Introducing the idea of a new sibling to a child is a delicate task. Often times parents worry about when to do this and what to say. Here are a few things to consider when thinking through how to prepare your child for this transition.
1. Consider your child's age
The older the child is, the more information they can handle and the more time they may need to process the information. The opposite is also true.
Younger children need more simple language, less details and less time waiting in anticipation. If you’ve ever been on a road trip with young children, you’ve probably heard “Are we there yet?!”
Think of pregnancy in a similar way.
2. Give your child a concrete way to help them understand waiting
Something like, “Your little brother or sister will be here when we start seeing pumpkins at the grocery store” or “When we start wearing our warm clothes.”
Making something like a paper chain that they can remove a link on may also be a good option. The trick is that sometimes we can’t anticipate when the baby will make their arrival so adding in the caveat that the baby gets to surprise us is essential.
3. Books and shows are great resources
If you have a young child, there are several books that talk about pregnancy and the changes they can expect to experience with a newborn in the house.
Daniel Tiger Season 2 Episodes 1-4 address his little sister’s impact on his life and how that makes him feel. This provides a great conversation starter for young children (think toddlers up to around age 4 or so).
There are several books that debunk pregnancy, birth and having a new sibling in child-specific language.
My personal favorite book suggestions are: “I’m a Big Sister” or “I’m a big brother” by Joanna Cole, and “My New Baby” or “Waiting for Baby” by Rachel Fuller.
4. Provide an open invitation for conversation
Children often process information in waves. You may think that they comprehend something and then they surprise you in the grocery store with all their burning questions.
Try to engage in conversation and answer their questions as they come up as simply as possible. Think of it as sort of grazing rather than one big long lecture conversation.
Allowing them to take the lead and initiate conversation can be helpful for their processing.
5. Get out the baby gear well before the baby arrives
This may trigger more questions from your child and most likely prompt them to process further the changes that are going to take place.
If you’re going to use a crib, have your child “help” in an age appropriate way. For a very young child, you could have them bring you a measuring tape or box (regardless of if that actually gets anything relevant done).
For an older child, they may be able to turn a screw for you or hold a piece while you secure it. Not only is this time aiding the child in processing, it is also providing you both with quality time together.
6. Prep special activities to use when the baby requires all of you
Small bins that are only for pre-determined times can make a normally challenging time something to look forward to.
Some examples of activities to use for these times are legos, a special art project, I-Spy books, Polly Pocket toys or basically anything you wouldn’t want a baby to get into.
Make sure these activities are something the child can do without much help. Times when this may come in handy are during feedings, while you’re calming a crying baby or putting the baby down for a nap.
7. Plan for special 1 on 1 time with your older child
It is normal for your older child to feel jealous. Their world likely has been turned upside down from the arrival of a new baby. They now have one more person to split their parent(s) attention with and that is a tough reality.
Carve out time specifically for your older child. You may be surprised at how much that will do for both you and your child.
8. Prepare a small (or not so small) gift for your older child.
I am not sure I have ever met a child who does not like a gift.
When your older child meets your baby, you can tell them that the baby wanted them to have this gift. That distraction can be a welcomed ice breaker when the moment comes as it can be a shock for your older child.
We hope these tips are helpful!
Let us know how you prepared your older child to meet their new sibling! We'd love to hear your thoughts!
If only babies came with a manual. Am I right?!
For real though. Couldn’t we get a little more help with this whole newborn parenting gig? It can be overwhelming leaving the confines of that birth center with all those knowledgeable medical professionals and head into the great unknown on our own home!
Should I wake her up? Is she breathing? How do I know how long to let her sleep?
Is she crying because she’s hungry again or is she tired? Should I swaddle her or take her on a car ride?
Why is she STILL crying?!
The early days are trying. Sleep deprivation while getting to know an entirely new human that is 100% reliant on you for EVERYTHING can be so brutal! So, we’ve come up with a list of 10 things that may help you navigate this time.
Newborns cry. A lot. It can be stressful but it’s important to remember that crying is their only form of communication until they are able to smile and coo around the 4-6 week mark. Keep it all in perspective. This time is fleeting and the last thing that new parents need is for their adult relationships to suffer.
Remind your partner (if applicable) that they are still you’re first priority. It’s so easy to get caught up in the constant needs of your new baby and forget about your other relationships. Reminding each other how you feel can make all the difference.
Feeding can be such a challenge, regardless of how you do it. What works for you and your baby is not going to be the right choice for everyone else. Try to keep in mind that you are this baby’s parent for a reason and take your needs into consideration and reach out for help! We have awesome lactation consultants in Whatcom County and Skagit County who are ready and willing to help you!
Whether you choose to exclusively breastfeed, bottle feed with breast milk, bottle feed with formula or another mode of feeding, find the support you need to help your feeding time be as relaxed as possible. Set up stations with snacks and water bottles around the house.
