Monday, July 11, 2011

Preparing a sibling for the new arrival

I think that for the vast majority of the families we work with,joy and bliss are the the driving emotions when you find out you are pregnant again. But when it's your second baby, you might also experience a bitter-sweet emotion, because this pregnancy signals a kind of beginning-of-the-end of the honeymoon relationship you've had with your first born. Your first child has been the center of your world and has enjoyed all of your undivided attention. You may wonder how s/he will adapt to being an older sibling, and how will you split your time. Can you ever really love any one- even your own child, as much as you love your first ? Yes- you can. You will find that your love multiplies.
But there are a few helpful tips to make things a little easier.
First of all, remember that young children are generally more aware than we give them credit for. Sometimes you'll see changes in behavior, or they say things , that lead you to believe they knew a new baby will be making the scene even before you knew it.
Some parents want to know when to tell an older child. Some parent feel that their child would be traumatized if there were to be an early miscarriage. Others don't want the whole world to know about the pregnancy and they know that if the older child knows, soon everyone will know :) I would say that if you are asking that question and you aren't of the mind to tell your child as soon as you know, wait until you have heard a heart beat. I would even suggest that you bring your child in for a prenatal exam so that he/she can hear the heart beat, too.
Talk to your child about it and share your love for the new baby with them.
When you are far enough along, let them feel the baby's movement in the womb.
As you are sharing with joy, don't be alarmed if your child expresses negative emotions. This is normal, and maybe even good. It gives you an opportunity to listen and support, rather than reprimand and make him feel guilty. It's okay to say something like, "yes, sometimes mommy feels the same way. I really like the times we have just you and me" or "just you and me and Daddy". This will give your child the sense of security that you truly do accept her for who she is, unconditionally. And then later you can turn the conversation again to how lovely it will be to share the experience together and how lucky baby will be to have him/her as big brother or big sister.
If your older child is very young, say 2 or less, it will be very helpful if you can find a way to spend time around younger babies. At first you'll just want her/ him to see the baby and learn from just that. Later, as time goes on, be sure to spend some time holding other babies; hopefully you can allow your child to touch the baby so that when your baby arrives it won't be the first time she/he gets a lesson in being gentle around the baby.
There are also lots of books to read to your child about becoming a big sister or brother. Point out the kids you know who have little brothers and sisters.
Beyond the psychological and emotional preparation, there will be a need to look a logistics.
If you are planning to wean your child, or train him to sleep in his own bed, or potty train, timing is important. It's helpful if you don't time these challenging shifts in such a way that your older child associates them with the pregnancy or new baby. I like to suggest midpregnancy to your 6th or 7th month. That generally leaves enough time that big brother or sister will be well adapted and not angry with the new baby for cutting him off.
As you get nearer to the end of the pregnancy, involve your best friends and closest family members(or have them read this blog ;) I think it's nice when someone bringing a present to the new baby brings something to the older sibling, too. It doesn't have to be much. Remind your friends that people come over and their first request is to see the baby. It's lovely if some of your friends and family can initially focus attention on the older child before the oowing and aaahing over the new baby begins.
It's also nice for mom and dad to have a new toy or two, even a baby doll, maybe or a stuffed toy, stashed in a closet to open when big sibling is introduced to the baby. Some parents will give the gift as a present from the new baby. It's also nice if close friends or family take your older child on special play dates, maybe for a movie , ice cream or a trip to the park. That will make him feel special while it allows you some time for undisturbed bonding with your new one. Maybe you can switch it up with Dad once in awhile so he gets the same bonding and you get undisturbed time with number 1.
When it's time to get your home ready for the new baby, you might want to set things up differently than you did for your first. Many moms set up a rocking chair as a "nursing station" with the things you'll need on a table within reach. I recommend snacks like fruit, protein bars. Lots of moms keep the phone, a burp cloth, the tv clicker handy. With a second child consider setting up a cozy corner of a couch or a big overstuffed chair instead of the rocker or glider. You might have books to read to your bigger kid as he shares your lap, and quiet toys, like puzzles crayons and paper to have on the floor right beside you.
If your child is a little older, it helps to start well before baby arrives with developing more indepenence. Start fairly early lifting and carrying your child a little less as time goes on.If he's old enough, he could start dressing himself. You could move snacks to a shelf in the kitchen he or she can reach. Encourage her with entertaining herself a little more all the time.
Always remember how tuned in to you your child is. If you are ready to move forward with the changes and shifts in your family, big brothers and big sisters will take it all in stride.
Most importantly - know you'll have good days and bad days. We always want perfection when it comes to our children. But it's okay to be human. Be gentle and kind with yourself.

Tomorrow -- Including Siblings at the Birth


  1. It's Nicole!

    I wanted to say that it's amazing how Nature's design works sometimes... you mention here that it's good to start early building more independence with older children. I must say, when expecting my second, I found it impossible NOT to foster new independence. I NEEDED to carry, nurse, and cater to my older child less as I got bigger and achier. It just flowed for us, I didn't have to think about it. Just as the discomforts of late pregnancy make us welcome the onset of labor, so the changes of pregnancy slowly encourage us to nurture our older children in different ways, enabling us to continue to meet their needs while also meeting our own and the younger sibling's.


  2. So much fun to read your own writing, Paula! ... You don't really need me... but I'm sure glad to be here!