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Preparing Your Toddler For the New Baby

20 September, 2012

Prevention is better than cure and preparation, especially for a new arrival, can make life so much easier.  Some time ago I wrote an article I wrote called Preparing Your Toddler For the New Baby, which was published on the website of the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Preparing your toddler for the new baby

Your little baby is growing into a toddler and you discover that you are expecting again! Whether this is a planned or unplanned pregnancy, you will no doubt have mixed emotions, from excitement (a new baby, a sibling for your child, being pregnant again), to fear (how will I manage two little children, will my labour be harder than the last, how will I love them both) to sadness (I won’t be able to spend as much time with my little cherub, I won’t be able to focus on this baby as much as I did on my first, my “little” baby is going to be a “big” person all too soon).

No matter how you are feeling right now, there are things that you can do to make the journey a smoother ride for you, your toddler, your new baby and your partner.

When you find out that you are pregnant

As soon as you discover you are pregnant or soon after, it may be best to tell your little one. Toddlers are perceptive and will know that something is going on. However, “There’s a baby inside Mummy’s tummy” may be a bit of an abstract concept for a toddler. Looking at books or pictures of pregnant women might be a good start: talk about the lady in the picture and how her tummy is nice and round because she has a baby inside it, and that you will have a round tummy soon because you have a baby inside your tummy too. Be prepared for lack of interest or blank stares, but keep repeating it regularly. The way we told our just-one year old about our second pregnancy was through the book “There’s a House Inside My Mummy”. Or it may work for you to wait until later – perhaps when your bump is obvious. Seven or eight months can be a very long time for little children. Only you can decide which is better for you child – after all, you know him best.

If your toddler is still breastfeeding, you do not need to stop. Make sure you inform your doctor and midwife or obstetrician that you are still breastfeeding. If you decide to wean you toddler at this time, it is generally easier if it is a gradual process. Breastfeeding counsellors can provide excellent support to you when breastfeeding whilst pregnant but they cannot provide medical advice. They can also support you as you tandem feed your toddler and baby, if you so choose. ABA produces an excellent booklet called “Breastfeeding through pregnancy and beyond”, full of useful information.

Start thinking about the changes that you think should be made before the baby is born. Straight after the birth of a sibling is not the time to toilet train. Will your toddler need to move out of her cot or the family bed? Will your toddler be attending day care or be cared for in the home of a relative or friend after the baby is born? Any changes may best be made well before you start labour because if your toddler is shifted out of her cot or the family bed (for example), to be immediately replaced by your new baby, you may stir up feelings of jealousy and resentment in your child. A quick transition from cot or family bed to “big bed” may be more difficult than a slower more gradual one. Your child’s temperament and development is important – is she ready to go in a “big bed” or toddler bed? Do you need to buy a second cot? Or, if you co-sleep, how do you intend to continue this after the baby is born? Will your toddler need to sleep next to your partner instead? All these things need to be considered for your situation, and changes made as soon as you feel your family is ready.

You also need to start thinking about the labour. Do you want your child to be present? Is your toddler emotionally able to cope with seeing you in pain and lots of strange people around? Or will your child be left with someone else? Who will that person be? Will they care for your toddler in your home or in theirs? It may help if your toddler is familiar with this carer and preferably have been left in her care beforehand, since he will need to feel safe with this person at what could be a stressful time for all involved. Also, if you are confident that he is being well cared for then it is less likely you will worry about your toddler while you are in labour.

These are just a few suggestions of changes that might occur, but only you know what is right for your family.

Introducing your toddler to the new baby

Most toddlers are wary of strangers and yet most parents believe they will welcome their new sibling lovingly. Although they sometimes do bond with their sibling immediately, other children are not interested. One of my friends tells me that as a toddler, she expected that her grandmother (who cared for her while her mother was in hospital) would take the baby with her when she left to return home, and was most upset when she didn’t. Many mothers have found tandem breastfeeding useful for helping the toddler bond with the new baby.

While there is no right way to introduce your baby and their older brother or sister, there are a few things you might like to consider. Your toddler may become hostile or jealous if she arrives home to discover a new person who is in “their” space with “their” parents. A neutral location, such as the hospital or the house of a relative may be a better choice. Then you and your toddler can take the baby home together.

Some people like to have a ritual for their children to welcome their new brother or sister into the world. Choosing something simple and meaningful for your toddler to do may help ease the transition. For example, a few weeks before the birth of our second child, our daughter chose a small gift for her yet-to-be-born sibling, and gave it to him when we all arrived home. A gift from the baby to the toddler can also ease that first meeting and give the toddler something to play with if she gets bored.

The first few days or weeks

Getting to know your newborn is exciting but tiring. Establishing breastfeeding is an important yet time-consuming part of early parenthood. With your first child it was easier to arrange – there was just mum and baby (and maybe dad or significant other) but this time around is different. You have mum, baby and a toddler to take care of.

Firstly, enlist all the support you can. If your partner can have time off then it is important that he spends as much time with your older child as possible. Other family members and friends can also play with and care for your toddler as well as caring for your new baby while you spend precious time with your toddler. Your toddler may enjoy bringing you the items you need to change the baby, or help to wash her in the bath.

Allow your toddler to share the limelight. Ask him to introduce guests to his baby brother or sister. Ask a few close relatives or friends to bring a small gift for him also, so he does not feel left out.

Encourage your toddler to call his new brother or sister by their name. Months of saying “the baby” (or whatever it was you called your growing bump) will be hard to change. Gently encourage him to call the new baby by her name.

While you are breastfeeding, make sure your toddler is safe and occupied. This is especially important when there are no other adults at home. Before you begin to breastfeed, give your toddler the special toy, book or video that is only for breastfeeding time (but be aware that the novelty will wear off). Many mothers find that it can be helpful for a young child to have a baby doll of their own to care for. Make sure that you have a drink and your toddler has something he can drink and eat as he is sure to ask as soon as you are a comfortably breastfeeding.. Take the phone off the hook or have the cordless phone by your side. Be prepared for interruptions.

Spend as much one-on-one time with your toddler as you can. Even just spending fifteen minutes with your toddler each time your baby goes to sleep can make a huge difference. Have a few special toys or books that are only for you and your toddler, that only come out when your baby is asleep or being cared for by someone else. These need not be new activities – you could paint or draw or do something that your toddler enjoys. Make this a special time for you and your toddler. Going for a walk to the park, with your new baby in a sling, can give you time with your older child, but can also boost your own energy levels.

Be consistent.Your life is changing at an amazing rate but your toddler still needs consistency. Try to keep bedtimes and the bedtime routine the same, even if it is your partner who is putting her to bed and not you. Keep other special daily or weekly routines intact as much as possible.

Rest.Your new baby and your toddler both need a mummy. Don’t let yourself get overtired by trying to do too much. If your toddler and baby are both sleeping at the same time, that is a cue for you to sleep too. Your toddler may be prepared to play quietly while you doze. Visitors don’t expect a tidy house and you can put them to good use by asking them to assist with simple chores while they are there. If you are genuinely not sleepy then take some time out for yourself. Even fifteen minutes with a magazine article and a glass of water can do wonders for your energy levels. Whatever it is, make sure you remember to look after yourself.

This is a special time in the life of your young family. Relax-it will help you and your toddler adjust to the changes that will occur in your growing family.

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