Often times, as soon as you sit down you will realize what you need. If there are stations already set up, chances are that it is within reaching distance.
The Endless "To-Do" List
Sleep when the baby sleeps. Do dishes when the baby does dishes. Am I right?! Sleep is so challenging for most new parents and simplifying it to saying “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is such a joke.
There are endless tasks that would stare me in the face as soon as my baby fell asleep and ignoring those things just simply wasn’t an option. What worked for my family won’t work for others but may help. We made a list of our top priorities.
One list included tasks that had to get done EACH DAY. Then a list of the things that had to get done ONCE A WEEK and so forth. This put it all in perspective for us and I was able to relax a bit more and actually recover from giving birth!
The Sleepless Nights
It is normal for your newborn to sleep (nearly) all day and party all night. Remember those parties your baby would throw during pregnancy right as you finally found that comfortable spot in bed? When you were pregnant, they were rocked to sleep as you went about your day and then woke as you settled down in the evening.
Newborns have to adjust to a new normal. Well, lots of new normals but this is a big one. This can be very frustrating for tired parents but it will shift eventually.
When changing a newborn’s diaper, bicycle kicks are your friend. If you’ve ever been around a newborn, you may have noticed that as soon as they got that fresh diaper on, they pooped immediately.
Rather than taking that dirty diaper off right away, expose the baby to some fresh air then cover them back up and do some leg pumps or gentle tummy rubs and wait a minute or two. This may save you a few diapers.
Set up changing stations around the house. Having some diapers and wipes easily accessible makes diaper changes a little less of a task. Remember, changing pads are not 100% necessary 100% of the time. An old hand towel or changing pad liner can become a great barrier between the baby and the surface you are changing them on.
“My baby hates the car and everyone talked about how they are supposed to fall asleep in the car.” I’ll just say it, if this is you, I am so sorry. I had two babies who HATED the car. They would cry so hard that they would be dripping with sweat once we got to our destination.
Some tricks I learned were rolling down the window (when weather allowed), dressing them in cool clothing so they didn’t get too warm, and driving on those road bumps. I am sure we got several people thinking we were crazy, but this helped!
The First Bath
Sponge baths will be just fine until the umbilical cord stump falls off (which is quite a smelly process by the way) as it is important not to get it wet. A wet washcloth with a small amount of baby-friendly soap will do the trick. Then follow up with a good lotion as newborn skin can be quite dry.
Don’t forget to get in all those sneaky folds as that is the prime location for breast milk or formula to get stuck and will get stinky real fast. Some of those locations include the groin folds, under the chin, the armpits and behind the ears.
When the time comes to do the first bath, make sure the water is warm but not too hot. Test the temperature on your inner wrist. If it is too warm for you, it is way too warm for your baby.
Try laying a warm, wet hand towel or washcloth over your baby’s exposed body. This will help them stay warm and enjoy their bath time.
Learn a good swaddle technique. Babies are super restricted for space during pregnancy. Swaddling them reminds them of this.
For those Houdini babies, try a swaddle technique that tucks their arms in a pocket before wrapping them up. There are many different ways to do it, and each baby is going to need something slightly different.
They may hate it as your are wrapping them up, but soon enough, they will give in and probably fall asleep. Good luck! P.s. We teach a great swaddle technique in our birth class!
At North Cascade Doulas, we love this stuff!
We exist to support local families as they navigate the unforeseen joys and challenges that come with bringing a baby home.
As birth doulas in Bellingham and the surrounding areas, we aim to see our clients supported through the ups and downs. If you have questions, we have answers! We will walk alongside you through your unique pregnancy, birth and postpartum story.
Contact us today to learn more about birth doula services in Skagit Valley and Whatcom County or local childbirth classes. We would be overjoyed to get to know your desires for this season and how you desire to be supported.
Author, Kristina McMurtrey, is a passionate doula who aims to see families supported regardless of their unique way of navigating pregnancy, birth and parenting.
North Cascade Doulas provide care for families looking for Labor Doulas, Placenta Encapsulation and Childbirth Education Classes. We support all parenting philosophies and birth plans.
We specialize in :
(natural) unmedicated birth / (surgical) cesarean birth / epidural birth / induction / planned induction / planned cesarean / VBAC / TOLAC / waterbirth / multiples / breastfeeding / bottle feeding / formula feeding / NICU / PPD / PPMD / bed rest / high risk / low risk / advanced maternal age / miscarriage / IVF / and more.
Areas we Serve:
We serve Whatcom and Skagit Counties and the neighborhoods of Alger / Anacortes / Bellingham / Big Lake / Birch Bay / Blaine / Bow / Burlington / Clear Lake / Custer / Everson / Ferndale / Glen Haven / La Conner / Laurel / Lynden / Mount Vernon / Sedro Woolley / Sudden Valley