There are so many changes when you have your first baby: relationships, sleep quality, finances, schedules, household responsibilities, and room setups. When you have another baby, aspects of your life change even more and your older children experience the changes along with you.
Big life changes can overwhelm children just as they do adults. Becoming an older sibling is a lot for a child to process. As a parent, you have the opportunity to help your children navigate the changes that come with a new household member.
1. Spread out the Changes
A lot of change all at one time can be overwhelming for anyone. If possible, it’s a good idea to spread out changes at home before the baby arrives. That way the older child doesn’t have to go through as many changes. This might look like setting up the new nursery or baby furniture a few months early, so your older child has time to get used to the change in the home.
2. Talk to Your Child About Your New Baby
As adults, we like to know what to expect when things are going to change and children are no different. During pregnancy talk to your child in an age-appropriate way about:
- The fact that they will have a new baby sibling.
- Who will take care of them while you are in labor and giving birth?
- Common newborn behaviors (E.g. Infants cry and nurse a lot. Newborns don’t move or play much the first couple of months.)
- Where the new baby will sleep after they are born.
- How your daily schedule may change.
- How your love for them will not change.
3. Get a Gift for the Older Sibling
Your new baby is going to get a lot of attention from the adults in your older child’s life. Your child picks up on the fact that their new sibling has caused a lot of change. It’s a good idea to have a small gift for your new baby to give your older child (E.g. sticker pack, book, stuffed animal, action figure). Think of it as your baby working to win them over from the get-go. It’s like when new parents fly with a baby and give the other passengers candy, earplugs, and a cute note stating they’re on a plane with a first-time flyer and thanking them in advance for their patience.
4. Plan out the Sibling Meet and Greet
I know there is a lot on your plate when it comes to labor and delivery, but try to plan out when your children are introduced. If you have a toddler, try to plan around nap time. A meet and greet with a tired and cranky child won’t go well. It’s also okay if they don’t meet their new sibling until you come home from the hospital or birthing center. Do what's best for your recovery and your family as a whole.
5. Highlight Positive Behaviors During Their First Meeting
Coach your older child on how to interact with their new sibling. For younger children, you can also ask whoever is watching them while you deliver to talk to them about how to act when they meet the baby and what to expect. Here are some ideas you could use depending on your child’s age and comprehension:
- Baby can’t hold their head up, so you need to keep your hand under their head.
- Tell mommy when you’re all done holding baby.
- We have to sit still when we hold baby.
- Use an inside voice to talk to baby.
- Use soft hands to touch baby.
6. Keep Your Arms Open for Your Oldest
If possible, have someone else hold your baby or place them in a bassinet when your other child sees you for the first time after delivery. That way you can hug, greet, and give your older child your full attention.
7. Encourage Your Older Child to Talk to Your Baby
Your older child doesn’t have to wait until the baby is born to start talking to them. Explain to your child that your baby can already hear when someone talks to them from inside your belly. When you start feeling your baby move, you can also help your child feel the baby move by touching your belly.
Once your baby is born, encourage your older child to talk to them. You can give them different ideas for what they could tell their sibling, such as telling the baby something fun they did at school that day, reading to them, or showing the baby their toys.
8. Spend Quality Time With Your Older Child
It's common for children to feel jealous when a new baby joins the family because the baby takes a lot of attention and care. Spending one on one time with your older child goes a long way to help them feel seen, loved, and cared for. It can be as simple as reading a story or playing a game with just them. It can also look like you and your partner coordinating so that you can take your older child on an outing just for the two of you. You can go to the library together or get ice cream.
9. Validate Your Older Child’s Emotions
It’s okay for your older sibling to feel a wide range of emotions about a new baby joining the family. They may feel:
- Excited to meet the baby.
- Nervous about how their life will change.
- Afraid that you or another caregiver won’t love them as much anymore.
- Angry that you are bringing another child home.
- Worried that they aren’t good enough, so you had another baby.
