do, so my husband would talk to my growing bump, kiss it, hug it in a very expressive manner, and Charlie would mimic him. It was the first time we did this that I think he started to acknowledge my changing body. Pretend Play: We also purchased a few big brother books, and when Charlie was around 15 months old, we incorporated the Manhattan Toy soft baby doll. We fed, swaddled, changed the doll, the doll came with us in the double stroller (in its own seat), and we took out all of Charlie’s old baby gear that the doll “used.” I think this helped get him ready to share his space and his things.
Another thing we did was sign Charlie up for some mommy and me classes, but instead of mommy and me, they were Nonna and Charlie and daddy and Charlie classes. Doing this kept him on his routine and kept him active when the baby came. We started these classes a few months before the baby came so I could rest with the baby when he was out, and he wasn’t missing me because nothing had changed. We still had our classes, too!
What are the positives of having kids so close in age?
There are so many positives to having kids very close in age. First, the tangible things: You have all of the up to date gear. The only new things we bought were the Nuna Rava convertible car seat, and the toddler-sized DockATot (both for Charlie so we could hand down his items to Ford) and if you don’t have it, I would recommend a double stroller. You have all of the clothing (depending on the gender; we didn’t find out the gender with Charlie, so we had all neutral newborn clothing, and my maternity clothing was still in style). We used a bassinet because when the boys were born, they slept in our room for the first six months, so we didn’t need a nursery (we were in a one-bedroom apartment, and Charlie’s room was basically a closet at the time, so this was a big plus). The whole delivery process was far too familiar, so no new planning there, and I was still working full-time for a corporation, so I still had maternity leave. PLUS, now they both even nap at the same time.
Then from the sibling/family dynamic standpoint: My mom, a.k.a Nonna/Babs, always says, “You want to know how to help teach young kids not to be selfish? Have more babies!” Giving Charlie a younger brother was the best thing we could have done for him. They are only going to be one year apart in school and will always have each other, will go through life stages together, and hopefully be lifelong friends, but I know either way they will always have each other’s backs. Whenever we leave the house, Charlie says, “Mom, we can’t forget Ford, pick him up he has to come with us.” Ford, at 22 months old multiple times a day, says, “I love you, Charlie.” Then Charlie immediately says, “I love you, Mommy.” LOL, we are working on that!
I’m really struggling with the guilt of bringing a new baby home when my firstborn is still a baby. Did you feel that way?
YES! 100% I think the most common fear with babies so close in age and my fear as well was that the firstborn didn’t get “all of us” for long enough, that they deserved more time as the only baby. Oh, and the other being, how the hell are we going to survive?! One of the most emotional experiences for me as a mother was when I left Charlie to go to the hospital. I was six cm dilated, and all I could think about was not wanting to leave him, knowing his life would never be the same. I felt an immense amount of guilt. I can’t put into words how emotional that moment was for me. I think it’s something that doesn’t truly dissipate until you see your children together over time. So many people told me not to feel guilty, but deep down, I still felt this way for bringing home a new baby when my firstborn was still a baby himself. The moment we brought Ford home was the moment I realized the timing was perfect, that NO you are not doing a disservice to your firstborn, that he/she will NOT feel any less loved, but there is just more love to go around now! You are giving your child the greatest gift in the world. Once I changed my mindset to what’s best for him (a sibling) and removed my insecurities, the process seemed easier, and I felt less guilty.
Should I invest in childcare?
Childcare, especially for those first few weeks or months home if possible, is something I would highly suggest investing in. You need to focus on yourself and bonding with your new baby, getting down a new routine, and recovering from childbirth. With already having one small human waiting at home for you, it is much harder to do so without help. If you don’t already have childcare, I would recommend hiring whoever will help you a couple of weeks/months before your due date, so your little doesn’t go through too many changes at once. Doing this also gives you some time to rest before baby number two. We already had full-time help since I was still commuting to the city until I delivered. I had help every day from 7 am – 4 pm for the first few weeks, and I cannot tell you how important that was for my recovery during those early days. Many times I left the newborn with our nanny or my mom to spend one on one time with Charlie. If childcare is out of the picture you will be fine. My mom had four kids and ran/owned a preschool without any help. You got this!
How was the transition from one to two?
The transition was hard in some ways and easier in others. Your firstborn is still very much dependent on you in every way imaginable. I’ve heard many moms say the younger the firstborn, the harder that part is, but I think the more attached your firstborn is to you, the harder it is. Charlie was a very independent baby. When I dropped him off at his 2s program for his first day at only 22 months, he couldn’t get into class fast enough. His independent personality helped with our transition. Charlie was starting to play independently at 18 months, so that helped too. Having fun new toys around our home seemed to ease the transition, especially during feedings, and if I had to put on a show, I did so guilt-free. You just need to do what it takes during those first few months to make it work and stay sane.
