One of the topics mothers expecting their second baby often bring up in conversation is that of how to integrate older siblings and baby into family life during the postpartum period.
When offering advice and experience on this topic, I often share links to some of my favorite parenting websites (found here and here) or books that talk about sibling integration (found here and here).
Today, I’m going to share with you one of my favorite resources for creating quiet time in our day and providing my bigger kids something to do when we all need a break: Sparkle Stories. We make use of this resource all the time, even though youngest is now approaching two. But, these audio stories can be especially helpful in that postpartum window when the need for quiet breaks may be more frequent.
Sparkles Stories has a free weekly podcast, audio stories for purchase, and a monthly story subscription. The story subscription offers access to over 1,000 audio stories. You can sort them by age (from 3+ to 9+), topic, or series. Currently, my kiddos favorite series features Martin and Sylvia - a home-schooled sibling pair who love fairies and imagination.
Sparkles Stories offers a podcast with a new story a week, as well as featuring a free story on their homepage and many free stories on the Sparkle Stories Blog. And, fantastically, they also offer a 10-day free trial, if you’d like a fuller sense of the depth of their library.
For us, Sparkle Stories doesn’t replace cuddling together and reading. Instead, the audio stories provide a perfect quiet time activity, and they give us all the a bit of a break, which we all need come the afternoon.
Anticipating a second or more baby and looking for support with sibling integration? Head over to Nested Mama to find out how a postpartum doula can aid you in this time.
To the Mother in one of these beautifully intense seasons of motherhood: parenting a toddler while pregnant
Some days of mothering are beautiful. Some days are beautifully intense. Some are beautifully intense and also exhausting and hard.
I remember being in my second pregnancy and so tired. Just so tired. And, despite my overwhelming desire to sleep and rest, my wonderful toddler continued to move into new, exciting, and challenging stages. These stages required lots of physical play, vigilance over choking hazards, and growing pains for me as I learned how to parent her in year two.
A few weeks ago, I found myself scrolling through the posts of one of my favorite online parenting support forums. A mom* posted about the challenges of being in the third trimester of a pregnancy and parenting a toddler. She asked if anyone could share some suggestions for how to handle a toddler who was struggling with change and transition.
Thinking primarily of helpful parenting tips, I shared a favorite parenting resource I turn to when a phase of kiddo development sends me scurrying for new tools. I also mentioned my go-to recipe of empathy, verbalizing my kids feelings, and repeating over and over, “My child is having a hard time, not giving me a hard time.”
But, a few days later while out on a run, I couldn’t stop thinking about this mom and my response to her post. To be fair, the original post had asked for parenting tips, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d neglected something important in my reply. In my rush to offer helpful advice, I forget to say something even more vital - that finding yourself at the end of a pregnancy and facing toddler parenting is hard. So hard. And, it is okay, human, normal, and healthy that this would be a challenging time.
As my feet found their rhythm on the pavement, my mind continued to swirl around the words I wished I said. These words would offer not a list of how-tos, but acknowledgment, validation, and support.
Amazingly, the next time I found myself scrolling through the forum, this lovely mom had responded to my comment. She thanked me for my suggestions, but also expressed the same fear that lurks - sometimes fuzzily, sometimes sharply - in the back of my mind - the fear that I am failing my child.
With that opening, I found the space to say the words that had played on a loop in my head for all those miles. Words that, better than any article or parenting tip, speak to the reality of that moment when heart and hands are full and body and spirit are tired.
Gathering my courage, I wrote:
“I was thinking about you on my run this morning. And, if I may be so bold, I wanted to share this with you. I know it is hard - this beautifully intense season of being at the end of a pregnancy, on the precipice of a huge family change, and parenting a toddler. Honestly, my end of pregnancy/early postpartum days with my toddlers were some of my big parenting challenges. But, I also know that one day, maybe in a month or a year, you'll look back on this time in a quiet moment and see it all with such clarity. You will feel both wonder at and utter conviction in your strength as a mother and your love for your children. You are not letting him down. Even when the individual moments seem oh so messy, know that you are enough.”
I realized, as I posted this response, that I was speaking as much to her as myself. Each season has its own intensity, its own challenge. But, if I’m honest, the biggest challenges come not from my children, but from me. How do I grow and change alongside my children? How do I parent them in a season that requires I constantly fill their cups when I find mine is almost always drained to the last drop?
