How to help your child adjust to the new baby

How to help your child adjust to the new baby

by Catherine Nelson-Williams

Helping your child adjust to the new baby is an issue a lot of Mums worry about – I know I certainly spent a lot of time worrying about this during my second pregnancy. After all, my toddler had enjoyed my undivided attention for 3 whole years and had never had to worry about sharing me with another child!

Helping your child adjust to the new baby

I’ll always remember the morning of my c-section - I crawled into my son Maxi's bed at 5am and whispered to him that Mummy was off to the hospital so his baby sister could “pop out” (his funny way of articulating birth). His little hands grabbed my face and he kissed me on the nose, each cheek, each eyelid, lips, and my forehead for good measure. It was such a special moment – almost as if he knew subconsciously that I needed his assurance that he’d be ok without me for the next few days.

Meeting sibling for the first time

Two days after my daughter was born, I was waiting on my husband to bring Maxi in to meet his little sister. He’d been prepped to call me beforehand to make sure I was ready and not in the midst of feeding, and to make sure they brought the special present that he’d chosen for his little sister. There I was, boobs out and exhausted after what felt like hours of cluster feeding when I suddenly heard their voices coming down the corridor. No warning call. In burst my little boy, who suddenly looked so much bigger than I remembered. Trying not to glare at my husband, I attempted to disengage little miss barracuda so I could give my son a big hug. He was thrilled to receive a present from his baby sister and dumped her carefully chosen pink and white crochet octopus on her newborn head after giving her a little kiss. Despite the shaky beginning all seemed to be going well, and he gazed at his little sister in awe, who thankfully had fallen asleep. The plan was for them to stay for an hour or so and then head back home. I’d had a c-section and was due to stay in the hospital for another 2 nights. I could start to see in his little face the dawning realization that Mummy wasn’t going to be coming home with them.

Just before they were about to leave, a nurse popped in to take my vitals and I hugged him next to me and explained what she was doing, trying to be as upbeat as possible. She left and his little voice piped up and wobbled – “but Mummy, the doctor checked you and you’re ok – so you can come home Mummy” – it was all I could do to stop the tears from flowing when his little face broke as I explained I had to stay. I heard him crying out for Mummy all the way back down the corridor and it totally broke my heart.

In hindsight, it might have been better to wait until the day I was coming home to have brought him in, and we could have gone home together as a family. But looking back, overall I think we managed the transition from family of 3 to family of 4 quite well!

Wondering what to pack in your hospital bag?

These were the main strategies we used to help our son adjust to becoming an older sibling:

Talk to your toddler about the new baby

My son loved hearing about what size his little sister was in my belly, especially when I compared the size to a fruit or veggie (wow, she’s as big as an avocado!). I let him choose a special toy for her nursery and asked him his opinion when we were choosing baby items.

Where possible, avoid any major routine changes close to the birth

In the 6 months before my daughter was due, I knew we had a few big milestones to overcome – moving my son to a big bed and also saying goodbye to his beloved dummy. We made sure we did both of these at least 3 months before she was born to minimize any potential stress close to the birth. Other major milestones might be potty training or starting daycare.

Change everyday routines slowly, and as early as possible

One thing we did early on was to have my husband start doing the bedtime routine with Maxi. I’d always been the one to put him to bed, but I knew that might not always be possible with a new baby, so we slowly made this into a new routine. He’s 6 now and still loves Daddy to do the bedtime story and lie down with him as he falls asleep.

Include your older child, but only if they’re interested

My son loved helping out with his little sister, bringing the nappy over or change of clothes so I tried to include him in the process as much as possible. But there were days where he wasn’t interested in her at all, and that was fine too.

baby with older sibling helping your child adjust to the new baby

Talk to them about their feelings

This one is age dependent, but with my son being 3 I was able to have simple conversations with him about how it must feel hard to share Mummy, and that it was ok for him to feel that way. I still remember him sobbing “it’s so hard Mummy” but it having me help articulate those feelings made a huge difference.

Create one on one time with your older childCreate one-on-one time with your older child

This is so important and especially in the early days, they actually need you much more than the newborn who just needs to eat, sleep, poo/pee and snuggle. Emotionally your toddler needs to know that they are just as important, and be reminded that you are still their Mummy, as well as the baby’s. I took this photo of Maxi on a little Mummy/son cake date at a local café - you can see the happiness oozing out of his little face to be back spending one on one time with Mum.

Be prepared with some new toys/activities for when they’re feeling sensitive or jealous

I stocked up on some new books, puzzles, stickers and small toys which came in handy for those times where I needed to distract my son from feeling jealous or needing my attention whilst I was feeding. I never managed being able to read a book to him and feed the baby at the same time so even though I’d read that advice countless times I wasn’t able to do it – I needed two hands to get the latch on! (A bit like pumping one boob while feeding on the other – say what?!)

Before your older child knows it, they will barely remember the time that they didn’t have a little brother or sister. The look of love your little one will have for their older sibling is SO special and magical and a look that only they will experience! (just look at my photos and I have countless more!) As with everything in early motherhood, the difficult phase will pass, I promise – well at least until they are bickering older siblings a few years down the track!

sibling love They'll barely remember the time they didn't have a sibling

You can clearly see the look of love for big bro in these pics! The other day she announced she wants to play rugby in Maxi's team when she's older "because my brother is the best" 

If you have any extra tips for introducing a new baby to an older sibling, feel free to comment below!

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3 Comments

  1. Your kids are just gorgeous Catherine! Love this post, and I completely agree. One other tip I would add is for mums – don’t be surprised if the jealousy takes some time to emerge, sometimes it’s not until the little ones are more active and start taking their toys and being more demanding that behaviour issues pop up as they look for more attention again.

    1. Thank you Tanya! That’s a great tip and so true, the jealousy can definitely emerge later especially when the little one is more active and grabbing the eldest ones things! x

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