*This is part 4 of a series of posts about what it's like to go from having one baby to two.
More to come!*
A big reason why the second pregnancy is different is because you already have child #1 running amongst your house, to care for and think about. Part of that involves preparing your child for becoming a big brother or sister. Here are a few things to remember as you not only nest around the home washing baby clothes and setting up the bassinet, remember your first child needs you even more right now.
How to prepare big baby for a new sibling:
*Nest slowly. Don't rush to change your house, take out all the baby stuff all at once. Do it gradually. Slow it down, be patient, and understand that it will confuse your child if all of a sudden all the baby stuff is out, yet they are not allowed to play on it and there is no baby in sight for months to come. Take things out a little at a time so it's not overwhelming to them.
* Play - baby dolls, feeding, diapers, etc. My niece gave my son a baby doll and we got it some bottles and gave him some old smaller diapers to put on it. He ignored it at first and then just started playing with it as I got bigger in the belly and as we started taking out some baby items like the swing, bouncer chair, etc. It was sweet to see him playing with it. We could insert things into conversation also that we wanted him to know when baby was here - like don't be rough with her, be gentle, and suggesting baby was crying so she needed to be held, etc. Kids learn through playing, so help them realize what some of this baby thing is about with dolls.
* Independence - Because I knew I was going to have another C-section I tried very hard early on in my pregnancy to teach my son to walk up and down our stairs, get in and out of his car seat and high chair, etc. by himself so that he would be used to me not picking him up as much. I know some of you may see that as sad, feeling guilty you can't do it all for your child, but honestly seeing how proud they are of their new independence is exciting. Even if your recovery is smooth after baby comes home you are still going to be holding baby more and not able to pick up your big kid, so preparing for this change in advance is helpful. At the same time as I write that you should encourage your child to do things on his own, do NOT push your child into doing things before he's ready. Don't just move your child from crib to big bed because baby is coming. You have months before you'll need to do that. Same goes for potty training, don't do it just on your time schedule, wait until you see signs and then encourage that part.
*Daddy Daycare - Get dad involved ASAP if he's not already. Put him on bath, bed time, lunch, etc duty. Let him take over the bed time reading routine. Let him pack the daycare lunches. Send dad to the grocery store with little one more often. You need a break during pregnancy anyway, so take advantage of it. My husband has always been a super involved father, but when we brought home our daughter he became almost solely the one taking care of our son for a few weeks until I was back up and moving after surgery. It helped that my son was used to his dad doing things with him all the time anyway so this did not seem like a change to him. Those of you who have dads who are working a lot or just not picking up the slack, get them moving in on the action now so that it's less of a shock to them and your child when you need their help. Big reminder here: Dads won't do it just like we moms do it - and that's OK! Let them do it their way. Your child will survive and when baby is here you'll be too busy to notice anyway.
* Read - There are tons of great books out there about becoming a big sibling, bringing home a new baby, etc. One of our favorites was Arthur's New Baby. These books talk about all the feelings kids might have about a new sibling (that they get all the attention, that babies cry a lot and aren't so much fun in the beginning because they sleep a lot, too, that guests typically bring baby things and not the big kid, etc.). I found these books helpful for me even to realize what my son might be thinking.
* Hype- Make it cool to become a big sibling with special shirts or other things that say "Best Big Sister Ever" on them. Help your child realize this is such a cool thing, a fun thing they are about to do. Talk about all the great things big siblings get to do that babies can't do. Make it a positive change for them.
*Attention - Have other people come over to help play with him to get him used to you not doing it all. Start this early on and definitely enlist some friends and family to play with your older one when baby comes home from the hospital. Special play dates or even just playing at home one-on-one is so helpful. Before baby comes make sure you give your big kid lots of special attention also. They know something is changing, different, about to be strange, but they don't understand it - no matter their age, they can't get it until it happens. I took my son to the playground, out for cookies, and played in the beach sand before my daughter was born as a special mommy and Owen day. I highly encourage parents to do this - if not for your child then for you. It's sad losing that total one-on-one time with our big kids, so having a sort of farewell to that helps us acknowledge it a little better I think.
