As a first time mom, everything is new, exciting, terrifying. Life will never be the same. Now your world revolves around this one tiny little human being that needs you for every little thing. Maybe after the first month or so, you start getting used to it; you get yourself and baby in a nice little rhythm. After a year or so, you can’t imagine your life without baby.
And then, naturally, you start thinking about baby number two.
A second baby can throw a wrench in your new rhythm. Now, you don’t just have one little life to look after, but two. How in the world are you supposed to feel? How is big brother or sister supposed to feel? How are you supposed to divide your time?
Take a breath. Remember, moms and dads have been dealing with this for years and years and years.
Feelings and Emotions
First, let’s tackle baby number one’s feelings. For the entirety of their life, he or she has been the apple of your eye, receiving all the attention from mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, the stranger at the grocery store, etc. When the idea of a little brother or sister comes along, big sibling may feel lots of different emotions.
“It’s normal for big siblings to feel jealous or confused,” says pediatrician Heather Quillian, MD. “They might also feel intense love or even protective for their new sibling. All of these feelings are normal and natural.”
If you are keeping the gender of new baby a surprise, older siblings may be hoping for a brother or a sister and may be disappointed.
“Emphasize their role instead of the gender of the new baby,” Dr. Quillian suggests. “Say things like, ‘You’re going to be a great big brother/sister’ or ‘No matter if baby is a boy or girl, this new baby is going to be a big part of our lives.’ If you don’t make gender a big deal, it won’t be. If it becomes one, just let them know that mom and dad don’t have control over the gender, so it’s going to be a surprise for the whole family!”
Dr. Quillian also warns about putting too much pressure on the older sibling; he or she may start to resent the new baby. Also remember, big sibling may still be a baby, too, so treat him or her like one. Give lots of love and attention.
Big sibling may have an intense love for new baby or feel completely ambivalent. Either way, in time, he or she will learn their role in new baby’s life. It’s important to let older sibling find these feelings on their own.
New mom of two Heather Vanderweide helped older sister Sophia, 3, get acclimated to the idea of a new baby by getting her involved in the nesting process.
“Sophia helped me pick out some new clothes and re-organize the nursery, which she had just moved out of herself,” Vanderwiede said. “She attended some of my prenatal appointments and enjoyed seeing her baby brother on the ultrasound.”
When it comes to mom’s feelings and emotions, remember that your hormones are a little out of whack throughout pregnancy and in the weeks initially after giving birth. It’s okay to feel happy or sad or whatever else. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your body needs rest, so be sure to sleep or relax whenever you can.
Divvying Up Mom’s Time
With one baby, all of your attention can be placed on him or her. With a new baby in the mix, your time and attention may seem divided.
To help yourself, Quillian says to keep big siblings in a normal routine. “If they are school age or go to daycare, make sure they keep going on a regular basis,” she says. Not only will this give you time to relax at home, but it will be less stressful for them.
If the older sibling’s regular day is spent at home, Quillian emphasizes asking for help. “You can schedule play dates or sleepovers at a family member’s house,” she suggests. “Your body needs rest, so let Daddy take him or her for the day to ensure they get that one-on-one attention.”
Vanderweide admits the difficulty of having a second baby at home. “It truly is challenging,” she says. “I try to make sure that we have time to sit down together during baby James’ naps, and we take a short outing together each weekend while my husband watches James.”
Breastfeeding moms may find it extra challenging when the new baby is hungry and older sibling needs attention. Quillian suggests preparing an extra-special basket of fun activities that only comes out at feeding time. Get older sibling involved in prepping the basket before baby is born so they get excited about the idea of using it.
“It’s hard,” Vanderweide admits, “and I am looking forward to James getting a little bit older so that I can spend more time interacting with both of them instead of devoting attention to each one in turn.”
Introducing Big Sibling to New Baby
Introducing the idea of a new baby to your child may seem intimidating. There’s no right way or right time.
Quillian suggests telling the older sibling about the baby around the same time you’re telling other family members. Depending on age, he or she may ask where the baby comes from and Quillian recommends looking for age-appropriate books or asking your pediatrician for advice.
Bringing the older sibling to doctor appointments throughout the pregnancy may help with understanding the process as well, but this may be confusing to younger children. For some moms, there may not be any other option.
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As far as meeting the baby, it’s up to you. “I would suggest you not have older sibling in the delivery room,” Quillian says and adds that it may not even be allowed. “It’s an incredibly intense atmosphere and may cause resentment towards the new baby if they see mommy in pain.”
However, the older sibling will recognize that something big is going on and will want to make sure mommy is okay as soon as they can. Whenever mom is ready and feeling up for it, it’s certainly reasonable to have big brother or big sister meet the new family member in the hospital. Plus, you’ll want to snap that family photo!
“Meeting her brother really didn’t seem to be a big deal for Sophia,” Vanderweide remembers. “I think all of the monitors and wires did make an impression since the first thing that she asked was, ‘Is he real?’”