A new baby in the family is always an exciting event, but preparing for a second child is very different than anticipating the first. Families have an idea of what to expect the second time around during pregnancy, birth and the early post-partum days. There will always be surprises, but the biggest concern is often the firstborn’s reaction to the new arrival. Long Island Mamas surveyed local families and developed helpful tips and tricks for a smooth transition to go from a family of three to four.
Be prepared to answer the questions of the big brother or sister-to-be. There is no “right time” to explain about a pregnancy as it is dependent on the comfort of the parent and the age of the child. An 18 month-old may not pay much attention to Mom’s expanding figure, but a 10 year-old certainly will.
Go through the older child’s baby clothing and toys. Make a list of what needs to be replaced. Check recent American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) regulations in case things have changed regarding car seat laws, SIDS prevention and product recalls.
Give the older child time to acclimate to one change at a time. If a bedroom reassignment, transition from crib to toddler bed or potty training needs to happen, do it long before the new baby’s birth (or wait until a new family routine has been established).
Purchase or borrow age-appropriate books, videos and/or toys to help the older child with the adjustment. Several Long Island hospitals offer “sibling classes” that include videos, activities, and (of course) a certificate at the end.
Include the older child in the preparations for a new baby. Perhaps let them attend a doctor’s appointment or see a sonogram. Families can let the child “help” pick out room décor, clothing or other items for the new addition.
Have a birth plan set up that includes a caretaker for the older child. If they’re old enough to understand, let them know the plan several weeks in advance. If possible, do a few practice runs.
Once Baby Arrives
Let the older child see Mom and meet his new sibling as soon as she is feeling physically able. Enjoy some time as a family before opening the floodgates to other visitors.
Depending on the age, the older child may be able to help with chores such as diaper changes, singing a lullaby, finding a toy and holding/rocking the baby. Young children have a flair for entertaining; give them a chance to make their new sibling happy.
Unless there are no other options, an older child should not share a room with a newborn. Newborn sleeping habits are disruptive, and a toddler or child doesn’t know how to compensate. If the children are destined to be roommates, wait until the baby has a more regular sleep schedule.
Remind the older child how special he is. Toddlers and preschoolers are especially vulnerable to feeling replaced. Purchase a Big Brother/Sister shirt and remind other family members to make a fuss over the older child as well as the baby.
Keep a supply of inexpensive toys on hand to give the older child when people bring gifts for the baby.
Pencil in one-on-one time with the older child. Having this time together reminds the older child that he is still important and should help curb resentment.
If the child is old enough, have him discuss his feelings with one or both parents.
Try to have patience. Regression (bedwetting in a potty-trained child, thumb sucking, etc.) and acting out is common. Understand what’s motivating the behavior when dealing with the situation.
By Rachel Minkowsky