Breastfeeding (or Bottle Feeding) Busy Boxes

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Guess what?!

Over nine months ago when little man was still a big bump in my belly, I planned to share this post.

Then life with three littles happened and while we have used these Breastfeeding Busy Box ideas often, I haven’t formally shared these ideas with you all - until now!

Many of you have direct messaged me on Instagram or emailed me over the past year asking, “What are these ‘Busy Boxes’ you speak of?” I have sent informal videos to many of you as a reply to share our up close and personal, but now is the time I want to put all this info in one place so you and any other families planning for postpartum with older kids or just a long summer with quiet time activities needed so mama doesn’t have to be “on” every second.

These were originally created because in addition to getting all things food-related ready for postpartum, I had seen and heard time and time again the advice to have activities ready for an older sibling once a new infant arrives. Seeing that breastfeeding has never been a cakewalk around here, having such activities ready in the form of Breastfeeding Busy Boxes helped me a lot in having three babies in under five years.

With my first, we didn’t need these busy boxes since she was the only one at the time. Come my second child though, and I struggled to breastfeed due to an undiagnosed tongue tie that put us through the ringer for her first 3+ months of life (until it was ultimately revised). I had to nurse her endlessly to satisfy her hunger in those early months, then later exclusively pumped once her tongue tie revision still lent to us being unsuccessful in breastfeeding. With this transition to two kids, I found myself needing a lot of strategies to engage my oldest as much as possible while we got the whole feeding situation figured out.

With my third child, I am so thankful breastfeeding finally did go/has gone smoothly. But that is not without the struggle of still wrangling two older siblings at home all the moments I am trying to sit and nurse. Even now with him being older and so easily distracted, I often need to pull something out that my three and five year old can play with independently (or often together) so they aren’t coming over and “interrupting” my attempt to nurse (or at least not as often). Having these Breastfeeding Busy Boxes continues to be helpful and adaptable.

So whether you breastfeed, bottle feed, exclusively pump, or use entirely formula, I hope this post supports you. It is not meant for only the moms who’s breast is out nor is it intended to imply that one method of infant feeding needs more support than another. Having been through so many ups and downs of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, exclusively-pumping and using formula in our own family, I hope this post meets you where you are at - wherever that is. While my hope is that this post will encourage and empower you to be successful in breastfeeding your baby for as long as it is beneficial to you and your family, my main motive with this post is to encourage and empower YOU - as the wonderful, gifted, and life-giving mom you are - in the transition to welcoming a new baby. With this, I will do my best to refer to these as “Busy Boxes” throughout the content of this post.

 
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Activity Closet

When I think of all the nesting activities I did when preparing for my second and later third child, converting our downstairs coat closet into a place to store our toy rotation was one of the best ideas I had. Having all sorts of random toys scattered around the house drives me crazy, so consolidating those by concept helped us to not only manage (or eliminate!) much of the clutter as well as give the kids some guided play into like-toys (i.e. Z is for ZOO bin, I is for INSECT bin, T is for TENT/CAMPING bin, etc.). We still have the kids favorite toys out (like dress up, dolls, play kitchen, the Barbie house, Little People, blocks, etc.) available in the playroom. I find the girls focus on those toys a lot better though when all their toys aren’t out and competing for their attention. Plus, having these bins created easy, effortless prompts for the kids to play with anytime we needed an easy boredom buster. Even better? The clean up is obvious and isolated to everything in the bin goes BACK IN!

Additionally in the activity closet, we hung a shoe rack on the inside of the coat closet door for easy boredom busters. Using Days with Grey Alphabet Activity Cards, we have 26 ideas I don’t have to think up on my own that the girls can go up and grab at any given time.This allows me to keep tools and supplies I need in the shoe pocket with the card or have an easy idea of what we need to get once the girls grab a card. 

For both the toy bins and activity cards,  some require a bit more effort and energy from me. I found that while these options solved the hardest part of being home all day (in my opinion) of coming up with age-appropriate, engaging activities, I knew I also needed some that require little to none of my effort or energy for the times I was also tied up with the baby.

Additionally, I know many of you might be thinking, “We don’t have the space for that.” For the need of fostering as much independence as possible and minimizing the space required for storage, this is where my Busy Boxes come in.


