Awaiting the birth of a second child brings many questions: Do I have enough love to share? How will we cope with the increased workload of two children? And, of course, how can we best support our first child in the transition to life as a big brother or sister? The key to helping your child prepare for this transition is to understand and appreciate the dramatic changes to family life brought by the birth of a new baby. Loss of the normal routine, having to share the spotlight, and enjoying less undivided attention can leave an older child wondering “What about me?” There are many simple steps you can take to support your child in this transition, creating opportunities for your child to play an important and positive role in preparing for and welcoming the new baby.
“Where Do Babies Come From?”
As pregnancy progresses, some children show a keen interest in where babies come from, and how exactly they are going to “get out.” In responding to such questions, it is helpful to redirect the question back to them: “Tell me what you think happens?” When you do respond, the explanation should be simple and developmentally appropriate.
There are many excellent children’s books to help satisfy your child’s curiosity, and many children love hearing the story of their own time as a baby. Be prepared to tell these stories again and again as your child seeks to make sense of your growing belly and baby to come. Your child may choose to role-play birth with stuffed animals or dolls. If planning a hospital birth, it can be helpful for them to bring them on a tour.
“It’s a Baby!”
Helping your child to understand that mom’s growing belly will soon be a real baby can be a challenge, in particular with younger children. To make baby real, refer to baby as a person, “He must feel excited right now, he is moving a lot!” Older children can feel baby kicking, and you can imagine together what life might be like inside of mom. If possible, attend some prenatal visits together so that they can hear the heartbeat. It can also be helpful to draw pictures of your expanding family together.
“What About Me?”
To ease the stress from the shift in family dynamics, explore emotional and relationship changes beforehand. For example, you may explain that a baby will require a lot of love and care from mom and dad and their older sibling, and that sometimes it might feel like the baby is getting all the attention. Affirm over and over again the strength of your love for your firstborn, and that this will never change, even as the ways you spend time together will change.
As baby’s arrival approaches, take time to examine how it will affect practical aspects of your firstborn’s life with you. It is helpful to make any necessary changes in care patterns months before, to prevent any association of these changes with the baby. For example, if your firstborn typically falls asleep only with mom, begin to establish new patterns without dependence on just one parent.
“I Want to Play!”
Your firstborn may be looking forward to baby’s arrival, anticipating the fun they will have together. This can turn to frustration and sadness upon discovering that the baby has not emerged from the womb ready to engage in imaginative play or wrestling matches, but rather seems focused on eating, sleeping, and poop.
Assure your child that while newborns are not born ready to play trucks or dolls, they love gentle touch, peekaboo, and toe tickles. You can help identify positive ways to relate to baby by exposing him or her to other newborns, and role-playing the feeding, diapering & caring of baby with a favorite doll or stuffed animal.
“How Can I Help?”
Engaging your older child in the preparations for baby can help them feel involved, and is wonderful fun. You can brainstorm favorite baby names, find a special gift for baby, and prepare baby’s clothes together – they can even select baby’s first outfit. They can create a birthday card or welcome sign, and choose a favorite book or song to share with baby while in the womb and after birth.
As you strive to support your firstborn in understanding the changes to come and sharing in your excitement for baby’s arrival, remember that over time they will build their own unique relationship with this little one. By understanding what a dramatic change this can be for your child, listening to their questions and concerns, and finding creative ways to help prepare them for the transition, you can set the stage for a healthy relationship in the months and years to come.
Sarah Juliusson, MSN and mother of two, offers Birthing From Within™ prenatal classes, and Birthing Again™ workshops for experienced parents, and Mothers Unfolding circles. She can be contacted via her website: www.DancingStarBirth.ca