The idea of introducing a new baby to your first baby can be a little daunting. There’s no way to know beforehand how they’ll respond to an enormous change in their lives like becoming a big brother or sister. The best we can do is prepare our older child as much as we can and prepare ourselves to make the household run as smoothly as possible. But at the end of the day whatever will be will be.
Prepare your older child. I bought a doll for my little boy so we could practice being gentle and how to interact with a baby. I chose a soft doll with hard head, hands and feet because they’re easiest to dress and undress – but they’re not bath-friendly so that might be something to consider. I also involved him as much as I could in the nesting process, getting him to help put her clothes in the drawers and choose which toys we’d have out ready for her; trying to make him feel like a helpful big brother. We also moved him from his cot to a single bed in the very early stages of pregnancy so when the cot came back out months later he wouldn’t think of it as “his cot” anymore. You can also read books about babies and becoming an older brother/sister. There are heaps of great books out there that can help ease a toddler or child into the idea of having a baby in the house, such as “I’m a Big Sister” and “I’m a Big Brother” by Joanna Cole.
Let your older child act like a baby. With a new baby in the house it’s understandable that they might feel like they’re missing out on the love and attention you’re showing a new baby. Babies need a lot of care and an older sibling might feel jealous or left out. One approach is playing “mummy and baby” games with your toddler or older child. Pick them up if you can, or sit on the couch and cradle and rock them, sing them lullabies, tickle their belly and talk to them like you would a baby. They may even want to switch roles and baby you – which is fine too. Also I found even though our son was 3 when we had our daughter and there were a lot of things he was happy to do for himself, like dressing himself, that he started wanting us to do for him – and would get distressed if we refused.
Stock up on food. I loaded up the fridge, freezer and pantry a week or so before baby was due with convenience foods, frozen meals, pasta and sauces, also lots of frozen veggies, tinned beans etc to throw into meals to bulk them up, as well as muesli, nut and muffin bars for ME and a collection of snacks for our little boy that were stored within his reach so he could help himself to a snack if I was stuck on the couch breastfeeding our new baby for hours. This made feeding our family during those first few weeks much less stressful. Also grocery shopping online can save you from having to take both of your small people out of the house before you’re ready.
Babywearing, babywearing and more babywearing! I don’t know how people have more than one child without babywearing! By wearing our second baby I was able to breastfeed on the run, settle her to sleep while trailing behind him at the park, keep her close while giving him a bath – it just makes multitasking so much easier.
Ask for help. People might assume when it’s your second baby that you’ve got it handled, but it’s still okay to ask for help if you need it! This goes for in hospital also; when I had my daughter a couple hours after she was born I was asked to be discharged, but I insisted that I wanted to stay overnight (and I was entitled to do so) they were confused why I would want to stay seeing as she was my second baby – but that was partly WHY I wanted to stay a bit longer. I wanted to have a little bit of time, just her and I, to get accustomed to one another and get the hang of breastfeeding her before I went back home to the hustle and bustle of our normal lives.
Get your older child to help with daily task. Some children love helping. Just little tasks like getting them to pass you wipes when you’re changing baby’s nappy, or get them to help you run a bath or choosing their clothes for the day can help your older child feel important and involved.
Try to get out of the house. My experience was leaving the house with both children was far scarier in my mind than it was in reality – the sooner I got out, the more confident I felt. I started small with a short walk to a nearby playground, until I felt more confident taking them both out on bigger excursions – like to the supermarket.
Try to maintain some “normal” routine for your older child. The operative word here is try. It won’t always work; newborns are incredibly talented as being spanners in the works and throwing off all semblances of order and routine. Our son’s night time routine was to have a bath after dinner, then a story and cuddle in bed until he fell asleep. Introducing a new baby sister into that routine wasn’t without challenge. The first few nights I tried to have his story time just as his own time, by giving our daughter to her dad to hold for that short time, but when she was a few days old his bedtime lined up with her being hungry and that arrangement simply wouldn’t work. I sat up in his bed breastfeeding her, awkwardly balancing a book on my knee and trying to cuddle him at the same time – and it worked! I did eventually get both of my little people to sleep at the same time. The following night he asked could he please have his baby sister in his bed again. So from there our routine adapted. Rather than that time being for him and I only, it was time that the three of us snuggled together.
Let your kids get to know each other. This is so much easier said than done. It’s hard not to constantly say “Don’t touch her! Don’t do that. Be gentle. Just leave her alone. Don’t wake her. Don’t be too noisy. Don’t go to close to her face. Don’t! Don’t! Don’t. No! No! No!” I didn’t want to be too intensely moderating their relationship and I didn’t want him to think of his baby sister as being a source of “trouble” for him. If he wasn’t hurting her, if she was safe, if they were both within arm’s reach and I could intervene at any moment I would just try to breathe through it and let him hold her, or show her things or play with her – as long as he was being reasonably gently. Naturally there were times I did have to say no, but much less often than I was saying it silently in my head. I’d also offer him a cuddle with her after she’d had a nap and a feed and she was at her most settled. I found the safest way to let him hold her was if I got him to sit right back on the couch and cross his legs and ask him to pretend to be an arm chair with his arms out holding her sides – but not around her or squeezing her. I’d also stay within arms reach, although he never dropped her I wouldn’t get up or move away with him holding her like this.
One final tip from my own Mum! She would constantly tell my brother how lucky he was to have a baby sister like me and tell me how lucky I was to have an older brother like him, in front of both of us so we would also hear ourselves being spoken about kindly. She admits that she was brainwashing us, but it did work – my brother and I always did feel lucky to have one another.
At the end of the day as challenging as adding a new family member, with their own individual personality, needs and challenges, without doubt the most wonderful thing for me about being a parent so far has been watching my kids become friends.