It is always exciting to find that you are pregnant. Sometimes it is a delightful surprise, or there may be some anxiety. When you already have a child, a new pregnancy always comes with some thoughts about how those children you already have will respond to another baby. This will obviously change the relationship you have with the children. How can you minimise the disruption and maximise the chance of the new baby becoming a loved and welcome addition to the family?
You have a child, some children, and you find you are pregnant again. The way you feel about a new pregnancy depends on many things.
Is this is a planned and much wanted pregnancy?
Is this is a surprise, but one you know will be OK?
Does this pregnancy mean shelving all your plans for changes in lifestyle and greater freedom as your other children develop an independence?
Or is the timing unfortunate for personal reasons?
There are many different circumstances and you, as parents, may feel many different emotions. You might feel that you love the child you have so very much, you couldn’t possibly love another baby as much. You will find that’s wrong, your love expands.
But your child might have complex and very mixed emotions depending on her age. For a three year old, one day represents one thousandth of her whole life, much less of her remembered life, and months are beyond her comprehension.
If you want to give your child the chance to develop a positive relationship with a new baby, the rules are fairly simple.
Nurturing sibling relationships
There is no ideal age gap: two babies born within fourteen months will never really remember a time apart though you will not get any sleep for the longest time; children born two or three years apart would mean that the first child could anticipate the new arrival but might also feel a loss of Mummy; the child who is four or five years older will seem very grown-up but might be spending time at school and could feel deprived. In any event, there is no way of guaranteeing that siblings will get on and become best friends. They may, they may not. You can do a lot to encourage them to love and care for each other.
Don’t let your child know you are pregnant too far in advance – it is usually more meaningful when there is something to see or feel. Don’t promise your child a wonderful playmate – the baby will seem quite boring for a long time and won’t be able to play with the child for some months. Playing football together will take even longer!! As the time gets closer, involve your child in preparations. She can help you choose things for the baby, she can fetch things down from the attic and help you clean them while you tell stories about how she used to sleep in this cot, or use this stroller. She can help you choose colours for the baby and his room, she can be involved in selecting names.
Talk to her about what it was like when you were expecting her. Take opportunities to tell your child how much you love her and how helpful she is. Explain to her what is likely to happen when the new baby is due; if Mummy is planning to go to hospital, take her and show her where it is. Help the child to choose a present for the baby; have a present ready for the baby to give to her. When friends and relations visit, encourage them to make a fuss of the big sister, and to refer to her ‘what a beautiful baby you have’, ‘does he cry a lot?’ etc, ideally to bring gifts for her as well as for the baby. The baby won’t mind a bit, his big sister will.
Remember that any new baby makes existing children look huge. We all remember picking up a new baby after holding a six month old and almost throwing them into the air because they are so light. Strangely, your two year old little girl will now look so grown-up, it might be hard to remember sometimes that other children are still just children. A new baby requires regular feeding, bathing and sleeps. It is quite easy to involve older siblings in this. Big sister can bring things for you, sit cuddled by you and listen to a story while you feed, check on the sleeping baby – always being the important person who helps you make it all possible.
Point out when the baby smiles at her, boast to others how much she is helping. Make sure you have some time to spend with the older child so that she isn’t suddenly totally deprived of the most important person in her life. Many children regress a little when a new baby is born, perhaps trying to reclaim some of the attention they feel they might have lost. Don’t be surprised if they go back to a bottle for drinks or wet the bed or can’t walk as far as they could and want carrying. Don’t deal with it by reminding her she is a big girl, she wants to be cherished as much as she sees the baby is, as she feels she used to be. But if you can make the older child feel a significant part of the family ‘management’, this should be a short phase. She will soon be the proud older sister who shows the baby off to all comers, and teaches the baby to smile, walk, talk and become a big girl just like her.