Hi all! Caitlin here to talk to you about big change: adding a new baby to our family and helping toddlers adjust!
Mom Guilt During Pregnancy
My first daughter, Aileen, will be two years and one month old when her little sister is born. It feels like a big change for me. I’m nervous about the newborn fog, the sleep deprivation, and how our family will adjust to my need to physically recover/rest. For Aileen, I can only imagine at this point how she will be feeling when the new baby comes home. It will be the biggest change in her little life!
One of the most difficult parts of this pregnancy has been feeling that the physical symptoms have gotten in the way of me being the best mom I can be. There have been days when I’ve needed to rest so badly that Aileen and I have watched more TV than I care for.
There have been evenings when eating is so difficult I have to leave my husband to do bedtime solo. It's been difficult feeling guilty but I’ve learned that much like the sleeplessness of the third trimester prepares you for the newborn phase, the physical toll of pregnancy has been an important part of preparing our family for the new baby.
It has forced me to rest and recognize when I need to focus on mine and baby’s health. It’s given Aileen the chance to learn that it's ok that mom isn’t constantly available. Like a test run of no longer being the only child before the real thing comes. Suddenly my energy and focus cannot be 100% on her. We have grown through this stage as we prepare for the next.
Throughout my pregnancy, I have tried to prepare her for what’s to come. Here’s how I did it.
Preparing Your First Born for New Baby
1. Choose stories and media that talk about new babies
Stories can help connect important ideas for little ones. An important theme for me has been reinforcing how awesome it is that Aileen is getting big and can be a helper.
Many children’s books feature parents and babies. These can often be used to talk to kids about your growing family. For example, if we encounter a picture of a bear with two cubs, I make sure to talk to Aileen about how the babies are sisters. I also talk about how lucky the mama is to have two babies.
Little Baby Bum also has songs for just about every toddler occasion, including an excellent one about new baby siblings.
But my absolute favorite resource on siblings is the series of episodes on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood introducing Daniel’s little sister, Margaret. Featuring some of the wholesome aspects many of us remember from the parent show (Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood), Daniel explains big feelings through simple songs. It has really helped Aileen connect the abstract of my belly growing to getting a new baby.
2. Name and talk about the baby
I know this one can be challenging but I think it's important.
My husband and I chose to find out the gender with each of my pregnancies. This way, we can choose a name early. I find calling the baby by name helps me connect to new baby, and the same holds true for Aileen.
If you aren’t ready to choose a name, or if you want to keep that big surprise for the delivery room, consider a personal nickname. And let your child know whats going on.
“Mama has to go to the doctor today. The doctor has to make sure the baby is ok.”
“Oh, the baby is kicking Mama’s belly hard today.”
“Do you think the new baby will like that toy?”
Some mornings when I go into Aileen’s room the first thing she does is kiss my belly and say hi to her little sister. It's amazing how much these little humans can understand if we take the time to give them the words.
3. Include Big Sibling in Baby Preparations
This was probably the biggest step to getting Aileen to understand the upcoming change, and we started early. We slowly cleaned out my office and moved her things into her new big kid room. We took several weeks, and she helped us do a lot of the work.
Then we talked about how that was sister’s room now. I also included Aileen in getting her old room ready for the new baby. She helped me organize all my breastfeeding supplies.
We sorted toys and put all the very baby ones away. Since Aileen was potty training at the same time, we sorted through all her clothes and diapers. While we did each task we talked about baby.
Aileen is ready to be a big sister and will tell you what is hers and what is her sister’s. I hope the sharing spirit continues when she is really here!
What Comes Next?
I believe it's our job as parents not to shield our children from challenges, but to guide them through and give them the tools to go forward. Talking in advance and giving warnings helps most kids through any transition and I hope that I’ve given Aileen enough to prepare her for the change that will be becoming a big sister.
Next month, I’ll share my experience of having a newborn and a toddler and how we ensure that Aileen knows she is still special and loved in a time of high demands. Stay tuned as the adventure continues!
Have you experienced adding a second (or more) children to your family? Share your advice and experiences in the comments (I’d sure appreciate it!).