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Introducing a New Baby into Your Family

When you’re having a second baby, it’s normal for your child to feel anxious or even jealous. But there are things parents can do to make the transition easier, starting before the baby arrives.

The most important: talk to your child about their new sibling. Adding a new family member will be easier and more exciting if your child feels involved. You can also incorporate the suggestions below, which were compiled using recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you’d like to have a book on hand with this type of information, try Moms on Call.

1-2 years

Toddlers won’t fully understand what it means to have a new sibling, and that’s okay. The important thing is to let them hear you talk about the baby so they can share in your excitement.

Before the baby arrives:

  • Look at picture books about a new baby
  • Let your child touch your tummy
  • Use words like “brother,” “sister” and “new baby,” and stress how important it is to be a “big brother” or “big sister”

When the baby arrives:

  • Reassure your child is still loved
  • Allow them to pick out a gift for the baby to give at the hospital, and have the baby “give something” to your older child as well
  • Let your child spend some special time alone with your partner, dad, aunt, grandma, or other loved one while you’re in the hospital

2-4 years

Many parents say preschoolers have the hardest time adapting to a new sibling. At this age, your child is still very attached to you and may not want — or understand how — to share you with anyone else. Your child may feel afraid of how your family will change or feel threatened by the new baby.

One way to help is by waiting until you’re a little further along in the pregnancy to tell your child about the baby. Outward signs such as your belly growing or setting up a nursery may help the child process the information more easily. But be sure you’re the person to give this news so your child hears it from someone they trust.

Before the baby arrives:

Involve your preschooler in planning:

  • Read books about being a big brother or big sister
  • Explain in age-appropriate terms how the baby is growing
  • Consider enrolling in your hospital or birthing center’s sibling class
  • Go shopping for baby items together
  • Let your child “help” set up the nursery
  • Show them their own baby pictures
  • Buy a doll so your child can take care of their baby
  • If you are going to use your child’s old baby things, let him play with them before the baby comes

Be honest. Explain that:

  • When the new baby comes, you will be away from home for a few days
  • The baby will be cute but will also cry and take lots of time and attention
  • It may be awhile before the new baby can play
  • You will love them just as much after the baby is born

Time out big developmental changes so your child doesn’t feel overwhelmed or associate them with the new baby:

  • Finish toilet training or put it off until after the baby is settled
  • Switch from a crib to a bed
  • Change rooms if needed

Expect your child to regress a little. It’s normal for:

  • A toilet-trained child to start having accidents
  • A child to ask for a bottle
  • A child to ask for you to hold or rock them like you do the baby

This is just your child’s way of making sure they still have your love and attention. When these things happen, don’t tell him to act his age. Simply give attention and praise him when they act more grown-up.

When the baby arrives:

In addition to the gift exchange and one-on-one time with a special adult, try to make your children’s first meeting special to create positive associations. This doesn’t need to be complicated:

  • If there’s a park or kid-friendly restaurant nearby, consider having a relative take the child there before or after visiting the new baby for the first time
  • You could also have dad or your partner take the child to the gift shop to get a toy for or visit the cafeteria for ice cream

Be sure you’re not holding the baby when your older child arrives to the hospital room for the first time. If your child’s first interaction with a younger sibling is seeing “their” parents holding another baby instead, that can trigger feelings of insecurity or worry about being “replaced.” Ask a relative to hold the baby instead.

Ask family and friends to spend time with your older child when they come to see the baby so he feels special and involved. If you know they’re likely to bring gifts, ask them to bring your older child a small treat as well, or let them open your gifts with you.

At home:

Set aside special alone time to read, play games or talk with your child

If you are breastfeeding

  • Be ready to explain what you’re doing and answer questions
  • If you breastfed your older child, tell him that

When you feed the baby

  • Create a routine that involves your older child, such as having them get you a pillow and playing with a special toy or workbook while you do it
  • Your child may also enjoy cuddling next to you

5-10 years

Children 5 and older aren’t typically as threatened by a new baby, but they may resent the shift of attention at points. In addition to the tips above, try the following:

Before the baby arrives:

Explain what having a new baby means and how your family may change

  • Ask your child if they have questions, talk about what they are excited to teach the baby and discuss the things they are worried about, too
  • Consider collecting a few small gifts or treats so you can have them on hand to give to your older child in case friends visit with gifts for the new baby

When the baby arrives:

In addition to the gift exchange and one-on-one time with a special adult, have your older child come to the hospital soon after the baby is born so they don’t feel left out.

At home:

Let your child interact and help with the baby:

  • Tell your child they can hold the baby if they ask you first
  • Praise them when they’re gentle and loving toward the baby
  • Give your child “important jobs” such as helping you feed the baby or picking out clothes

If your child acts out:

  • Try to ignore small behaviors so your child will look for a positive way to get your attention instead
  • If your child tries to harm the baby, have a serious talk about safety and behavior

Don’t overlook your older child’s needs and activities

  • Continue to take pictures of your older child alone, not just with the baby
  • Spend time alone with your child each day and remind them how special they are

No matter how well your child gets along with the baby, don’t leave them alone. Supervision is recommended for any newborn with a sibling younger than age 12.


Older children and teens

It’s normal for teens or pre-teens to be more interested in their own lives than they are in babies, which may be harder for you than it is for the child. Give them space and don’t force a connection. A bond will develop over time, but it’s easier if the child doesn’t feel pressured.

You can also involve your child in caring for the baby in ways that don’t feel like a chore:

  • Don’t force them to babysit or change diapers
  • Ask them to play with the baby while you cook dinner
  • Let them feed the baby a new food for the first time

Adoption

Adopting a new sibling is a very different experience, though some of the tips above can be helpful. Click here to read more about adoption and siblings.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville). As senior copywriter at bohan, she is a writer, editor and social media strategist.

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WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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