As you look forward to the birth of your baby, you are probably experiencing various emotions — the excitement and anticipation of meeting your new infant, anxiety over meeting the needs of both your children, and worry about your older child's response to a new baby. We hope the following information will help your whole family enjoy this adventure.
Please remember that any changes in the family can cause anxiety in children who have enjoyed a comfortable routine and attention. A new baby can add to the anxiety, as older children feel they've lost control of their world. Your firstborn may "egress and show some behaviors normally seen in younger children during the early phase of adjustment. Please don't push your child to try any new "grown-up" behaviors, such as toilet learning, when your child is adjusting to a new baby at home.
Before the Baby Arrives
- If your child asks why you're having a new baby, don't try to find a reason. Just explain that your family is having another baby. There is no way to explain your decision to a child — just as you would never understand your partner saying he or she brought home a younger, cuter person to enhance the family's love for each other.
- Allow older children to make many small decisions every day — what clothes to wear, what food to eat, what books to read — so they still feel some sense of control in their lives.
- Use emotion words, such as "excited," "disappointed" and "sad," with your child. This helps children learn to use words to express emotions, rather than actions.
- Allow your child to have mixed emotions about the new baby. Let your child know that it is acceptable to express disappointment that a new baby is coming or has arrived.
- Buy and wrap some small gifts to give to your child when visitors bring gifts for the new baby.
- Choose one nice gift for the baby to bring home from the hospital for the big brother or sister.
- Make certain your child is sleeping in the same spot now as he or she will be sleeping when the new baby comes home. Make any changes several months before the baby's expected birth.
- Let your child help you make choices for the new baby. Older kids can select a new blanket or toy, or decide where the crib will be placed.
- Let your child play with a doll and learn how to hold a baby properly. You can also teach what "gentle" means — soft, slow and quiet.
- Read books about becoming a big brother or sister with your child. Children may also enjoy looking at books that show an unborn baby's development. You can also show your child his or her own baby pictures.
- Set aside a special place, such as a box, drawer or cupboard — for toys your older child will not have to share. This is also a great way to keep small toys away from the younger infant.
- Bring your child to your prenatal appointments. Some hospitals offer sibling preparation classes, which may be helpful.
- Consider recording yourself reading some bedtime stories, so your child can listen to them while you're in the hospital.
While Mom Is In the Hospital
- Try to keep your older child's daily routine the same.
- When your child comes to visit the hospital, greet him or her without the newborn baby in your arms.
- If possible, do let your older child come to the hospital to visit and hold the new baby. Don't forget to bring home the baby's gift to your firstborn.
- Ask your older child to take care of something at home while Mom is in the hospital — watering a plant or caring for a pet will help the child feel responsible.
After Mom and Baby Come Home
- Do let your older child hold the new baby. You can help your child sit in a chair or couch so the baby will be safe.
- Let your older child help take care of the new baby. Kids can bring diapers, put on lotion or choose an outfit for the baby to wear.
- When both children need you at the same time, take care of the older child first. Your firstborn needs to know that you are still there to take care of him or her, and your baby can wait a few minutes to eat.
- Talk to your baby about how wonderful the big brother or sister is. For instance, "Your big brother can ride a tricycle. He will teach you how when you are older."
- Interpret the baby's behavior in a positive light for your older child. For instance, "See how your baby enjoys holding your hand. She likes you."
- Let your child hear you using emotion words: "I am disappointed I can't take you to the park right now."
- Take pictures of both your children, separately and together.
- Arrange your day so you can spend time just with your older child. Give extra hugs and kisses.
For more on this topic, see Welcoming Your Second Baby by Vicki Lansky.
Used by permission of Jane E. Anderson, M.D.