Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Photos: Suzie Blake
Updated March 2016
Mother’s situation: From one to two
I am expecting a baby and worrying about how my three-year-old will cope with making the transition from being the center of our world to becoming a big brother, and I wonder how I will cope, too. He still nurses a little and I’m happy for that to continue. What have other mothers done before the birth to prepare a sibling for the baby’s arrival? What can I do after the birth to help my toddler still feel loved and needed?
The arrival of a new baby changes the family dynamic and involves adjustment for everybody. When I was expecting my second baby, I worried that my little boy would feel displaced by the baby because I knew it was inevitable the baby’s needs would often have to take priority over his. Up to this point we’d been constant companions. I thought I might resent the new baby, too, if he prevented us from carrying on our life in the routine we were used to enjoying. When the baby arrived, things did change but we changed too so that neither of us resented the newcomer.
I realized my heart was big enough to love them both and my little boy began to grow. He learned useful life lessons about waiting (while I fed and changed the baby), sharing (me!) and helping (by fetching diapers, the phone and his own snacks). We did have to alter some of our routines to work around the baby, but we still did lots of activities together.
It can be easy to (and sometimes almost impossible not to) come out with an endless list of reasons why the baby is preventing you from doing what your child is waiting for, but with a little forethought you can rephrase things so as not to blame the baby.
Instead of saying, “We can’t go to the park until after I’ve fed the baby and changed his diaper,” you can try, “How about we go for a walk to the park after you’ve eaten those crackers and seen how high you can build those toy bricks?”
Other simple things can help keep the transition to becoming an older sibling positive. By making him feel that he’s been promoted to tasks (such as getting himself dressed, helping load the laundry and laying the table) all things that his baby sister can’t do, you help him grow in confidence as well as adopt a measure of independence.
My big boy began to spend more time with daddy and enjoy having his undivided attention on occasions and he increasingly sought out the company of new friends, too. Having children is hard work and when you’ve a couple there will be challenging times but twice the joy too!
Miriam Schmidt, Bern, Switzerland
I think it is a really normal feeling to be worrying about how to prepare a toddler for the arrival of a new baby. We didn’t do much practical preparation for going from one to two. Our daughter was three-and-a-quarter when our second was born but we did do a lot of reading about normal birth (we were planning a home birth) and how it might sound and what a very new baby might look like. We also made a pretty big deal of the fact that the new baby wouldn’t be able to do much for about a year and would need lots of mummy milk! When our second daughter arrived, she managed to give our big girl a new dolly, which she was thrilled with and much more interested in than her little sister for a couple of weeks! Luckily our baby started smiling around four weeks and I would say, “Oh look how much she likes you, she’s smiling at you,” which helped.
I think the biggest practical help with handling two children on my own was using a wrap sling in the house as well as out and about. We didn’t bathe the baby much in the first few weeks. I would have her in the wrap, normally asleep, while her big sister was in the bath and I could even lift her out with the little one safely in the sling. The thing I miss most about those early days is having a baby snuggled up in a wrap on my front, heaven!
Nik Harris, Kingston, London, UK
When I was expecting my second child, I found it easier to broach the subject through story picture books because when I raised the subject at other times, my little boy simply didn’t want to hear about it! Reading him the stories Welcome With Love by Jennifer Overend and Runa’s Birth by Uwe Sillman encouraged him to ask questions about the home birth I had planned and to think about what might happen when our baby was ready to arrive.
Rosie’s Babies by Martin Waddell illustrated beautifully how a mother continues to love her older child and makes her big girl feel special in a gently reassuring and humorous way. And the Katie Morag storybooks by Mairi Hedderwick tell lovely and believable stories with Katie in the role of older sibling with breastfeeding illustrated as the normal way to feed a baby.
A new child means a big change for all the family and I think reading these stories together at bedtime helped both my son and me to look forward to the new baby with anticipation rather than fear!
