With Amanda Edson’s first child, she sought out all the information she could. She read the “expecting” books, took the birthing classes and learned how to childproof every aspect of her and her husband’s life.
So when her second pregnancy was announced, she felt a bit more prepared to tackle what lay ahead — except for one aspect: How should she prepare her first child for the arrival of a second child?
We reached out to the experts at UCHealth to provide Amanda — and all those second-timers out there — with some helpful tips and advice to make sure you’ve covered on all the bases in preparing your child for a new baby.
When should I start preparing my child for a new baby?
“I think once you’ve announced the new baby to friends and family, then it’s safe to start talking about the new one’s arrival to your first child,” said UCHealth pediatrician Dr. Heather Isaacson. “Younger children don’t understand the concept of time well, but including them as much as possible will help them feel a part of things and help with the transition once the baby is there.”
Isaacson recommends that parents bring their child to an appointment where they can listen to the baby’s heartbeat or see them through an ultrasound.
“That is more real to them, as it’s hard to think of this abstract concept of a baby growing inside of mom,” she said.
What should I be doing during pregnancy?
Talk to your child, especially toddlers, about being safe around you. Toddlers tend to jump around a lot. Their elbows, knees and feet seem to fly in all directions—both during fun play and during those not-so-pleasant outbursts. This can lead moms to worry about the safety of their unborn when an accidental jab lands on their protruding bellies.
But have no fear, that baby is well protected, according to OB-GYN Dr. Amy Johnson, of UCHealth Longmont Clinic.
But Isaacson still has some good advice: “Sometimes toddlers can be rougher than you want them to be, so it’s good practice to have them learn control for when that new baby comes.”
How do I keep all my children safe?
Although you’ve already childproofed the house before, every child is different, Isaacson said.
“Just because the older child didn’t get into it, doesn’t mean the new one won’t,” she said. “Keep watching to see what their curiosities are.”
Childproofing is important because it frees the parents from constantly having to tell a child “no” or redirecting them, Isaacson said.
UCHealth OB-GYN Dr. Jenny Kim suggested letting the older child be involved in the childproofing process.
“Give them an empty toilet paper roll, and anything that fits through that tube is too small for the baby,” she said. “It really helps them understand the concept of too small. Then have them help you organize those toys into a safe place in the home.”
Depending on the sibling’s age, they still may struggle to comprehend the needs of a newborn, thus putting the baby in danger when they believe they are “helping.”
“Younger ones just don’t understand and don’t have that judgment,” Isaacson said. “They might be trying to help; they give the baby food thinking they are sharing. They just can’t be left alone at all — always bring one with you when you leave the room. Always.”
Isaacson said she recommends to her patients — for sons as well as daughters — to get them a doll or stuffed animal that they can care for.
“They can practice being gentle, and then once the baby is here, it is fun for toddlers and preschoolers to have their own baby to take care of. They like to pretend, and it gives them a job and makes them feel important.”
‘Important’ time is key for your first child
“If parents (especially mom) can each do 10 to 15 minutes a day of what they call special time with their older child — make a big deal of it, call it special time and let them choose what it is — it helps that child feel important too,” she said.
Another helpful tip is to show the older sibling, especially with a toddler-age sibling, that rules are the same for everyone, even the baby. For example, if the parent is with the toddler and the baby cries, the parent can tell the baby — out loud so the toddler can hear — to wait just one minute while they finish x, y, z.
“The baby doesn’t understand, but the toddler will see that the baby has to wait too — that it goes both ways — and it helps them learn that siblings sometimes have to wait,” Isaacson said. “It’s a good lesson for your toddler.”
Get educated: Preparing my child for a new baby
Many communities offer sibling classes that help siblings and parents make a smoother transition to a larger family. There also are many great books about becoming a big brother or big sister, Isaacson said.
Family education classes: https://www.uchealth.org/services/community-health/family-education/
“It’s good to read them several times well in advance of the new baby to introduce the topic and have the discussion with your child,” she said. “They’re at a prime age to enjoy books, and it’s a nice way to bring up those topics.”
Isaacson said she tells parents that it takes about one to two months for the first child to forget what life was like without the second child. She’s hopeful that these tips will help parents get through that transition period and move on to the new “normal.”