For in responding to this lovely mom late in pregnancy and on the verge of transitioning into life as a mom of two, my own struggles surfaced. I was reminded of how I wept as though my heart was breaking about my fears of having enough love for two children before my labor finally started with my second child. I was reminded about how the times that seem most challenging with my children almost always coincide with my own big feelings rising up and fears speaking loudly in my mind.
I was reminded, too, about the driving conviction behind my leap into work as a prenatal and postpartum doula. In these moments of transition, we need support. We need to know we aren’t alone. And, we need to know that we can do it, no matter how hard or overwhelming or frustrating it seems in the moment.
If you find yourself in one of these beautifully intense seasons of mothering, dear reader, know that the moments may seem messy, but one day you will step back and see it clearly, outlined by your strength and love.
*All details in this blog are shared with the permission of the mom who posted the original comment that is its inspiration. I am grateful for her willingness to let me share these thoughts and also the way in which our conversation deepened my own understanding.
Looking for more support? Learn more about Nested Mama Prenatal & Postpartum Doula Support. Connect with Nested Mama on Facebook.
Wondering what you can do to ease your fur baby’s transition from only child to happy sibling status when you bring baby home? To answer this question and more, I’m thrilled to share an interview with Rebecca from Pals for Paws Petsitting. As a pet care professional, Rebecca shares important strategies for integrating your beloved animals and your new bundle of joy. And as a mom, she shares her personal postpartum experience and how life after baby doesn’t always look the way one expects.
Before we get to questions about pets and babies, I'd love to know how you and your husband Aaron began Pals for Paws. What drew you to starting this business?
We both loved animals, of course. Aaron grew up with a house full of dogs and cats - due to family allergies, I did not. Still, I had dreams of being a veterinarian, and worked for a vet in high school (where I promptly learned I did not want to be a vet anymore!).
In college I worked for an animal shelter and pet supply store. Aaron's aunt had friends who needed pet care and suggested us, we went to meet with the lady, and she asked how much we charged. Charged?! I thought, amazed that someone would pay us to hang out with her animals. We took care of her animals, then she referred another friend, and another. I was in school for graphic design so I built us a website, and we started getting strangers for clients. It was very exciting and surprisingly busy.
When we completed school, we both got full-time jobs and had to start turning down our clients. Aaron was unhappy in his job. We felt a little bad turning down the work we loved (the animals) in favor of the work he was struggling to enjoy, so we took a leap and he quit his job and started waiting tables so we could focus on the business. It grew and grew. Eventually, he was able to stop waiting tables and I was able to quit my full-time job, then quit my freelance work. It took about 7 years to go from our first clients to sustaining income for two people, and from there we added employees. We are almost 12 years in and employ five people.
That's an amazing story, Rebecca. In those 12 years, I'm sure you've seen many clients bring home new babies. Can you share with us any tips for how to get ready to integrate a new baby and pets? Specifically, are there things families can do prenatally to make for an easier transition?
Oh yes - many clients! I very much suggest taking your dog to training prior to the baby arriving. If you have never done training before, and especially if you regard your dog's "bad" behaviors as sweet quirks, this is the time to address them, NOT after. If the dog barks a lot, or jumps, it's time to start working on those issues. Training will also give you a better general sense of how to communicate with your dog and tools to use once the baby arrives.
Even if you have a very well-behaved dog, I suggest refreshing them on commands like "Stay," "Off," and "Place." These are commands that you will be using! With a new baby, you will need space, and having a "Place" command teaches your dog that they have "their" space and they need to go to it. "Off" or "Leave it" is useful for dogs who are excessively interested in the baby's toys or, later, snacks. And "Stay" is something you'll use often for when visitors arrive. You will not be able to teach your baby to "Stay," but you can teach your dog, and that will make life easier.
In terms of making the transition easier on the dog, in the months leading up to the baby's arrival, think about an area that can be the dog's space so they have a safe place to go to where the baby is not allowed. Let them become comfortable in this space prior to the baby coming so it doesn't feel like a time out or punishment space. If there are any areas that will be off limits for them when baby comes, start blocking those areas ahead of time. Also, think about how their routine might change and make those changes in advance so they become accustomed to fewer walks, walks at different times, shorter walks, going potty in the yard, and tapering down one-on-one time.
While it's tempting to go all out giving them as much love as possible since it's about to change, that will be all the more abrupt of a change when the baby arrives. You don't want the dog to associate their decline in quality of life with the arrival of the baby. Plus, many pet parents feel guilty about "not having time for the dog" after the baby arrives. Getting yourself used to the new normal in advance of the rush of hormones (because let's face it, you're going to feel guilty about literally everything) may ease those feelings because it's not an abrupt change for you either!
