Preparing Siblings for A New Baby

Catherine Bell & Family

Catherine Bell of Bellabirth

This week’s guest blog comes from Catherine Bell of Bellabirth.

Catherine is a mother, doula and breastfeeding counsellor. Her passion is in birth preparation. Her mission is to provide all women with the means to make informed decisions regarding their pregnancy care, labour, birth and parenting. You can find out more about Planning a Bellabirth at www.bellabirth.org and you can join Catherine on Facebook at facebook.com/bellabirth.

As part of our series focusing on the Fourth Trimester, Catherine shares some tips for preparing older siblings for the arrival of a new baby. When I was pregnant with my second daughter I was very concerned about how my five year old would handle the transition and I spent a lot of time talking to my midwife and other support workers about how to help her cope. I found that the efforts I went to in order to prepare really paid off. Of course there was an adjustment period but it was nowhere near as difficult as I had feared. Catherine has some great advice to get you thinking about what you can do to help your children as they welcome a new sibling into their lives. 

And Baby Makes Four… or Five… or Six

SiblingsWhen we are pregnant with subsequent babies, it is normal to feel worried:

Will I have enough love?
How will my older children cope?
Do I want them present at the birth?
How can I prepare them for the changes that will inevitably happen?

The following sections provide some ideas and considerations for preparing older children for a new sibling.

DAY TO DAY LIFE

Some mothers find a baby doll is a useful tool, others find their toddler shows little interest in playing with it. You can use a doll to practice, especially when you do not know anyone with a real baby, even if your toddler does not play with it. You can use the doll to practice looking after the baby and talk about the day-to-day life with a baby.

Will you be baby wearing?
Do you have your sling/wrap/carrier ready?
Will you be using a pram?
Do you need to get your toddler out of the pram? Or used to a new one?
Where will baby be sleeping? Get this space ready and familiar well before the birth. (SEE BELOW)
How do you intend to toilet the baby? EC? Cloth? Disposables?

Have your toddler help get the baby clothes ready, washing them, putting them away, and looking at them. Your toddler may want to try them on, and will see that they are too small…talk about how small your toddler once was, and what wonderful things they can do now that they are bigger. That at first the baby won’t be able to play, but will love being talked to and holding your toddlers hand.

BREASTFEEDING

Spending time with older children reading together on the lounge or in bed can help with the transition after the birth. This special time can be carried over into breastfeeding time when the baby arrives. Perhaps you wish to hold a doll, and explain that when the baby is born you will be holding the baby and even breastfeeding while you read the stories. If you are breastfeeding your toddler, you might like to use the doll to practice tandem feeding positions. This can help your toddler to accept this change and look forward to it, as well as helping you to work out some strategies.

SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS

From early on in your pregnancy, it can help to change your sleeping arrangements to mirror the post-birth arrangement. This might mean having your partner do the bedtime routine, or moving your toddler to a big bed, or ‘sidecar’ bed. Perhaps your family plays musical beds; with you sleeping alone (and afterwards with the baby) whilst your partner sleeps with your older child – whatever works! It is best to make changes well before the baby is born.

TODDLER-SPECIFIC CHANGES

Establish the post-baby routine well before the birth. Will your toddler be starting day care or preschool? Toilet training? Establishing these changes and being able to deal with any difficulties before the birth can help avoid associations of these changes with the sibling.

CHILDREN AT BIRTH

As part of your birth planning, you will need to decide how you will manage your child during the birth. If you do not wish your older children to be present, who is your babysitter? Make sure they spend lots of fun time together and understand how you will keep in contact and when they can come to meet the baby. If you decide to keep your children with your during labour and birth, who will attend to your child? If it is to be your partner, do you want a doula/friend with you? Or are you happy to be left alone? If your child is not coping, is there a back up babysitter who can look after them?

As part of your birth planning, discuss your intentions with your hospital care providers – if they have a problem with children attending birth, can you negotiate? If you decide to just turn up with your child, will this cause a problem?

Put away some toys and books (or if you really want to, buy something special) and put it away. Pack it in the birth bag, so that they first see it during the birth. It may serve as a good distraction. If you have more than one child, you will need to consider their individual needs and ages. Older children may be able to say if they want to be there or not, and you may be able to arrange for them to arrive soon after the birth.

If it seems appropriate, find some positive, gentle birth videos that resemble your own ideal birth and watch them together. Talk about how you might feel and about your previous birth. Respond positively to the video. This is not vital, as your child will take his cues from you on the big day – if you are calm and happy, and your child knows who is caring for them, your child is likely to be just fine.

AFTER THE BIRTH

After the birth, it is important that you have the time and space to establish breastfeeding. If you are offered help – accept it!

Suggestions of real help: meals, folding washing, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, taking the older children to the park or simply playing with the kids.

After a few weeks, it will seem like the new arrival was always there, especially if you ask your toddler to help. Maybe your toddler can pass you the nappy, or the washer, or can hold the book and turn the pages as you read while breastfeeding. Going with the flow, one day at a time, with no grand plan – but more a rough guide – will help you all ease into life with a new baby. If your toddler happens to sleep at the same time as the baby – sleep! If your toddler likes TV or movies, you may be able to get some rest time using this – that is ok! Balance it out with a walk every day – this will be good for all of you. Eat well and drink water to suit your thirst. You matter! Taking care of yourself means you are better able to take care of others.

If you need help – ASK!

Is there a mothers group, a play group or a group of like-minded parents you can visit with? Company can make a big difference when it is like-minded and supportive. See “Is Motherhood Doing Your Head In?” for links to services that can help.

Enjoy this special time…some days may be long, but the years are short.

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