*Structure. Keep a routine as much as possible before and then during baby's arrival. I never understood why people would send their big kid to daycare when they were home with the baby. I was so naive! When you are up all night with a newborn, recovering from birth, and sooo busy with a newborn's feeding schedule there is little time and energy to spend with a toddler or older child, which causes you to feel bad that they are not getting what they need either. It was the best for all of us to have my son go on his regular routine of going to daycare every day. He stayed home with us the first week while my husband was around to spend special time with him, but after that he went to daycare. It was so good for him. He'd come home and play with us for a few hours before bed and miss the baby and slowly adjust to having her there since he was only with her a few hours a day. With a newborn, things are chaotic and you aren't on a schedule in the beginning, but you need to remember that your toddler has been on a routine for months maybe even years now so you need to do your best to stick to that for his sake. During big changes like this kids need to know that everything is OK, it's all the same as it was despite there being a new person here. Structure helps them feel that it really is normal. Along with structure for the routines, have your child's favorite things on hand like their favorite snacks, etc.
*Expectations. Don't really have them! Expect setback, baby type behavior. Have patience, it's overwhelming for them all these changes. It's normal for kids to want to drink from a bottle now or whine more or cry more or need to be picked up more. Indulge them slightly and offer tons of hugs and kisses and special time together, yet again stay with the routine and structure. They need this. So while your child will try to drink from the baby's bottle you can say something like, "You think it's cool to drink from the baby's bottle, don't you? You used to drink from a bottle like that. But now you're a big boy who can do all kinds of big kid things like ride your bike, too, so you don't need a bottle. Do you want your cup now?" Empathize and redirect.
*Doctor's visit. Early on in my pregnancy I had to take my son with me to the doctor's visit because I had nobody to watch him. It ended up being a great thing because he heard the baby's heartbeat there and for the rest of my pregnancy he would get out his doctor kit toy stethoscope and check my belly's heartbeat. It was his way of really getting involved and connecting to my pregnancy. While I would not have wanted to take him to most appointments (doctor's office, waiting, patience, high-tech expensive things do NOT equal a grand place for a busy toddler boy!) it was really cool to take him once to see what it was all about.
*Hospital. Make a good plan ahead of time for who will take care of your child while you are in the hospital. Will dad go home at night to put her to bed? Will grandparents stay at your home with your child in her regular bed and routine? Put together a bag of things that can be taken to and from the hospital with your child. It can serve as a diaper bag too (spare clothes, diapers, wipes, etc.), snacks, coloring book and crayons (hospitals are boring to kids!), etc. I also planned to make a list of my son's favorite foods, what times he typically ate breakfast, etc. (never got to doing this, as I went into labor a day sooner than my scheduled C-section!). We wrapped a gift from the baby to my son also that we had at the hospital in my hospital bag (coloring books, reading books, art supplies, shirt, etc.). He loved it and felt like this was not just the baby's special day but also his celebration, too.
Also make a plan for that first meeting between big baby and new baby. Do you want just you 4 in the room together, nobody else? Do you want someone to video tape it or take pictures? I had this big thing about not having my son see me holding the newborn baby when he walked into the room. I wanted him to come see me first, adjust to seeing me look weird and tired from a surgery, and then bring the baby to me and him. I don't know why, but I got so fixated on this and emotional over it. Well, he arrived sooner than we thought he would and I was holding the baby and he was fine. But talk this through beforehand with your partner if you do have ideas about it. We did not get great pictures of our son first meeting his sister, something I really regret. It was always so busy and chaotic, trying to contain our busy toddler in a hospital room full of new things to touch and play with, that the pictures were rushed. I wish we'd taken more time with it.
*Wait. Don't push your big kid into liking her new sibling. She will do it when she's ready. She will want to hold, kiss, snuggle, etc. the new baby soon enough. But for now it's confusing (is it even real? is it staying here? where did it come from?). Let your child go to the baby, not the other way around.
*Do your best. No matter how much you do you cannot prepare them entirely. There will be things that you didn't prepare for or know would bother him, it's just life, does not make you a bad parent. All kids react differently to stress, change, new baby, so just accept that it is what it is and it WILL improve.
A great article I found on this topic: