Preparing for Baby's Arrival
Preparing siblings for the new arrival
If you have siblings you already know how important these relationships are. The birth of a little brother or sister can be a keenly anticipated, joyous event or a rude shock to your older child, fueling feelings of jealousy and abandonment. Or it can be both. With some planning you can help get the children’s relationship off on the right foot.
Set the stage before the new baby arrives
- Share the news. When you tell your older child about the new baby depends on her age and interest. Older children will know something’s different as soon as you begin to show. Two- and three-year-olds may not be quite so observant, and you probably can wait until closer to your due date.
- Meet your new sibling! Invite your child to touch your tummy to feel the baby move.
- Say “hi.” Encourage her to talk to the baby inside.
- Include your child. Take your child along to at least one of your prenatal refresher classes.
- Take a class. Ask your hospital or birthing center about sibling preparation classes. Sign up if they’re available.
- Read storybooks. Buy books or check them out from the library about becoming a big sister or brother. Point out kids playing and talking with babies in books, on TV, and in daily life.
- Go shopping. Allow your older child to select nursery items, such as blankets or sheets, or to choose a lamp or picture.
- Share her baby photos. Show your child pictures taken when she was a newborn. Talk about how tiny babies are when they’re born.
- Share her baby stories. Tell your child what she was like as a little baby. Describe her favorite infant toy and discuss whether the new baby might like the same thing.
- Make a video. With your child, write a letter or make an audio or video recording to play to the new baby. Have your child introduce herself and talk about her life. It can be something like this: "Hi, my name is Jennifer. I’m 5, and I’m going to be your big sister. I go to kindergarten, and my best friend’s name is Lisa. After you get born, you can be my friend too."
Do you want your child present at the birth?
If you’re thinking of inviting your older child, ask yourself:
- Does the hospital or birthing center allow siblings to attend?
- Am I really comfortable with this idea?
- Will my child be bored? Frightened? Disruptive?
If you still feel that this is right for you, arrange for your child to have a familiar adult companion at the birth. (Not Dad—he’ll be busy with you.) That person will stay with your child to tend to her needs, which can be anything from taking a bathroom break to answering a zillion questions.
Beforehand, prepare the child by describing how hard you’ll be working during labor and what you’ll look and sound like. You also can prepare your child by showing her a video, such as Lizzie and the Baby: The Childbirth-for-Children Video, which is shown in hospitals at sibling preparation classes.
After the new baby arrives
Even if your older child seems happy about the soon-to-be-born baby, her demeanor can change when the baby comes home. "Dethroned" is the way some child psychologists describe the feelings of an older child when a newborn joins the family. Once the center of her little universe, your big sister is now shunted off to the sidelines while everyone clucks and smiles at the bawling intruder, the rival.
But if you prepare your child for the new addition to the family by acting with sensitivity and love, you can make the introduction of your baby less threatening. Here are some pointers:
- Give a gift to the new baby. Select a gift together that your older child can present to your newborn. Suggest a small toy, one appropriate for a very young baby—and one that your older child won’t want to keep for herself. Whatever item you select, spend time together wrapping the gift and discussing when your child will present it.
- Give a gift to the older sibling. Select a gift for the new baby to give to the older child.
- Phone home. Call your child frequently from the hospital or birthing center to let her know that you’re feeling fine and thinking about her.
- Home, sweet home. Try to arrange for child care at home while you’re in the hospital. The events surrounding the birth can be confusing and frightening for small children. If at all possible, allow her to stay in her own familiar surroundings.
- Enlist a relative/friend. Ask your parents or some other adult with whom your child is very familiar to look after her in your home.