I think that most parents are a little nervous about having a second baby – ‘how will I/we cope with two?!’. By the time you’re thinking of having another child (or pregnant with number two), you’ve probably come out of the real ‘baby’ stage with your first child and may (!) be getting more sleep and have some routine to your week. You’re settled as a family of three and can’t quite imagine adding another small person into the mix (hey, life is busy enough as it is!).
Having your first child is a special and very intense experience, from pregnancy onwards. Every stage is new and exciting (with many, many challenges along the way) and you spend an awful lot of time just you and the baby. Every ‘first’ is something to be celebrated and gushed over with friends and family, you take loads of pictures and can’t imagine loving another human as much as you love your little one. But at some point (probably when your memories of pregnancy, birth and the difficult newborn stage/ lack of sleep are beginning to blur and fade!) you might think you’re ready to make a sibling for your little one. You start to imagine another baby – what they will be like, who they might look more like, and what sort of relationship they’ll have with your son/daughter.
One of the biggest worries I think most parents have is wondering how your first child will react to having a new brother or sister. I remember my friend and hypnobirthing teacher, Deborah, telling me something she’d heard that was really insightful, around the time that my second baby was born: just imagine that your partner came home one day and said that something wonderful had happened: they’d met another woman who was so sweet and lovely and beautiful and they were brining her home to be a part of your family. You now had to share your partner’s love with somebody else. Now apply the feelings you might have in that situation to your first child learning that another baby is on the way: hurt, confusion, anger, jealousy…these are all quite natural responses to finding out that they will have to share the spotlight of their parents love. Of course, it depends on the age of your first child as to how much they will understand, and in what way they might react, but there are ways to slowly prepare them for the arrival of a new brother or sister.
I’ve listed some things below that worked for us. Our daughter, Annabelle, was 20 months old when I fell pregnant with Rafe (2 ½ when he was born). We were lucky that she had a good level of understanding and communication so we could talk to her fairly early on about the new baby.
A few tips on preparing your first child for a new sibling:
- Talk about babies and siblings during your pregnancy.
We started talking about babies and brothers/sisters in a very general way from when I first got pregnant, but didn’t actually tell Annabelle that there was a baby on the way until after our 20 week scan, when my bump was more noticeable (we have a heart-melty video of the moment, and of her saying ‘I’m not a baby anymore’). It’s a long time for little ones to wait and they won’t necessarily understand why the baby has to stay in Mummy’s tummy for a long time and can’t just pop out tomorrow! This is a really personal decision, however, so tell your child whenever you feel the time is right. In the latter stages of pregnancy you can talk more about how babies need to be cared for, what they eat, how gentle you must be with them etc (if your child has/likes playing with a doll or special stuffed animal, this can be quite useful role-play practice). Visit friends or family with babies, if you can, so your child can see how they are cared for. Once you feel the baby kicking it’s great for your child to feel the kicks with you (if they want to/are interested – don’t push it if not!) as it can make it seem more real that there is a baby in there and you can play games guessing what position the baby is in etc and see if your daughter/son wants to talk, or sing, to the baby.
- Read books and watch TV programmes that explore the sibling relationship.
We love the Alfie and Annie Rose books by Shirley Hughes (old favourites from when I was little) and watched a fair amount of Peppa Pig during this time. Talk about what it might be like to have a little brother or sister. We also picked up a copy of There’s A House Inside My Mummy (by Giles Andreae and Vanessa Cabban), and there are loads of other books for children that explain pregnancy and what it’s like waiting for, or having, a new baby.
- Tread delicately with feelings.
Try not to assume how your little one might feel when first told about the baby. It’s really difficult not to say ‘are you happy/excited?’ or ‘isn’t that exciting?!’ when you are yourselves excited about it, but your daughter/son may feel otherwise. Sometimes these feelings might be expressed through difficult behaviour (although it’s hard to know whether it’s just normal toddler behaviour!) so bear in mind that your little one might need reassurance of your continued love. You can talk about what it was like when you were pregnant with them, as it will help your child understand that you went through this special time with them too. Annabelle loved hearing that she used to get lots of hiccups when she was in my tummy, and that her nickname was ‘Bean’!
- Be careful of the language you use and get your little one involved.
Use inclusive language when talking about the baby. Refer to it as ‘our’ baby, or ‘your’ baby brother/sister and make sure your little one feels included in some decisions. Most people choose a pet name for the baby bump and its nice to get your firstborn involved in that. Getting them to choose some new clothes or toys for the baby can make them feel like they have a real role to play and are already being a helpful big brother/sister.
- Once the baby has arrived, ensure your son/daughter gets enough attention.
It’s a lovely idea to get a present for your first child (either from you, or ‘the baby’) so they don’t feel too left out with all the fuss and presents the baby receives when they arrive. Make sure family members pay as much attention to your oldest as they do to the baby – maybe they could take them out for little trips or treats (so you can have a much-needed nap!). If you can, also make sure you and your partner have some special one-on-one time with your oldest as you can check in on how they’re feeling. It should help with any feelings of jealousy they might have if they know they have your undivided attention for certain periods of time. Buy lots of sticker books, stories and films so you have plenty to keep them occupied, as you’ll probably spend a fair amount of time at home during the first few weeks after the baby is born.
- If you’re making any big changes to your oldest child’s routine, do it before the baby arrives.
A lot of people seem to aim for an age gap of 2-3 years between their children, so ironically the new baby often arrives during challenging times, such as potty training your first or moving them out of a cot into a toddler/single bed. If you can, try to do these things a few months before the baby arrives so that there aren’t too many big changes at once and it doesn’t seem like your oldest is being ousted from their bed because of the baby. Potty training can be a long process so don’t stress too much if your toddler regresses and has more accidents when the baby arrives (it’s quite normal, apparently). It’s sod’s law that your child often desperately needs to use the potty/loo when you’re in the middle of changing a pooey nappy or feeding the baby (buy lots of carpet cleaner!). If your older child has a dummy but you’d like to wean them off it, do this well before the baby arrives, especially if you plan on giving a dummy to the baby at some point (otherwise there may be a lot of jealousy and dummy stealing!)
So, these are some of the things we found helpful. No doubt I’ve probably forgotten some things, but I think the main thing is to give your oldest child lots of love, cuddles and reassurance throughout your pregnancy and once the baby arrives. This will not always be easy as you’ll probably be dealing with toddler tantrums combined with morning sickness/fatigue/feeling like a whale, but don’t feel bad for being snappy once in a while – we’re only human!
I was going to write more about what it’s like for the parents once you have two children, but have probably written enough for one blog post, so maybe I’ll save that for another…?