Introducing a subsequent baby to older siblings can be tricky business. Know what to do when dealing with this sensitive issue.
Subsequent pregnancies are rarely the same as the first. Although you may be less anxious, having already experienced pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood, the second, third and fourth time around holds its own challenges.It’s likely that you look and feel more pregnant than you did in the first pregnancy and you may experience unfamiliar aches and other symptoms. It is also likely that you will be lifting bigger children during your pregnancy. Encourage your older children to stand on a step or chair before you lift them to reduce the risk of damaging your back.
In sharing your news, you may find the reactions of those around you, including your partner, are less enthusiastic than they were following the announcement of your first pregnancy. You may even be criticised that you are having another baby so soon, even if it’s years later.
Talk about your experiences with your partner so you can appreciate how you both feel. It is likely your life is busy co-ordinating family duties and that you are unable to spend the time you had hoped focussing on the new pregnancy. You may feel tired and guilty that your developing baby isn’t getting the attention you were able to lavish upon your first baby. If this is a problem for you, try to allocate some time for relaxation. Join a pregnancy yoga class or an antenatal aqua class that will benefit both you and your baby inside you.
You may be anxious about how you will inform the older sibling that a new baby is expected. The older your child is, the more information you will be able to share with it. As much as possible, try to avoid your older child feeling supplanted. Birth provides an opportunity for older children to learn and share in what is a special time for the entire family. Use the earlier months of pregnancy to ease your child into realising that many families have more than one child in them and that there are many positive aspects to being a larger family.
Childbirth educators suggest that younger children can often be introduced to the prospect of another baby by creating a book with a series of photos of themselves in their mother’s tummy, as a newborn, and baby. Seeing photos of themselves being fed and bathed may help them understand that they once were little and had to be nursed. A last page may be left blank for a future baby. Borrow a baby for a few hours, or invite a mother and her baby to visit so the older child is able to see the reality of how a young baby is cared for. Try to establish the older child’s independence before the baby comes create a routine that symbolises this. Perhaps establish a regular outing with the father that becomes the older child’s special time.
If your older child is still in a cot, move them to a bed well before the due date so its not seen as a consequence of the new baby’s arrival. Likewise, if you are still breastfeeding, try to curtail the feeds well before the new baby arrives. Be sure that you and your partner tell your child before anybody else does. If it is possible to wait until the fifth or sixth month, it will make the planning easier. But if there is a risk of someone else letting the cat out of the bag, consider telling your child earlier.
Once they are aware, involve them in the pregnancy and the enjoyment of feeling a life inside the womb. Physical evidence of the reality will help your child understand the existence of a new sibling. In discussing the birth, be sure not to make any promises you may not be able to keep.
Think carefully about your child’s involvement in the birth. What may be suitable for one child may be distressing for another. If you are having a hospital birth, be sure to say goodbye to your older child before you leave, even if it requires waking them in their sleep. This is better than waking to find you gone.
Siblings at the birth
If you decide to have your child at the birth, involve them in the antenatal planning. You will need to prepare your child for the experience of birth by explaining simply and vividly how the baby is born, including what happens during labour and how you may behave. For some children seeing copious amounts of blood and their mother crying in pain can be disturbing. Only you will know what will be right for your child.
A child at the birth should have an adult companion solely responsible for them. This person must be able to explain everything that will be seen and heard at the birth. A good idea is to arrange a small present for the older child from the newborn with a greeting note or card. This can be a defining token of their special relationship.
Once you are home, be as tactful as you can. Try to spend special time with the older child once you have returned home with the newborn. Accept offers of help from them and explain as much as you can about what is going on. If your older child begins acting baby-like, remember that suddenly your child feels too big and grown up and unable to compete with the new baby for your attention. Simply telling a child to grow up will confuse them. In their eyes, the younger child is getting more attention because it is so little. Let them try on baby clothes, taste baby milk and play in the baby bath so they can realise for themselves that it isn’t really what they want. This will enable them to “feel” grown up.
Try to facilitate a bond between the children. A useful tactic is to encourage the older child to believe that the new baby likes them. Something as simple as observing the baby smiling at the older child can be presented in a way that is conducive to furthering their bond. Perhaps a comment such as: “Oh, I think your little brother/sister likes you, look at that smile!” may be the icebreaker that’s needed.
“First babies have the unenviable task of turning people into parents,” writes Penelope Leach in her book Baby and Child. Subsequent children will test your ability to balance the needs of a larger family. Coping with these changes involves flexibility, organisation and resourcefulness on the part of both parents. If you are able to plan ahead during the pregnancy, it will make life easier once you return home with your newborn. Stack your freezer with meals, organise a hands-free phone, if possible arrange to get essentials delivered, and bulk buy washing detergents, toilet paper, and non-perishable food items. Maintaining routine and rhythm becomes even more vital this time around and the level of help you have at home will make a difference. Encourage visitors to bring fresh, home made food rather than another baby outfit. When you are at your most tired, try not to neglect yourself. Building a family has many joyful moments. As Linda recalls, “the most wonderful opportunity of having a subsequent child is that you don’t get tied up with all the timing. I used to get so anxious during the night feeds with my first baby, sitting there peering through the darkness at the clock, meticulously timing fifteen minutes this side and fifteen minutes that side. It makes me laugh now.”