The best course of action is to validate your child’s emotions by helping them identify what they are feeling and labeling it for them. For example, you might say:
- You feel worried about how a new baby is going to change things
- You’re mad mommy is having another baby.
- You're annoyed baby is crying right now.
- It's upsetting for you to have to share mommy.
Next, you want to reassure your child that you love and care for them. It's important for them to hear you tell them that you love them and that a new baby does not change your love for them.
10. Help Your Older Child Learn How to Spend Time With Their New Sibling
As with any new relationship, your firstborn and your new baby will need time to get to know one another. If your older child hasn't been around babies before, they'll likely need help learning how to interact and play with their new sibling.
Give them ideas for what to do with the baby:
- Read a book to baby.
- Sing to baby.
- Point out what they see in the book that you read to both of them.
- Play peek-a-boo with baby.
- Mimic baby's cooing.
11. Limit Rules Based on the Older Sibling Being a “Big Kid”
Once a new baby enters the scene, adults are quick to pressure the other children in the home to grow up in various ways. Children may be told not to act like a baby, do something because they're a big kid, or not play with a baby toy. This may unintentionally foster resentment towards the new baby. It’s also common for children to show some temporary regression. For example, you may have a toddler who wants to start breastfeeding again or stops sleeping through the night.
Instead of reprimanding what you consider “baby behavior” validate what is going on for them. For example, if your child wants to start nursing again, you might say “you want to be close to mommy,” or “you want mommy’s attention.” Try to spend intentional one-on-one time with your older child where they have your full attention. This could be during your baby’s nap time or when your partner or another adult can watch your baby.
12. Don’t Blame the Baby
When a baby joins a family, schedules undoubtedly change. The family has to plan around feedings, naps, as well as mom's physical recovery. It's easy to fall into the habit of telling the other child they can't do something or have to wait "because the baby is .." The older sibling may take this as I don't get to do what I want anymore because of the baby.
My partner and I have made it a game to leave out our baby's name when telling our older child that he has to wait to do something because we're taking care of the baby. For example, I might say, "we'll go outside after I change a diaper," or "I'm nursing right now, so I can't get down on the floor. When I'm done, I'll get down and play with you."
13. Keep Part of the Older Sibling’s Routine Intact
Your family's schedule is going to change once your baby gets here, but it's a good idea to find parts of your older child's routine that can stay the same. If they are in daycare or school keep sending them when you go into labor even if someone is coming over to keep them for you. This might also look like continuing your child's bedtime routine or taking them to the library twice a month. You might need to coordinate with your partner or a loved one to make it work since you also have an infant to care for and are recovering from labor and delivery.
14. Hype up the Role of the Big Sibling
Talk to your older child about becoming an older sibling. Share with them about the exciting parts of being an older sibling and invite them to prepare for your baby's arrival with you. They could pick out a present for the baby, help decorate the nursery, or come up with name options.
If you have siblings you could share how much you liked being an older sibling or if you were the youngest you can share how much you loved or looked up to your older sibling when you were little. You can share about playing with your sibling(s) when you were little.
15. Set up Fun Activities for Older Siblings to do During Nursing Sessions
Whether you're nursing or bottle-feeding, you'll spend a lot of time feeding your baby during the fourth trimester. If you also have a toddler who needs entertaining, it's a good idea to set up activities for them to do while you feed the baby, such as puzzles, books, or blocks. I set up a no-mess art supplies bucket for my toddler that contains Melissa and Doug Water Color Books or a Crayola Color Wonder Mess-Free Art Desk. You could also put together a bucket of fun toys that is the "special nursing-time bucket. There are also easy activities you can do together while you nurse your baby:
- Play I Spy or Simon Says
- Read a book and have your toddler turn the pages
- Ask your toddler to make food for you in their play kitchen
There are so many things you have to learn to navigate as a mom. At Ellie and Becca, we're grateful that we get to be right there with you as you figure it out. We're moms ourselves, which is why we design nursing-friendly dresses that are beautiful and functional as you transition through different stages of motherhood.