Let me start with a “not-so-cute" story. My friend had just given birth to her second child. One day she was in the restroom. She overheard her 3-year-old whisper to his friend,“Mama is in the bathroom, let's put the baby in the dog house."
A second pregnancy may come with the familiar feeling of, “I've done this before" except with one additional new worry: How will I explain to my older child that someone is coming along who will ultimately change our lives as we currently know it?
Here are a few tips I hope will make this major milestone in a parenting life a wee bit easier.
1. Breaking the news
When do I bring up the big topic? Around 12 weeks is an ideal time to share the news. For toddlers less than 2 years old it is okay to delay the news until the third trimester, as they will not be aware of what is happening until the tummy grows.
The older kids need to be prepared earlier. Break the news gently. Make sure both parents are present, if possible. You can say “Mama has a baby growing inside her. You are going to be a big brother/sister."
Be prepared for three different kinds of reactions because curiosity is different in different minds.
- Absolute disinterest. This doesn't mean your child hasn't understood what you said. It just means he needs the situation to be more tangible before he gives it any importance.
- Range of questions. How are babies born? Did you swallow the baby? Be calm and answer all questions thoroughly.
- Sadness. If your child is sad on hearing the news tell her/him it is okay to be sad. If you acknowledge their feelings it is easier for them to accept it and be more open it with you.
2. Show and tell
Children love hearing about their newborn period. Take them back to those days. Show them their old albums and videos to explain how babies behave. You can say “See how Mama always held you, Mama will also hold our new baby like that." Take them to see other little babies so they start interacting with other babies. Read them age-appropriate books about newborns so they know what to expect: crying a lot, pooping a lot, and sleeping a lot. Always use “your little brother/sister" while referring to baby #2.
3. Include your child
Make sure your first child is a part of your pregnancy at all times. Include them in picking names and decorating the nursery. You can take your child for the scans to hear the baby's heartbeat. You can even make your child talk to your tummy. All this will make the birth of a new child an exciting reality for him.
4. The hospital stay
The days you are in the hospital and your older child is at home is crucial in the formation of their opinion on the younger one. Explain to them how it will be, who will take care of them, who will sleep with them, etc. Make sure their routines are followed.
The first visit should be with family only. Make sure someone else is holding the baby when your older child walks in. Introduce the younger one to the older child and cuddle them together. It is a good idea to have a gift ready from baby #2 for your older child. It could be anything from a Big Sibling t-shirt to a Big Sibling soft toy.
5. Happy homecoming
Homecoming is another bridge you have to cross. Again, see to it that someone else is holding the baby so your hands are free to hug and cuddle your first one.
If your first one has to sleep in another room or another cot, make sure this transition is done way before your delivery.
Do not schedule anything new like toilet training or childcare at this time. Remember, your first child's emotions might be in turmoil and following an established routine is the best way to deal with it.
6. If you're breastfeeding
Your child will be very curious about breast feeding and this is also the time when most tantrums are thrown because you will be having the new baby for long lengths of time without being able to cater to the older one. Explain the process of breastfeeding. You can involve the older one in getting the pillow or assisting with changing the diaper and make sure to schedule some interesting activity during your breastfeeding times.
You can pre-warn most visitors to include the older child in their conversation. Most thoughtful visitors will also get gifts for your firstborn. If at all someone says, “What a beautiful baby," be diligent about saying something like, “Yes, now we have two beautiful babies." Your firstborn should not feel alone during these times.
It is normal for a jealous older sibling to start regressing to gain attention. Thumb sucking, toilet accidents, nightmares may all restart. Remember these are all temporary. Be empathetic but firm about rules. Keep telling them about the “big child advantage." They are older, so they can eat ice-cream, play in the park, etc.
9. Allow frustration
Expect tantrums and tears. Say “I know you feel it would be better if your little brother wasn't there. I know you feel Mama doesn't love you but Mama loves you so much." Give words to their feelings. Make it easier for them to share it with you. Praise good behavior at all times and ignore tantrums.
10. Time alone
Having another child is not about dividing the firstborn's allotted love. It is about giving them more. Make no compromise on having time alone with your older child. It could be buying groceries, taking them to their favorite restaurant, or bedtime story telling. Make sure baby #2 is nowhere around during these precious moments. Encourage your child to share their feelings with you all the time.
Finally, don't hesitate to ask for help when needed, accept help when offered and offer help when required.
All this may seem overwhelming, but from someone who has “been there done that" with two little mischief makers and seen hundreds of women doing this as a pediatrician, let me tell you: It's all worth it.