I'm a new mother myself and can only tell you, so far, how I combine housework with having just one toddler around. Other, more experienced mothers do it with two, three, five and more children! I'm pregnant for the second time now and I'm wondering how it's going to work out with two children - I can't tell you for sure yet, but I'm certain the way will be found, perhaps with stretching my creative thinking and wise management of time (which is all to the good, right?)
Anyway, first and foremost, the standards of housekeeping probably will be lowered, at least for a while, with a new baby - and that's OK. And the house will never be as tidy with a toddler around as it was when just two adults were living in it. I have long accustomed myself to the thought that I can spend all day running after my daughter and adjust various displaced items, or I can do that only several times a day. I choose the latter, because it enables me to have a relatively presentable home without constantly fussing about toys on the living room floor.
Second, babies do sleep. In fact, most of them need more hours of sleep in a day than an adult does, which is a blessing not only to a tired mother but also to a discombobulated house. I do believe that in the period just following birth, rest should be a top priority and when the baby is sleeping and Mom wants to lie down and rest as well, she should by all means do that and not worry about lagging behind on housework. She will need her strength later on!
But later, as you settle into some sort of a daily rhythm, you will learn to take advantage of the baby's nap times to catch up on housework. Yes, it will probably feel for a while that you're always in catch up mode, and that's alright. There was a time when I was only able to do anything around the house at all while the baby was sleeping. Of course it means focusing on the essentials - there were days when I was exceedingly happy if only the dishes were done, the laundry washed, and I had a simple meal to put on the table at the end of the day. Now I'm able to do more most days, but not always, and again, that's alright. Neither the housework nor I are going anywhere. :o)
Yes, when a little one gets older and becomes mobile, this calls for even more supervision than when they were babies. When Shira was just a couple of months old, I could sometimes leave her alone for a little while on a blanket with some toys. Now I always need to keep my eyes open to make sure she won't pull book off shelves, open the kitchen cupboards, or upturn the aquarium. It means I almost always keep her within my view.
But here's the good news - the curiosity of older babies makes it easy and fun to get them involved, bit by bit, in the rhythm of a house and household chores. They can play by your side while you work and watch you work. To you, cleaning may be a chore - to them, it's wonderfully fun! While I hang the laundry, I let my daughter play with the clothespins - a special laundry time treat. Today, while I was pulling weeds in the garden, she was content to hang around and watch. When I'm kneading dough, I let her watch, poke the dough with her little fingers, and knead as well if she wants to. During Pesach cleaning, I gave her a little rug and she actually went ahead and helped me wipe the outside the the refrigerator.
Yes, having a little one around does tend to slow housework a bit. It's quicker to finish with the laundry when you don't need to pick up dozens of scattered clothespins at the end - but it also provides an opportunity to teach your child how to pick up and put things in their proper place. It's more efficient and convenient to make bread without a curious toddler who wants to watch whatever you do. But those daily routine things are wonderful for teaching children the practical, hands-on skills of life. It's never too early to start. If you look at housework as an opportunity for a child to learn and be involved, not just a list of chores to whiz through as quickly as possible, it will all become much easier.
To sum it up, it's not like you're either doing housework while your baby is clinging to your skirt asking for attention, or you're sitting on the floor playing with your baby. You can work while talking and singing to, teaching, and actively engaging your child, and the examples I provided earlier are just a few. I'm sure that in time, you'll find ways that work for you and your family.
Of course, there are still things you'll probably prefer to do alone - without baby around. I usually wait until my daughter's nap time to wash the floors, because she's not yet at an age when I can ask her to stay away from wherever I'm cleaning and I don't want her to get soaked wet and dirty. I also don't like to be interrupted while ironing, so I do that in the evenings after she goes to bed for the night. But things like laundry, dishes, cooking, working in the garden are normally accomplished with no problem during my daughter's active hours and sometimes even with her participation.
Most importantly, enjoy those precious fleeting days with your baby! I'm sure many people have told and will tell you that, but I simply must say it once more. They grow up so fast. The cute and wondrous things my daughter does now are not the cute and wondrous things she did a couple of months, even a couple of weeks ago. It's so important to take it all in while it lasts.
Above: two beautiful images of women hanging their laundry with babies beside them, from allposters.com