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Montessori at home: How to help your firstborn prepare for a new baby

My son will be 27 months old when his baby sister is due. I'm under no delusions that I can ever fully prepare him for the changes that will bring. As a Montessori teacher of young children, I've seen many times how new siblings can completely rock a child's world. New additions often bring big feelings and inconvenient regressions in things like toileting and sleep.

While I know nothing can truly prepare my son for all of this change, it certainly seems worthwhile to try.

Here are some Montessori-inspired ways I've been preparing my firstborn throughout my pregnancy.

1. Explain what will happen

In Montessori classrooms, we always inform children of changes to come. We tell them if we will be out of the classroom and they will have a different teacher or if there will be a special celebration that will disrupt their routine. This shows respect for the child and also addresses young children's strong need for predictable routines.

We started talking to my son about his new baby sister as soon as the first trimester was over. I showed him the ultrasound pictures and talked about how the baby was growing inside of me right now, but he would get to meet her in a few months.

I've also talked to him about what will happen when the baby is actually born, like showing him the hospital where he will come meet his baby sister and he has even met the doctor who will deliver her. We explain who will take care of him while baby sister is being born. Telling your toddler early on, and including as much detail as possible, will help them emotionally prepare and feel included.

2. Follow their lead

"Follow the child" is a common phrase in Montessori, and one that describes the approach I've taken to talking to my son about his new sister. Since breaking the news, I've brought up the new baby often. Sometimes my son is interested and wants to talk about it, and sometimes he does not.

I make sure to follow his lead with these conversations. My goal is to present plenty of opportunities for him to ask questions, without forcing him to talk about it if he's not ready to, or making him feel like the new baby is all we talk about.

As time has passed, he brings up "baby sister" more and more on his own. I always make sure to stop what I'm doing, make eye contact and be present for these conversations when he initiates them. Making yourself available to talk, without forcing the subject, lets your toddler know that he's being heard and that is questions are welcomed.

3. Get them involved

In Montessori, children are involved in every part of daily life. This includes taking care of the classroom, preparing food for themselves and their classmates, and fixing things when they break. Involving my son in preparing for the new baby has been my favorite, and I think most effective, way of preparing him.

My toddler helped me put together a shelf for his sister's closet. This was months ago and he still talks about it and likes to look at the shelf.

He helped to think of potential names for his new sibling— though his favorite was "Spee," which I admit did not make the shortlist.

He helps me fold and put away her tiny laundry, choose what pictures to hang in her room, and has created art for her room by making a small painting we can frame on her toy shelf.

I also talk to him about the ways he can help after she is born, such as bringing me diapers, helping choose baby's clothes, reading books and singing songs.

Helping in a real way make toddlers feel included and proud, and gives them a sense of purpose.

4. Set expectations

Part of helping young children be successful is setting clear expectations for appropriate behavior. We have talked a lot about the importance of being gentle with babies. We've practiced this by reminding my toddler that baby sister is in my belly and he needs to be gentle with me. We also practice doing other things, like closing doors and touching plants and animals, very gently.

It's easy to forget that small children don't always know the basic rules of society and sometimes all they need is for someone to patiently inform them and to practice together.

5. Use "time in"

The term "time in" refers to devoting extra time to just being with our children, reassuring them with our presence and attention that they are seen and loved.

I've tried to spend a little extra quality one-on-one time with my son these last few months. I want him to feel as confident and secure in our relationship as possible when the baby is born.

6. Encourage independent play time

On the flip side, I've also been working harder to encourage independent play time. Children in Montessori classrooms are highly independent, completing complex work on their own. This can be harder when you're home with your child though, as it's so easy to give them individual attention all day.

I've made a point recently of doing household tasks or simply reading a book while my son is playing. I make sure to do this after I've spent some time giving him my undivided attention.
I tell him, "You can help me or you can go play, but I can't play right now." This way, I'm not telling him to go away, but I am letting him know that I'm not always available to do what he wants right away.

Sometimes he helps me or sits with me, sometimes he plays on his own, and sometimes he whines and continually asks me to come play. It is a gradual process.

7. Look at pictures of babies

We've made my son's baby book available to him and have spent countless hours looking through it. We talk about how tiny he was when he was born and how little he knew how to do and how he grew and can now do so many things.

We discuss how it will be the same with his baby sister, how she won't be able to play with him at first, but she will grow and grow until she can do all of the things he likes to do like play Legos and run outside.

Spending time around friends' or family members' babies is also a wonderful way to help set realistic expectations for what a baby is actually like.

8. Use a Topponcino

A topponcino is a tiny mattress/pillow for babies that is commonly used in Montessori homes. It acts as a security object for infants, as it absorbs the parents' smell and helps the baby feel safe when he is held by others.

It is also wonderful for allowing siblings to hold babies, with supervision of course, as it acts as a sturdy barrier between the two children. We have the topponcino out in the new baby's room and practice holding it carefully, sometimes with a favorite stuffed animal on top.

As the final weeks go by and we near the arrival of our newest family member, I'm growing less anxious and more excited about how my toddler will react to being a big brother.

Yes, I know it will be hard and he will want my attention and I will feel guilty when I can't give it to him. But I also trust him that he will process the changes and learn to treasure his little sister and I trust myself that I've done everything I can to prepare him.

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[Trigger warning: This essay describes a woman's emotional journey with postpartum anxiety.]

I see you, mama.

I know you don't want to feel this way. I know you're terrified of everything in the world right now. I know you want to wrap your baby in a bubble and keep them safely in your arms forever. I know you can't "sleep when the baby sleeps" because you are too nervous to drift off in case they stop breathing. I know you don't want to let anyone near your little one because they could be carrying an illness. I know you've cried in the bathroom and begged for the voice to stop. And I know you love your child more than anything in the world.

I know because I was you.

I was in the 10% of estimated women who are affected by Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) but had no idea what I was experiencing. I worried about EVERY little thing but just brushed the fears aside, thinking this was just normal of first-time motherhood. But it was something more.

I lived in constant fear that my son was either going to get hurt or he was going to die.

It started the first week of being home from the hospital. I was so scared of SIDS that I actually googled "How much sleep do I need in order to survive?" I would only get two to three hours, not because my child was keeping me up, but because I was scared he would stop breathing and I wouldn't be awake to save him.

I would religiously wash all of his clothes with baby detergent and if I thought I mistakenly used regular detergent, I would rewash everything. I was afraid he would get a skin rash if I didn't. If my husband had the slightest hint of a cold, I would banish him to the guest room and handle all of the baby duties on my own until he was fully recovered.

I would wash and rewash bottles because I was afraid they weren't clean enough and convinced myself if I didn't then he would catch a rare illness. When we supplemented with formula, I wasted multiple cans because I was so scared I didn't measure it correctly, so I would dump it and start over.

I didn't want to be this way. I didn't want to let PPA be the thief of my joy, but anxiety doesn't care who you are or what you've been through. I knew my previous miscarriages attributed to my PTSD, which manifested into anxiety.

I knew I needed help.

I cried so many nights as my husband and baby boy slept because I just wanted to feel "normal." I didn't want to overanalyze every bump or rash or cough, I wanted to enjoy being a first time mom, but I felt like I was drowning.

On top of the anxiety was guilt. I had wanted this baby so badly—I wanted to feel joy, happiness, and gratitude, and yet I felt overwhelmed, sad, and miserable. What was happening?

I would tell myself not to worry, I'd try to convince myself a regular cold was just a cold. But then a voice would come into my head and make me second guess myself. What if it was a serious infection and became fatal if I ignored it? So I rushed my baby boy to the doctor every time I thought something was wrong.

I went to the pediatrician over 20 times in my son's first year of life. One time I went because I thought he had a cancerous mole, which turned out to be a piece of lint stuck to his hair. I felt like I was losing control of myself.

Eventually, when my son was 3 months old, I went to a therapist for help. I needed someone to hear me and give me the tools to overcome this. I am not without daily anxiety, I still have many fears and I have to bring myself back to reality, but I work on it every day. I cope and I make an effort to continue with my therapist so I can beat this.

