By Yvette O’dowd
By the time you read this, my third grandchild will be welcomed by his two big sisters! Aged seven and nearly four, their preparations for a new sibling in the rollercoaster which has been 2020 have been made within two lockdown periods, school hopping on and off-site, moving to a new house, and – oh, bushfire smoke right back at the start!
I have joked with my daughter about my recommendation of avoiding big changes in the period before or after the arrival of a new baby, but here we all are!
The arrival of a new sibling is one of the most significant events in a young child’s life – and can be a combination of joy and disappointment! By preparing a toddler or older child for what to expect, the transition from baby of the family to big brother or sister can be less overwhelming and a positive experience for all involved.
Involve Your Toddler From The Start
Even very young toddlers quickly work out that something is happening to mummy, so avoid keeping the pregnancy a secret from them. Small children understand more than you think. Talk about babies, introduce your little one to babies in your community and read lots of stories about babies. Let them go along to visits with the midwife or doctor, who will involve them and even let them listen to the heartbeat in mummy’s tummy.
Older children can be involved even more – and might have strong opinions on everything from who will look after them while you are birthing to what you will call the baby! They might like to know all the details about life in the womb, how the baby will be born and also – how the baby actually came to be in there! There are some excellent books available for this age group too.
Avoid Big Changes
Growing up means lots of changes in a toddler’s life – toilet training, moving into a big bed or your own bedroom all need time and take some adjustment. If possible, avoid big changes in the three months before or after the baby arrives. If that means staying in nappies, borrowing a second cot for the newborn or continuing to share your room with your toddler, be assured that any temporary inconvenience will be out-weighed by keeping your toddler’s world as predictable as possible.
Be careful not to load up expectations of responsibility and surrendering infancy. Anxiety around being a big brother or sister, helping mummy or giving up beloved items can be triggered in even the most excited children.
Tell The Truth
The newborn baby will be a great playmate for your toddler – but not for many months or years. Mummy will spend a lot of time feeding and caring for the new baby. Be realistic in what you tell your child – babies are loud when they cry, newborn poo is pretty yucky and umbilical cords will have a clamp on them in the early days. Some babies vomit! Spending time around other mothers and babies in groups like the Australian Breastfeeding Association will expose your toddler to the reality and you can show how babies grow and change.
Give Them Things To Do
The early weeks or months with a baby mean lots of hours sitting in one place while you feed your newborn. This can be hard for an active toddler or pre-schooler who is used to you playing with them and doing lots of things around the home. They will easily become bored and look for their own entertainment … not always with things you would like them to! Activities they can play with near you while you feed will keep them close by and minimise their demands. Forget about sitting in a nursery feeding this baby – you need to be where your older child plays! Set up your chair close by and prepare for feed times by setting out a toy or activity they can play with – puzzles, play dough, books and toys they don’t need your help to use are great. Drinks they can access, snacks which they can graze and a potty nearby make things simpler. And your little helper can be helpful if you show them where you keep nappies, burp cloths and wipes for the baby!
Getting used to a new baby in the family takes time for small children – and their parents! By helping your toddler be prepared, they will adjust sooner and shower the baby with love instead or resentment.
Suggested books for before and after the new baby arrives:
The Second Baby Book How To Cope With Pregnancy Number Two And Create A Happy Home For Your Firstborn And New Arrival Sarah Ockwell-Smith
Hello Baby Jan Overend and Julie Vivas
Happy Birthday Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley
Daddy’s Having a Horse Lisa Shanahan, Emma Quay
There’s A House Inside My Mummy Giles Andreae and Vaness Cabban
What Baby Wants William & Martha Sears
The Mystery of the Breast Victoria de Aboitiz Afra
Milky Moments Ellie Stoneley Jessica DAlton Goode
A ride on mother’s back Emery Bernhard
Carried on your back Ida Theren
Carry me Rena D. Grossman
What does baby want? Tupera Tupera
Baby + me: a unique story book for big brothers and sisters Lauren Gardiner and Grace West
Hello in There! A Big Sister’s Book of Waiting Jo Witek
Baby Business Jasmine Seymour
Yvette O’Dowd is not your typical grandmother! This mother of three and Granny of three has been a breastfeeding counsellor for more than 25 years. In 2014, Yvette established the Southern Natural Parenting Network, incorporating South Eastern Babywearing Group. With 8000 members world-wide, the group supports parents interested in breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, baby-led weaning and modern cloth nappies -and other aspects of gentle, natural parenting. Yvette has lived in Frankston for 45 years