Jane Smith, Cambridge, UK
Editor’s note: Please share any books you would recommend in this situation in the comments box below!
To prepare your toddler to be a big sibling, you can go to a La Leche League meeting to show the toddler how tiny babies are, and how gently they need to be handled.
Reading books about a new sibling can also help prepare him; my kids enjoyed The Berenstein Bears and the New Baby and A Teeny Tiny Baby by Amy Schwartz, which includes illustrations of breastfeeding. Many moms find it’s easier to include a toddler when breastfeeding, because nursing doesn’t take two hands. One arm can snuggle the big child at your side as you read books together, or you can play some games together as you nurse. Your big kid can sit next to you to nurse his own dolly, too, or play with toys on the floor in front of you as you tend to the baby.
Your toddler can also be complimented for being your “big helper” by bringing diapers and wipes when it’s time to change the baby. Wearing the new baby in a sling or breastfeeding-friendly baby carrier during the day can also help you tend to both children’s needs at the same time.
Tova Ovits, Brooklyn, NY, USA
It can be a big step for you both. It is surprising how you feel so very attached to your older child that you worry whether you will feel the same affection for the new baby growing inside you. But once the new baby arrives, you will get just the same thrill you did for baby number one.
It can help to let your son know about the new baby and how happy you are that he is going to have a baby brother or sister. Tell him that he can help you look after his sibling and say how much he will love the new baby. Tell him about how happy you were when he was born and how proud you are of him now. It can be a bumpy ride initially as your son adjusts to the new sibling, but soon they will become good friends and you will love them both very much.
Sue Cardus, Coventry, UK
I read books with my little one to prepare for the new baby. One showed a mum nursing a baby. At first I avoided pointing that out as I thought my two-year-old might be upset to know the new baby would be taking her milk, but one day she said herself, “Baby having mummy milk” so then we mentioned it each time we read the book and I pointed out baby pigs, sheep, and cows on the farm having milk from their mums too.
Be prepared for your little one wanting to breastfeed more when the new baby arrives, bringing all that lovely milk! My daughter had virtually self-weaned during my pregnancy, but at about 34 weeks started wanting to nurse again in the morning and before bed. Once the baby arrived the requests for milk were virtually constant for a few days. I found that really hard but rolled with it as I felt the new baby would rock her world sufficiently that I didn’t want her to feel rejected. I felt declining her request to nurse was more than just declining a drink since breastfeeding is a source of closeness, affection and security. Sometimes she’d be distracted by an offer of a drink or a snack but when she insisted she wanted to nurse I let her.
The delicate suckling of my newborn made his big sister seem a little rough with her feeding at times. I found her continued breastfeeding a little wearing and was fearful it would go on and on. You may want to consider dedicating those first few days after birth to staying at home so you can feed both children on demand surrounded by understanding family and friends as you may feel a little self-conscious and exposed if you are breastfeeding your older child as well.
Carrying on nursing can be a wonderful way to make your child feel at ease with the new baby. My daughter adores her baby brother. If he is upset she says, “he thinks mummy milk.” And she will try to help me latch him on. They both nurse together before bed; she understands that he needs to nurse for longer and while he carries on feeding, we have a story. After she has a little feed in the morning, she says, “Baby Arthur’s turn” and is most put out if he isn’t interested!
When settling down to feed the baby, I make sure she has a drink or a snack too, and that she has something fun to keep her occupied. Breastfeeding is more than just a way of nourishing your baby and continuing to nurse my daughter helped ease the arrival of a new nursling into our family.
Helen Fogerty, Annecy, France
Mother’s new situation: Please behave!
My toddler’s behavior has recently become very challenging. He has temper tantrums, refuses to do as I ask him, and is often rude or unkind to his sister and friends. Some people tell me that he’ll grow out of this, while my mother-in-law tells me I’m too soft and should punish him. I am finding his behavior difficult to cope with, especially when we are in public. How have other mothers who have lived through such a phase disciplined your unruly children? Can you please share some tips with me?