Finally, get the baby equipment out so they are familiar with it. Strollers and car seats can be a bit scary, especially if you have a skittish dog! If you are installing a gate in your vehicle, do that when you put the car seat in.
Trust me when I say that it is much, much easier to address and prepare for these things during pregnancy than during postpartum!
I love the idea of slowly easing into the changes ahead a time - makes so much sense to make these changes when you have the time and energy before baby arrives. If we follow this plan before baby, what would suggest we do after baby arrives to make a more positive transition?
The traditional wisdom is to bring home a blanket or piece of clothing with the baby's scent from the hospital for your dog to get used to before bringing baby home from the hospital. When you actually come home, the baby should come in last - your pup is going to be so excited to see you after you've been away for a few days. He or she will most likely not be taking care to be gentle with the unexpected additional tiny human being in tow.
When the baby is introduced, you can do it on whatever timeline feels comfortable to you, given your dog's behavior. The AKC suggests letting the dog get used to the baby's smell and sounds for a few days prior to letting the dog approach the baby. That being said, I'm not sure I know anyone who actually was able to do that! Regardless of how long you wait, you'll want a separate person holding the dog on a leash and paying close attention to their behavior. The dog will pick up on your nerves, so try to stay calm and positive. Whoever is holding the leash can also have treats if your dog handles itself well with treats - my dogs tend to get overly excited so I would not introduce that stimulus for my crew! Speak in your normal, happy voice and allow the dog to sniff the baby's feet from a distance. Things to watch for in terms of nervousness in a dog would be licking of lips or a tense stance. Praise your dog for gentle behavior then redirect to a sit or lay-down and give the dog some good pets and love.
In my experience it really is common to see dogs immediately fall into a protective, gentle role around babies, BUT you don't want to just bank on that. Even if you have the friendliest dog, you still need to be proactive and careful when they're together. The dog should associate positive feelings with being around the baby, so having a partner (or even friends or visitors) love on the doggie in the same room as the baby will help make those associations.
I do want to point out that if you haven't done preparations during pregnancy to get your dog used to the new routines, things might be difficult for a while. My best advice for that is to stick it out. Don't make decisions on rehoming your pet during the fourth trimester, because let me tell you, even with the best intentions, pets can make that period really difficult.
In addition to your professional experience, you also have personal experience bringing a baby into a home with pets. Was there anything that surprised you about your postpartum experience with your pets?
Being a pet care professional, I definitely went into it with a bit of the idea that I knew a lot about dog behavior and had a great handle on everything. I had my baby at home, and one of my dogs was in the room (the other went to a boarder because he's a bit on the wild side). My girl met my daughter within minutes of birth and it was very sweet and beautiful. On my daughter's first day on Earth, we all five sat in the nursery together: my, my husband, my daughter, and my two dogs. So idyllic.
Annie, our big white gentle giant, meeting Adeline as we follow none of the proper protocol.
Photo Credit: Riley Curry
I was surprised, then, that it didn't take long for me to not want them around me. At all. I adore my dogs! But when I was learning to care for another person, barely sleeping, breastfeeding nonstop, I found them to be two more warm bodies who just needed something from me when I just didn't have it to give. That was really a surprise to me, I was expecting this magical world of harmony and happiness. Their barking didn't wake the baby, thankfully, but it disrupted my peaceful moments, and I would find their hair stuck to my nipples when I was trying to get babe to latch. I was so frustrated by their presence, and I was not prepared for that. I felt immense guilt, and I felt like I didn't deserve to take care of other peoples' animals if I couldn't even stand to be around my own. The fog lifted, I became more confident in caring for my daughter, and I began to cherish their presence again. Of all of the things I felt prepared for, I wish I had known that this was ok, and normal, and, especially, temporary.
My husband definitely fell into being the primary animal caretaker for the first year or so, and to a certain extend remains so. The best advice I have from my personal experience is to have a plan for who is going to take care of the pets' physical and emotional needs, because mama doesn't need that pressure.
Our big, happy family.
I love that you are sharing these personal experiences, Rebecca, because so much of the postpartum experience is just that - deeply personal, unexpected, challenging, and beautiful. As far as planning to have help with the pets, your business Pals for Paws is an awesome resource for those who want to meet their animals physical and emotional needs while they rest, heal, and settle into life with a new baby. Can you share a bit about the services you offer and how they may be helpful to postpartum families?