Even though this topic is hard to write about, I have no shame in my story. Carrying a child is hard, giving birth is harder, and jumping onto the roller coaster of motherhood is one hormonal, wild ride.

Mamas, we are allowed to not be okay and we have every right to make that known. I wasn't okay and it took every ounce of strength I had to get myself out of the darkness.

If I could tell you anything about struggling with this, it is this: PPA is real, it is not normal, and getting help is okay. Do not feel ashamed, do not feel embarrassed, and don't for one second think you owe anyone an explanation.

Do not let a single person make you feel like you are less of a mother. You are a magnificent human being, a loving mama bear, and you will get through this.

I see you, and I'm holding space for you.

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Ready to bring a baby on board? Feelings of excitement can often be met with those of financial concern as you prep for this milestone. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of 2015, the cost of raising a child is $233,610—a number that can make anyone's jaw drop to the floor.

But before you start to worry, here are ways you can become more financially savvy before the baby is born:

1. Budget for healthcare costs

The cost of delivering a baby can vary by state, but suffice it to say it can be thousands of dollars. Castlight Health found that the lowest average cost of delivery was $6,075 in Kansas City, MO and the highest average cost $15,420 in Sacramento, CA. Costs are even higher for a Cesarean delivery.

The first thing you want to do is check your insurance and see what they will cover so what you will be responsible for. Then create a separate savings account so that you can cover any costs that you're on the hook for. You can set up automatic savings after each payday up until the baby is born to help assist with any healthcare costs associated with delivery.

2. Cut your expenses

Before the baby arrives, do a spending audit and see where you can slash some expenses. Free up any leftover money to help cover the increased costs that will come, such as food, clothes, and formula.

If you're struggling with how to do that, take a look at all of your expenses and write next to each either"want" or "need." Look at your "want" list and see which expenses are ones you can either eliminate or cut back on. If it doesn't bring you joy or add value, ditch it! You might even find subscriptions that you didn't know you had.

3. Go for second-hand goods

Of course, there are some things you definitely want to buy new for baby, but things like clothes and toys you can get second hand and save a lot of money. Your baby will grow so fast and buying new clothes every few months can add up. If your family members or friends have old baby clothes or toys they're willing to part with, it will save money and you can pay it forward down the line.

4. Look for sales or coupons

Clothes and toys are items that you can buy second hand, but products, like a car seat and crib are best new. You want to be up-to-date with safety and know what you're getting. Before going shopping, search for sales or coupons before you head out. A little research online can go a long way and save you hundreds.

5. Have a garage sale

If you need to make room for baby, it's time to get rid of items that you no longer use or need. Take all of the stuff you are planning to get rid of and have a garage sale to make extra money. You can also try selling online on Craigslist, Poshmark and OfferUp too.

Take the money you earn from selling your stuff and put it in your savings account earmarked for your baby.

6. Get a 529 plan

It's never too early to save for your baby's college. You can open a state-sponsored 529 plan which is a tax-advantaged savings account for education-related costs. Instead of asking for gifts or toys from family and friends, you can request money to go toward a 529 plan. It will be an impactful gift that will help your child in the future and help lessen the financial burden on you.

7. Prep now instead of later

Your whole world will change when your baby arrives, so in order to save money, time and stress, create a plan now. Is there a family or friend close by who can babysit if you need some rest or have to run an errand? Ask them now if they can help out.

Start preparing meals in bulk that can be in the freezer and easily made so you don't have to think about food. Put your bills on autopay so that you don't miss any payments and get hit with late fees. Know how long you can get maternity or paternity leave and understand how that will affect your income and budget. Getting all of this ready ahead of time can help you in the long run.

8. Purchase life insurance

While thinking about why you need life insurance can be a bit stressful, preparation is essential, especially when you're adding another member to your family. Life insurance will provide financial support if you had a loss of income due to something happening to either you or your partner.

9. Understand any tax benefits

The birth of your baby will affect your taxes, which can actually end up putting more money back into your pocket. Do some research online and see how a dependent will change your taxes in your state, such as new exemptions available. Or, find a trusted accountant or tax specialist in your area who can walk you through your options.

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We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.


The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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