You’d think that when you’ve done it once, having a second baby should be piece of cake. Right? Although there certainly are advantages (look at you, diaper-changing pro!) there are also unique challenges that come with expanding the family for a second time. You’ve already got your first kiddo to worry about, and now you’re about to restart the clock on sleepless nights.
Because we’re willing to bet there is already enough on your plate, we asked a panel of experts for their single biggest piece of advice for new parents to two. Here’s what they said:
Atkins’ advice for second-time moms echoes her suggestions for first timers: Make sure to take a moment for mom.
“Find your ‘me time’ to rest, recuperate, recharge and relax,” she tells Motherly. “Sleep when your baby sleeps or rest when your older child is playing on their own or with your partner.”
According to Atkins, second-time parents need to be mindful of the trap of comparing siblings and instead celebrate and enjoy the second child’s personality.
Dr. Shimi Kang, child and adult psychiatrist and author of The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids-Without Turning into a Tiger:
Kang suggests parents engage in some reflection before welcoming their second child into the world. Then, use that time to think about how they might tackle infancy challenges with the benefit of hindsight. “Take inventory of what worked and didn’t work the first time and adjust accordingly,” she says.
According to Kang, adding a second child to the mix may mean assessing the other responsibilities in your life and making some cuts to give yourself breathing room. As she put it, “You’ve added another human to care for, what are you taking off your plate?”
Dr. Cathryn Tobin, pediatrician and founder of the New Baby Sleep School:
A mother of four herself, Tobin says parents who suffered too many sleepless nights with a first child who needed to be rocked, held or jiggled to sleep should learn from that experience.
“It’s not your fault! We learn on the job,” she says. “But don’t make the same mistake second time around. Work on sleep habits early on.”
Gail Bell, co-founder of Parenting Power:
According to Bell, one thing that really helps second-time parents is to have a special box with snacks or toys for the older child that’s always within reach when the baby is being fed. That way the older child can have a drink from their special water bottle or look through a book while baby is eating, without having to wait for an adult to get something for them.
If they older child wants to play while baby is feeding, parents can direct them to the box and let the child know that they are busy at the moment—while avoiding making it seem like the new baby is to blame.
“Don’t even say the baby’s name, just say, my hands are busy right now,” she says. “As soon as my hands are free I will come play that game with you.”
Jesse McCarthy, Montessori educator:
After 15 years of working with kids, McCarthy believes second-time parents need to be prepared for mixed emotions. Yes, there will be love, but that isn’t all—especially at 2 a.m. when the baby is crying. We should also have the same expectations of older children.
“We don’t want children to hide such emotions from us—or worse, from themselves,” McCarthy says. “We need to create an environment in which they can share their feelings, all of them: the positive, the negative and the ambivalent.”
Let your older child know that it’s OK to not like some aspects of being a big sibling and make time to listen as they transition into their new role in the family.
Nina Howe, professor of early childhood education at Concordia University:
Howe suggests parents talk to the older child about the baby and promote positive interactions between the two—while remembering to be patient with a child who suddenly has to make room in their relationship with their parents.
“Yes, there’s research that shows that sometimes the firstborn can be a little bit aggressive, but in almost all cases that passes within three to four months,” she says. “Don’t forget there is a disruption for the older child, too, when you have this new baby who is unpredictable.”
Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of The Book of No. 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever:
According to Newman, even when parents work to get big brother or sister ready for change, there will be some family growing pains.
“No matter how well you think you have prepared your firstborn for the new arrival, be ready for some push back,” she says. “No one likes to be dethroned, especially young children who may seem welcoming at first, then show signs of dissatisfaction. Be ready to acknowledge your older child’s feelings and change of heart with comforting support and time alone with you.”
Welcoming a second child to the family is bound to be a big transition for everyone—but you already know about that, veteran mama! ?