I am 100% a “go with the flow” type of person, which helped with the transition tremendously. Kids react to the energy in the home, and our energy had not changed because we didn’t have too high of expectations. Blow out on the white sofa? We can get it cleaned. Two screaming babies in the back seat? Deep breaths. Grocery runs with an infant and a baby? A great way to break up the day. Bath time? One at a time until Ford could sit up. Colicky baby? Well, that was a shitty curveball, but let’s figure out what’s causing his discomfort. My mindset 100% got me through the transition from one to two. We become what we tell ourselves. Just keep telling yourself you can do this because you CAN. It’s amazing what a mom on a mission can handle, and two babies are no different. After only a few weeks, I could not remember life with only one, and we were still hangin’ in there!
How do you get through the early newborn days with a busy 15-month-old?
You just do, maybe its the adrenalin or our motherly resilience? Honestly, I found keeping Charlie on his schedule worked best for us. Going to the music class, open play at the gym or our weekly breakfast date was crucial for our sanity. Playdates were his and my lifeline. If we had one special thing to break up our day, it was best for all of us. I didn’t have as much downtime as with number one because of my busy bee. I would just strap the baby on my chest or throw them both in the stroller and go! I highly recommend just listening to your gut and doing what’s best for not only your 15-month-old but for you and your newborn, too.
What was the sibling dynamic like in the beginning?
I think the tough part about the sibling dynamic with my boys being so close in age was there wasn’t much of one. I didn’t get that positive feedback from them bonding right away. Charlie wasn’t old enough to know what was going on so that immediate bond or interest in the newborn from the older sibling might not exist in some situations, and sometimes as humans, we feed off of those early interactions. That made the early days a bit harder for me.
Now they are besties! They love hard, they fight hard, and it is so amazing to see the relationship that is developing.
Charlie was around 2.5 when their relationship started to come together. It was so special, and 100% worth all of the challenges. Now that Ford can do almost everything Charlie does and they are interested in the same toys, books, and shows it’s almost like they are a little team. It’s so rewarding to witness this. So even though that interaction we yearn for as mothers might be delayed, trust me, it’s alive and well once it starts.
The challenges they face as siblings are honestly the same ones all siblings face. Now that they are older, there is a bit more jealousy that pops its head up here, and there, Charlie struggles to share with his little brother, and of course, our most used word for two years has been “gentle.”
What did you do with your firstborn when you were at the hospital? Did you feel guilty leaving?
When we left for the hospital, we had my mom take Charlie. Charlie stayed at my parent’s house with all of his cousins for the next few days. After the guilt I felt when I initially left him, I felt better because I knew he was having fun. His cousins came with him to meet baby Ford for 30 minutes in the hospital, and then they went back to my parents. Of course, I felt sad when he left, but I knew I needed to take this time to rest for him and this new babe.
How was Charlie when you brought Ford home?
We ended up being home without Charlie for around two days. We wanted to take the time to get acclimated with our newborn. Though it was a hard decision, it was the best thing for all of us. Doing this gave us the time to get some sort of routine down and have him enter a more settled environment. The boys’ meeting for the first time was a moment I’ll remember forever. Time stood still. He explored his new brother for a few minutes and then went on with his day. It was shocking that I had been stressing about this, and he was pretty uninterested. There were, of course, many more moments of him exploring his new brother, we just always had to keep a very close eye on him when he was near him.
I’m nervous about breastfeeding my newborn in front of my baby; I think he will be jealous. Any tips?
I always wondered how Charlie would handle me breastfeeding Ford. I nursed Charlie until he was 14 months, so it had only been four months since he was the one feeding. Feeding in front of him was hard in the beginning. He would pull for my chest and whine, and he would become needy if I started feeding in front of him, which was completely understandable. It only lasted a few months or so, and I did a few things that helped. I started warming up Charlie’s milk again and would have him hold his favorite blanket and pillow during feedings, and it seemed to offer him comfort.
Nursing! How should I wean or nurse both?
You can nurse both if you wish, which would be pretty incredible, but I decided to wean Charlie. I thought four months between when I stopped feeding my first and began breastfeeding a new baby would be enough time to help with any jealousy. I made this decision based not only on my own needs, but I thought this would be the best-case scenario for Charlie as well. I started mixing his breastmilk with grass-fed cows milk when he was 14 months old and slowly transitioned to 100% cows milk.
How to do bath time as a solo parent?
I bathed the baby in the sink when Charlie played in the pack n’ play and bathed Charlie in the tub while the baby napped. Now they bathe together, and they have so much fun.
How did it change your relationship with your spouse?
It was hard at times. You go from being able to focus on each other and your little one when you are out and about, and you can take turns at home, but man to man is a different ball game. We were both pretty exhausted for that first year. I would say still try to take the time to connect without the kids. Monthly date nights, movie nights at home, or even just having a conversation after bedtime with no phones or television. Now that it’s been two years, we are finally out of the fog stage, and things are feeling good.
How to manage different schedules, naps, and constant changing schedules?
