Adding a new member to the family may be exciting, mysterious, terrifying, and beautiful — all at the same time — but there’s no doubt that the event is life-changing for all parties involved.
I was curious about the best ways to prep a child for a new sibling, so I consulted with Elyse Eberstein, a social worker and lactation educator who helps second-time parents get ready for a new baby and prepare their older child (and themselves) for the transition.
She had 15 pieces of advice for prepping before the birth, while in the hospital, and then adjusting to life at home with the newest family addition:
1. You don’t need to tell your child early on: Nine months is an eternity for a toddler, and the concept of a baby joining the family is abstract, so don’t expect your child to wrap her head around the idea. And if you tell your child too early, you may hear “is it today?” for months on end.
2. Be aware that your energy changes at the end of pregnancy: You may be going into a baby bubble as the due date approaches. Be aware that this can affect your older child.
3. Mourn the loss of your threesome: Think about and honor what life has been like with just you, your partner, and your older child. It’s okay to be sad about the close of the special one-baby chapter.
4. Create a way to celebrate your older child: Eberstein recommended making a book with pictures from your child’s birth with all the fanfare and loving relatives around. It helps her know what’s coming and understand she got the same treatment when she was born.
IN THE HOSPITAL:
5. Your child is coming to see you, not necessarily the baby: In the hospital, your older child will be excited to see you (it might have been 24-48 hours since you left). At this point, realize that the baby may be an afterthought for her.
6. Consider the nursery: Before your child arrives, consider putting your baby in the nursery so that you can go pick her up as a family. This might feel better to your older child than walking in to see you nursing the new baby.
7. A gift: Lots of people like having the siblings “give” each other something to mark the occasion.
8. Drive home together: See if you can arrange to drive home from the hospital with both siblings at once instead of having you arrive home to your child with the new baby in tow.
LIFE WITH TWO:
9. Feed on the couch: Instead of sequestering yourself in a glider like you did the first time, consider feeding the newborn on the couch where your toddler can sit next to you.
10. Label your special time with your toddler: It means the world to your older sibling if you say very clearly to everyone in the house, “I’m having special time with Emma right now,” even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
11. Talk about dividing attention: When you have to help your older child on the potty, say to the newborn (who will not understand of course, but this is for the benefit of the toddler) “I’m helping Emma right now so I can’t nurse you for a few minutes.” This helps for when you have to do it in reverse.
12. Greet your toddler with open arms: See if you can set your newborn down when you hear your toddler coming in the door so you’re ready for a welcome hug.
13. Your newborn will have to wait sometimes: You may not be able to jump at every peep as you did the first time around, and that’s okay.
14. Remember your toddler is still a baby: Just because she’s gigantic in comparison doesn’t mean your toddler is a big kid now. When she frustrates you by melting down, remind yourself she’s still a little one.
15. Reminisce about the threesome: It can be fun and helpful for your toddler to laugh and remember times when it was just the three of you. Remember how important that phase of life was for everyone.