But even if you’re going into round two with more confidence, there is one important member of your family that will be need some guidance – your firstborn. Here are some ways you can help make sure that your whole family is ready to expand.
Talk About your New Family Roles
As a first step, it may be helpful to start discussing some of new family roles you will all have, such as:
- Your toddler. The sooner you prepare your first born for their new role, the better. Start with the big brother/sister conversation. And be sure not to talk with your toddler only about how you are going to have a baby, but also about how they are going to be a big brother or sister. Be sure to frame it in a way that the change includes them, and not just the baby. You could do things such as have daily conversations with your toddler about them helping with diapers, burping the baby, and showing the baby how to use their toys. Focus on the importance of their new role and how valuable their help will be to you.
- Your partner. If you have a partner, discuss some ways that they can take a more proactive role in caring for your older child, if needed. If you have been the primary parents for things such as baths, bedtime, night wakings, and activities, it’s time to slowly make the shift to your partner taking the lead. You could start by having your partner join you and your toddler for bath time. Each night, have your partner take over more of the bath routine. If your toddler protests, slow down the transition.
- Ideally, your only role will be being primarily responsible for your recovery, and that’s it. And while this is easier said than done, remember a healthy mom = a healthy family.
Switch Up the Sleep Routine
Is your toddler going to be evicted from their crib when the new baby comes? If yes, make the transition now. It can be a scary thought, especially if they sleep well in the crib, but it’s important to make the switch now, so your older sibling doesn’t feel like the baby is “taking” their crib.
If they have a big room, you can make the transition slow. Keep the crib and bed in their room at the same time. Start with naps in the bed, after a month, attempt bedtime. If you plan to do the transition in one night, talk about the exciting transition in advance and let them pick out fun bedding. Don’t forget to make the room safe. Remove any hazardous items, bolt furniture, and gate doors and/or stairs.
Read Books About Becoming a Big Sibling
Incorporate baby and sibling books into your nightly reading. We loved the books by Mercer Mayer: The New Baby, Just Me and My Little Brother or Just Me and My Little Sister.
Relate the story back to your toddler (ask your toddler if they think the baby will have smelly diapers like the baby in the book). And once the baby arrives, read the books to the baby and toddler together.
Prep Your Support System
Have your support person organized in advanced, specifically for your delivery. Who is caring for your toddler while you are in the hospital? If you are required to stay in the hospital longer than planned, can they commit to a few days and nights? If you go into labor early, is their availability flexible to come earlier than planned?
If it is your first time leaving your toddler overnight, also make sure your support person is comfortable with your toddler’s nightly routine and knows how to safely use the car seat if they will be transporting them anywhere.
Make the Introduction
If you plan to make the big introduction at the hospital, you might consider having a nurse or family member take the baby out of the room (or out of sight) before your toddler arrives. To reduce any feelings of being left out, spend a few minutes bonding as a family of three. Once you have caught up with your toddler, ask for the baby to join the three of you.
And don’t worry about the perfect posed sibling or family photo at the hospital—if your toddler isn’t into it, don’t push it. Sometimes the photos of everyone crying are just as precious. In time, they will want to hold the baby for a happy photo.
Last but not least, it can be helpful to have the new baby “give” a gift to your toddler. You can keep it small and simple at the hospital, such as a coloring book or stickers that will keep them entertained while they visit the new baby.
Give Everyone Time to Adjust
Once the newness and excitement of the hospital wears off, and you’re home, you may find that you all need some time to adjust to your new normal. And every child is different—some toddlers will embrace their new sibling right away, while others will struggle.
It can helpful to try strategies such as:
- Get them involved in the day-to-day activities. Ask them to get the diapers or let them sit with you while you feed them. If you bottle feed, let them hold the bottle.
- Provide notice when you need to attend to the baby, such as, “I’m going to feed the baby in five minutes, so we can read together after.”
- Praise them when they are patient, especially if you had to walk away from them to attend to a crying baby.
- Carve out some quality time with your older child. During the baby’s naptime, spend some time playing with them, or snuggle in bed and read books.
- Try to keep their schedule the same. If they were in daycare, preschool and/or an organized activity, keep them enrolled for as long as your budget allows. This also gives you a break and time alone to bond with the baby.
We won’t lie to you—there will probably be moments when adjusting to your new family will be difficult. Juggling everyone’s emotions and newborn needs is a challenge. You spent the last couple of years solely focused on one child and now need to divide your time. You might feel guilty if you’re not spending enough time with your toddler and there will be times you need to let your newborn cry when your toddler is in need.
And of course, your house will be overflowing with toddler and baby toys, the laundry will never end, and you may wonder if you’ll ever get dressed in real clothes again. But you will be rewarded with sweet moments between the two of your children that will make every challenging moment worth it. Before long, they will be entertaining each other long enough for you to enjoy a hot cup a coffee, which we call a total truly mama win-win.