We actually take care of peoples' animals even before the baby comes home! I think it's a great idea to establish a relationship with a pet sitter so you have a plan for your pets when you go into labor. Friends and family are often very helpful in this role, but we have on many occasions received the "we're heading to the hospital" text and got the dogs on our schedule until we heard they were ready to come home - it's one of those things that can give you peace of mind and allow dad and family to focus on being in the hospital and not worry about the dogs' schedule.
I mentioned earlier adjusting the dogs' expectations in advance, and if you do so, you may not need any help with your dogs. However, if it's very important to your dog to get a walk each day (and for some dogs this makes all the difference in their behavior), you don't have to cut that out. We have dog walking clients who we have continued to service all that way through pregnancy, postpartum, and going back to work, without taking a break. For these families, it allowed them to keep that routine going for their dogs and get the dogs the exercise they need. If you've never used a dog walker before, you may consider it for the postpartum period to ease that pressure of "How am I going to take the dog out?" and "the dog is just so wound up!" Doggie daycare (which we don't offer, but there are many great facilities in the area) is another great option if you're feeling overwhelmed by the presence of your pets or guilty that they're bored. Your dog gets to go and spend all day playing with friends and comes home wiped out.
That being said, once you are healed, walking your dog with your baby is a wonderful way to get exercise and fresh air. Just make sure to be safe - if you have a bigger dog whose pulling and strength you could handle pre-baby, it's a good idea to invest in a harness like an EasyWalk to give you a bit more control since you'll be managing a stroller simultaneously. You can babywear and walk dogs (I do!), but I do consider it a bit on the risky side if you have a large dog or a puller so use caution and your best judgement if you feel there's a possibility that you could be pulled forward.
Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing all of this fantastic advice! I know I’ll be adding it to my Pinterest board to share with anyone who has questions about bringing home a new baby to meet their beloved animals.
If you are looking for petsitting or dog walking care in Iowa City, North Liberty, Coralville, and Tiffin, you can reach Pals for Paws at (319) 535-0748 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I’m writing this blog, I know that the calendar reads April, but outside my window I see a whole lot of snow. Get it together Iowa weather!
Despite the snow, I want to share with you four fabulous spring outings for young families in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and surrounding communities. These are locations my family enjoys so much that the kids ask to go back again and again. We’ve done these hikes with baby in a carrier to get some fresh air and also with toddler and big kid siblings along.
Devonian Fossil Gorge - Flood waters tore through this area by the Coralville dam back in 1993 and again in 2008, exposing fossils from the Devonian period. The spring sees the formation of shallow (and delightful) mucky pools that teem with tadpoles. Several fossils are marked with numbered plaques, and even more fossils can be spotted throughout the whole gorge. If you have young walkers, pack an extra change of clothes. This is an adventure where little explorers are sure to investigate the water and muck. The gorge itself isn’t stroller-friendly, though the Tailwater Riverwalk just south of the gorge is paved and wide if you are looking for a short stroll.
Squaw Creek Park - We like to park in the day-use area by the Meadowlark shelter and take the trail that leads into the woods. This dirt path is not suitable for strollers, so you will want carriers for any babies or little walkers who may tire. Adults and little kids up for a short hike can make an out and back at any point. If you’re up for some exercise, continue on to make a loop through prairie, wetlands, and back up some hills on grass trail. After your hike you can enjoy the day-use playground or drive over to the campground to enjoy one of the nicest playgrounds in the county.
Indian Creek Nature Center - This nature center’s trail system showcases prairie, woodlands, and wetlands. The Wood Duck Way Trail (across the street from the Nature Center building) is a particular favorite of little walkers, giving them the chance to peer into shallow water and touch cattails. ICNC also includes a fabulous outdoor classroom - perfect for making mud pies, stick shelters, and self-guided play.
Looking for more options to get outside with little ones? The corridor area is home to two branches of the national organization Hike it Baby. Connect with Hike it Baby IC and Hike it Baby CR on Facebook.
Pregnant or newly postpartum and looking for more support as you get into a groove with your new little one? Nested Mama offer prenatal support services as well as day and overnight postpartum support to families in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and surrounding communities. Connect with Nested Mama on Facebook.
Head on over to the Doulas of Iowa City blog, where I share the story of why we decided to hire a doula for our second child's birth.
Considering adding a doula to your birth support team? Looking for support in the postpartum period? Come to our next Meet the Doulas of Iowa City, and learn more about the services our member businesses offer to pregnant, birthing, and postpartum families. And, if you can't make the event, contact any of our member business for a free consultation.
Johanna received a Ph.D. in English in 2014. Now a postpartum doula and educator of childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant sleep, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.