Breastfeeding Busy Boxes

Activities to Engage Siblings When Mom and Baby are Busy

In this post, I will share:

  1. What are Breastfeeding Busy Boxes?

  2. What criteria do I look for in Breastfeeding Busy Boxes?

  3. What do I Include in Breastfeeding Busy Boxes?

  4. What I do NOT include in Breastfeeding Busy Boxes?

  5. What are some recommended supplies for Breastfeeding Busy Boxes?

Note: This post is NOT intended to bring about feelings of shame nor judgement over screen time. My kids watch TV and get to use our iPad on occasion. That said, as a stay at home mom, I prefer to have set windows when screen time is planned for rather than something used loosely or endlessly. For us, tthis helps manage the otherwise endless requests for tv or the ipad each day because the boundaries on when we use it are clear and consolidated. It also meant that before my second or third child was born, I planned these Busy Box activities with good intention … and a healthy dose of reality. Our Busy Boxes were used often, but also allowed freedom for screen time on occasion as I saw fit, instead of being my default boredom buster or means for entertaining my other little one(s) when breastfeeding. I respect that every family finds what works for them with allowing screen time, just as the activities suggested here are intended to be modified as needed for your family's needs, wants, and schedules. This post is intended to provide age-appropriate alternatives to screen time without insinuating any judgement or entertaining conversation about what is/is not “appropriate” screen time use - particularly in that vulnerable postpartum window!

 

Breastfeeding Busy Boxes

 
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What are Breastfeeding Busy Boxes?

When we were preparing for our second daughter to be born, one of the things I was most concerned about was what was I going to do with my older daughter when I needed to tend to her little sister? Sure, there were plenty of ways to engage her in caring for a new baby that I saw and planned to use, but I had heard feedback from some other, more experienced moms with multiples share that having activities to "keep the older one(s) busy" was a key to keeping sanity in those early stages.

That's when I fell in love with the idea of Breastfeeding Busy Boxes. Even though I ended up having to exclusively pump after all, these Busy Boxes became all the more important when feeding took twice the time (being to pump and then bottle feed baby sister). Having these boxes ready allowed me to pull one out before I started pumping so I could then sit there with both of my girls and keep the older one nearby (read: contained) and engaged while I did what I needed to do. I didn't have to worry about her running off around the house when I couldn't follow her, nor asking for something new that was inconveniently out of my reach. I also didn't have to worry about what to do with her feed after feed, day after day, because these busy boxes gave us some fun activities to continue to rotate through, reuse, or recycle for new ideas.


What Criteria Do I Look for in Breastfeeding Busy Boxes?

Independence

These boxes should require little to no help from you, should your hands be full and/or you are unavailable to open, tie, clean, or need to heavily monitor an activity. While parental supervision is always encouraged, these should require minimal parental involvement but rather promote fun, safe opportunities for independent play. Note that some of these do require you to be able to read instructions, but minimal “hands on” help should be needed otherwise (in the case your hands are busy holding/feeding a baby).

Open-Ended

Do you know why Daniel Tiger is so popular? Because besides being a great show for young kids, it also keeps them entertained for 23 minutes AKA around the amount of time it often takes us to feed a newborn, put together dinner, and other a million other tasks we could cram into 20 minute stints. This is where my mindset with busy boxes comes in. Ideally, I aim to choose items that I think can entertain my kiddo for at least 10 minute stints. Sure, sometimes they won't be into it at all but other times, they may find a newfound interest in the boxes for even longer than that (i.e. the goal of 20+ minutes so it could in theory replace the need for a show). By rotating these options and reserving them only for when you need them to captivate your child's attention, it promotes the chance that your child will be more willing to sit and use the activity at hand for the stint you need them to.

Mess Free

Now is not the time for paint, water play, or even our beloved DIY water/sensory table. Any of these on a moment's notice might make you feel the need to jump up and get hands on to minimize a mess, which is not when you want while also trying to juggle feeding a baby. That's why it is ideal to keep those activities for when you are more available and reserve more "calm and contained" activities for busy boxes. These are easy to get out and easy to clean up - ideally as soon as your older child is finished playing or younger child is done eating.


What Do I Include in Breastfeeding Busy Boxes?

I love the Creative Options Project Boxes from Costco like this. You can use whatever bin, basket, or container you already have though! I just find it most helpful to have a few different Busy Boxes ready at any given time. Since this set from Costco comes in a five pack, I usually select five different options from the following.

