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How to prepare your little one for a new sibling

Pregnant mom with family

Your concerns around the arrival of your second child may be very different than your first; top of which might be how to prepare your little one for a new sibling. Expert help is at hand…

Before baby arrives

The trick in your last few months and weeks of pregnancy is to plan ahead and prepare yourself and your older children for the adjustment. Organise baby supplies, pre-cook meals, register with an online grocery delivery service, and stock the pantry. Considering your toddler’s level of understanding, explain what’s going to happen and assure her that having another baby will not affect how much you love her. Invite your toddler to help you set up the nursery, it will make her feel special and involved, and keep the arrival of the new baby exciting and positive.

At the time of the birth

The first meeting may well influence how your first child feels about and reacts to his sibling. It’s important to be cognisant and accommodating of his feelings.

Visiting hours

Decide if you will have your toddler visit you in hospital, or if he would be better off staying at home while you give birth. “If you suspect that saying goodbye to your toddler when he has to leave the hospital without you will be tricky, prepare him by having dad or gran explain that he’s going to meet his new baby sibling, then when the timer goes off (this could be an egg timer or a timer on a cell phone or a sticker placed on a clock to show when the time is up), he will give mom and new baby a love and then go home. Having a concrete and visible image of time passing will help your little one understand,” says occupational therapist for Nubabi, Lourdes Bruwer.

“Keep to your planned goodbye routine (just one hug, one kiss and then have dad or gran pick him up and take him out), don’t be tempted to draw out the goodbye (eg just give mommy one more hug or one more kiss!) as this will make it difficult for your little one. It’s vital that you also stay bright and positive as your sensitive little one will pick up on any anxiety or guilt feelings you may be having. Giving him a transition object or task may also be helpful, for instance – you could give him a special cuddle toy to take home with him or ask him to please put their new baby’s wet wipes ready in his nursery for when he comes home. Your eldest will love this Big Boy responsibility!

Having a countdown calendar or chart at home will also help your eldest realise that you will be coming home soon and not staying forever at the hospital.”

The first meeting

Whether at home or in the hospital, when your older child sees you and the new baby for the first time after the birth, be sure to give another adult a turn to cuddle the new baby, freeing up your arms to greet your eldest and give some much needed attention.

Let the eldest receive a gift from his youngest, let him choose a gift to give to his new baby sibling too, and let him hold the baby. Avoid saying ‘No’ and ‘Don’t do that’, rather rephrase guidance positively: “Remember to hold his head” or “be gentle with our new baby!” suggests Lourdes.

Bringing baby home

Arriving home after the birth is when most moms find the challenges really begin. It’s important to keep things as normal and as calm as possible, and don’t be shy to ask for help…

Little mommy

Perhaps your can have some baby care toys on hand for when you need to get baby chores done, then your eldest can pretend to busy doing the same chores on his/her own doll or teddy. “My daughter used to sit on her very own breastfeeding chair and feed her doll while I fed her sibling. We would talk about what we were doing and how our babies were enjoying it. This was a very special bonding moment for each of us!” says Lourdes.

Make special time

The best way to reassure your first-born and reinforce your love is to find some special time each day for her. A special outing alone with her or an activity of her choice goes a long way to making a small child feel secure. Having her own-age friends over to play is another great idea, as the focus is on her.

Although she might not be able to verbalise her feelings, it doesn’t mean she isn’t feel angry or jealous. These feelings are quite normal; help her vent in a safe way, like digging a big hole in the garden or shouting into her pillow.

When you don’t have time to play

Mothers-of-two (or more) become the ultimate multi-taskers. Try reading to your toddler while breastfeeding the baby, for example. Or while you’re cooking introduce a kitchen cupboard that can be unpacked.

“Get a few small, non-expensive gifts for your first born and wrap them each individually. Place these small gifts into a basket and when your eldest needs some extra TLC let him pick a toy from his special basket from his little sibling,” says OT Carly Tzanos.

Big sister little sister

Expect a regression in your toddler’s behaviour. She may demand a bottle or dummy again, or start wetting her bed. “This is normal and to be expected. Encourage her by emphasising how important she is as the big sister by giving her stage-appropriate chores (fetching the wet wipes or bum cream, feeding a pet) and praise her in front of others saying what a big help she is and how you wouldn’t be able to care for their new baby without such a helpful big sister. This will encourage your eldest to embrace her new role. Point out the benefits of being a big sister, eg babies can’t eat treats so you are lucky you are the big sister and can eat this sweet. I’m sure baby would love one but can’t yet – only when she is two like you!” says Carly.

You might be worrying about how your love and resource will stretch to include a new baby. Something magical happens when a baby arrives; what you have isn’t divided, it’s multiplied!

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