Reading Time: 3 minutesDr Suzanne Meenan gives her top tips on how best to prepare your firstborn for the arrival of your second baby.
Coming home with your second baby is a very different experience from coming home with your first one. The first time around, concerns were more about how to care for the baby, recovering from birth, adjusting to life with a newborn and becoming familiar with the idea of motherhood. With your second pregnancy, you are more likely concerned about your first child adjusting to the idea of being a big sister or big brother and no longer being the main focus of the family. Of course, caring for your baby and adjusting to life with two children are also on your mind, but more often than not, the biggest worry that mothers have about the arrival of a second baby is how their first will react.
Involve your child
Depending on the age of your first child, much of the preparation can be started well in advance of the birth. Explaining the very obvious changes in your body is a great starting point, and there are many books that can help (see ‘Books to read’ below). After that, involve your little one in the preparations, so they feel like they are a part of the process, be it decorating the nursery, choosing a name, picking out new outfits, or selecting toys for the baby.
If you need to make any changes to their daily routine, like moving them from a cot to a bed, moving rooms, or toilet training, try to complete this before the final weeks of your pregnancy, or wait a few months until they are settled into their new routine with the baby. Talk to them about the new arrival and the coming changes as much as you can so that these become familiar topics. Then, when it comes to the actual time of the birth, ensure that your little one’s activities are well planned and are as close to normal routine as possible.
Introducing your child to their new sibling is a very special time for everyone. Being brought to the hospital for a visit to see mummy and to meet the baby is usually the best approach, and some people have found that a present from the baby goes down well as an icebreaker. Sharing the cuddles and the kisses between both siblings at this stage is a good way to set the tone for the future.
Caring and cuddles
Depending on the age of your child, involving them in the care of the newborn can be a great way to model gentle touch but also to ensure they don’t feel left out. No matter how gentle a child is, though, supervision is essential and small children should never be left unaccompanied with infants – not because it can be assumed they will be aggressive towards their new sibling but because small children don’t understand their own strength or have a cognitive awareness of why babies need to be handled in a gentle manner.
It can often become the norm that dads, or other carers, take charge of the older child and leave mummy at home with the baby. However, this needs to be managed so mummy gets a chance to participate, even if it is just accompanying the child on one of his or her routine activities. It is important for the older one to get individual time with mummy, and it will be beneficial for mummy to get out regularly as well.
Any big change in a child’s life is generally accompanied by some reaction but it doesn’t have to be a negative one. Frustration that their new sibling is too small to play yet can be a common grievance for big brothers and sisters or having to share toys is another. It is important that their little voices are heard and that they are allowed to have some special things that baby cannot play with. We, as adults, don’t share everything we have so why should they?
Finally, avoid stressing or attaching undue importance to initial reactions. Like any good relationship, this one may take some time to develop, but with the right encouragement and attitude, it is sure to blossom into a cherished lifelong bond.
Books to read with your little one
- There’s a House Inside My Mummy by Giles Andreae
- Topsy and Tim: The New Baby by Jean Adamson
- Mummy, Mummy, What’s in your Tummy? by Sarah Simpson-Enock
- Big Brother, Little Brother by Penny Dale
- When the Teddy Bears Came by Martin Waddell
- Rosie’s Babies by Martin Waddell
- Sophie and the New Baby by Laurence Anholt
- Za Za’s Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins
- Spot’s Baby Sister by Eric Hill
- Usborne’s The New Baby by Anna Civardi
Dr Suzanne Meenan is a Clinical Psychologist working at Central Health Medical Practice and Southside Family Health Centre.