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Days with Grey Alphabet Activity Cards: Add the card (i.e. idea!) to the Busy Box with any suggested supplies (i.e. pom poms, counters, tongs, etc.). These are what we have hanging in the shoe rack of the coat closet.

Days with Grey Breakfast Invitations: Get these ready in advance so all you have to do is set them out/up the way you would for a “morning activity” except it is in advance of a feed or whenever you need your child to do them. You can keep all the supplies Beth shares as being needed in the Busy Box so it is ready to put into action. I like to do this when I see her share an idea that I think, “I should totally do that!” but don’t necessarily have the chance to set up when she shares it.

NOTE: Beth of Days with Grey is running a sale through THIS weekend! If you have been wanting to buy something from her shop, be sure to check it out now as we kick off summer break!

Young Wild & Friedman Playdough Kits: We first got these for our girls over Christmas, and they were a HUGE hit! Endless hours of open-ended play. While some pieces can be small (for children under three), these can easily be omitted to entertain a wide age range of kids for a low-mess sensory play option.

The Littles & Me Chalk Doodle Ideas + Sidewalk Chalk: These prompts are so simple and yet perfect to read to your child and let them go after while you sit in the shade and feed your baby this summer. Ashley from The Littles and Me has several fun printables in her shop that we know, love, and use both in Busy Boxes and for more engaged pretend play or intentional time together.

 

Some other favorites include the following:

Note some of these might be items you already have! In that case, I like to just make it a “special” activity by reserving it for certain times. That way, a coloring book is no longer a boring old coloring book and an everyday toy/activity is no longer something that loses its appeal because they can play with it anytime. Instead, it is intentionally set up and ready in a Busy Box to be enjoyed during a window of time when the child is invited and allowed to play with it. Rotate through the toys you already have in your original Busy Boxes, or consider putting a few of these items on your Baby Registry for big brother or sister (see notes on this below at the end of the post)!

Craft Supplies

Letter Practice

Puzzles

Builders

Pattern Play

Pretend Play

By Melissa & Doug

Activity Books


Reader Books

What I Do NOT Include in Breastfeeding Busy Boxes?

Choking hazards: As with anything around small children, you want to me cautious to avoid including anything that could be a potential choking hazard

Messy activities: As mentioned above in what TO include, now is not the time for messy activities. Obviously depending on your child, some “less messy” activities (or supplies such as the arts/crafts supplies above) can quickly get messy. Use your discretion with these “minimal mess” supplies so indeed these offer less mess AND less stress!

Two handed items: While you can hold a book that has a spine that stays open, an activity card that is flat and easy to read (or on your phone), or other small, simple to manipulate items, I recommend trying to avoid things that require you to open, twist, cut, or use two hands to help with.


What are Some Recommended Supplies for Breastfeeding Busy Boxes?

You can use any sort of basket, container, or bin you have on hand at home. I found these containers at Costco when pregnant a couple of years ago and appreciated that they gave me an organized, consolidated way to prepare four busy bins in advance. That way, I could come up with what I wanted in each at the end of every day or throughout the week as we needed to swap in new ideas.

For more ideas of items we have used and loved (such as those shown above), go to my Amazon shop and look under my ideas list, "Breastfeeding Busy Boxes."


Gift Ideas - to give or to get!

You know how friends with multiple babies rarely “need” a lot (having often received generous showers and baby gifts for baby number one)? Well, these busy boxes are, in my opinion, the perfect gift option for families having another baby. You might wish to get something for mom and baby of course (you can visit my Amazon affiliate shop for those items too!), but something I find an equally great gift is giving big brother or sister a Breastfeeding Busy Box activity kit as well. This helps the mom (or dad!) and baby to bond, work on breastfeeding (or bottle feeding!), or to just have one less thing to come up with in those earlier days of transition when leaving the house just feels like a lot (and thus leaves baby, big brother/sister, and mom/dad at home…A LOT!). So consider some fun ideas you could put together in a special container for the sibling as a less traditional way of serving the entire family in this time of transition. I like to pair a special book with related activity for a Busy Box idea that gets to be reserved specifically when mom (or dad) see fit! Or, if you feel like you already have a lot of the items you need for your next newborn, you might add a few new fun items to help entertain your older child with to your registry!


Be it with breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or bringing about engaging new ideas to any aspect of your motherhood journey thereafter, I hope this list helps you both bond with AND keep your littles busy!