We’ve always been very strict with Charlie’s nap and bedtime schedule, and that didn’t change when we had Ford. He was less crabby and well-rested, which made parenting easier. I was more lenient with Ford’s nap times as he could just nap on the go. We would be stuck inside way too much if they both napped at home for the first few months. Before we knew it, their nap times started to overlap, and now at 22 months and three years old (and it’s been like this for a long time), they have the same nap schedule! It’s amazinggggg. They both go down at 1:30 and sleep for a few hours, and I can get a break! They are both napping right now as I write this article.
Tips if they need to share a room?
Blackout shades and two white noise machines, one near each child should do the trick. During the early days, if possible, I would put down the heavier sleeper first or the one that is most likely to cry when falling asleep so they don’t disrupt the other. Though there is also a theory, you should let your toddler stay up a bit later to make them feel special. Ford and Charlie recently shared a room for a month, and they went down at the same time every night. It wasn’t an issue at all, and they actually fall asleep faster when they sleep in the same room.
Gear strategy while out and about?
Put your toddler in the stroller and then strap the baby into your carrier or put the toddler in the stroller then put the baby in the stroller. I would always do everything with Charlie first to lessen any jealousy. Even if they were both crying at the same time, I would go to Charlie first in the beginning.
How does the toddler sleep while the infant is up crying at night?
We had two white noise machines in Charlie’s room, one next to his crib and one right near his door. He slept through the night in our tiny apartment just fine.
How was the recovery different this time around?
I had less downtime, less “me” time, and I was more tired than the first time around. I healed just as fast as my first birth, but it did take me longer to drop my baby weight.
Does this get easier? We are two months in, and it’s so hard!
YES, when Ford turned five months, it was a turning point for us and got easier every month. When he started to get strong, sit up with assistance, hold his head up during tummy time, sleep longer. All those things made life with two more manageable.
How do you balance your sanity?
What sanity? LOL. I unapologetically took me time. Even if it meant going out for a coffee by myself for 15 minutes, just think about the thing that recharges you. It might be going on a walk, getting your nails done, talking to a friend, etc. For me, it’s writing and being creative. I took some time to do that each week, and it helped so much. I also urged my husband to do the same. I know he’s not home with the kids as much, but he works hard and never gets a break. Even though he rarely takes me up on it, I urge him to go out and take some time for himself on the weekends, too. We all need breaks.
What do you do when you need to put one down for a nap, and the other is awake?
The Pack ‘n Play was a lifesaver. I would have one set up upstairs and one set up downstairs. I would just place my 18-month-old in it if I needed to do anything quickly in the home so the baby was safe and the 18-month-old was safe.
How to manage sickness and germs with the toddler being around the baby?
I was as careful as I could be. During the first month, I kept the baby out of reach of Charlie as much as I could. Washing hands was imperative, and I even had Charlie change out of his clothes if he had been at a class, which helped with peace of mind.
Do you ever sleep? How do you manage a schedule/routine during the day?
I had help, so yes, I slept during the day when I wasn’t feeding. My husband works long hours so I did all of the night feedings. Resting was much harder with two because even though I had help, I wanted to spend time with Charlie. I forced myself to sleep as much as I could during the first week, and it helped with my recovery.
Did your older one go through a hitting stage with the baby?
Yes, he definitely went through a stage where he felt threatened and would hit. I think it was a mix of time outs and growing out of it that got us through. We also knew it was his way of telling us he was feeling jealous. I would recommend paying close attention to the situation to see if you notice any trends with the hitting. For us, the hitting usually took place when we were giving Ford all of the attention.
When to space out the third?
This is such a personal decision, but if you feel up to it, I would say 18 months. I didn’t, but I wish I did!
When to introduce baby to toddler’s room when they have to share?
Ours were ready when Ford was 21 months old.
When did you really feel like you could do things outside of the house?
It’s hard for me to sit still so fairly early. I would say at around the two-week mark I was confident being out and about with two. I started with some very very short walks and then went from there. Each week I got more comfortable, and I went a little further. #babysteps #smallvictories
How did you find the energy with kids 18 months apart?
In the beginning, you feed off adrenalin 100%, and then the rest is a complete mystery 🙂 LOL. The only thing that energizes me is working out, and it was tough to motivate myself to get to the gym during the first 21 months after having two. I’m just getting back into a routine now, and I wish I did this so much earlier. For the first time, I’m feeling a massive energy spike and mental clarity I haven’t felt in a very long time. Exercise offers so much more than a toned body, and I highly recommend adding it to your routine when you feel ready. It can be as little as a 30-minute walk with your babies every morning to start your day.
I’ll end with the mindset I keep in the back of my head when I need it. During a hard time, my friend told me to not only think about how we will get through these years but to think about what you want your dinner table to look like when your kids are grown. I soon realized kids close in age was the blessing I never knew I wanted.
I wish you the best in your own motherhood journey, and I hope you enjoyed this guest post—also a big congrats to Eva on her newest addition!!! I feel so lucky to be part of her HEA village today as she soaks up this time with her family.