Tips to Prepare the Whole Family (Toddlers Too) for a New Baby
Jan 12, 2020
by Christine Sterling, M.D., FACOG
“There is no way that one, tiny baby can be that much work!”
This is a direct quote from my brain before my daughter was born. I know my husband was thinking the same thing too.
As two physicians, we thought we had it in the bag, that it would be different for us.
Spoiler Alert: We were wrong.
Now that I’m pregnant with #2, I know how important it is to prepare myself, my relationship and the rest of my life (including my toddler) for postpartum.
I’m going to give you 3 tips for preparing your whole family. Then for the 4th tip I am going to turn it over to my esteemed colleague, Marriage and Family Therapist, Dr. Cassidy to provide us with some information on preparing your child.
Tip #1 Start preparation today.
The best day to start preparing? Yesterday. I’m exaggerating a little BUT I’m not talking about getting a nursery together here. I’m talking about getting clear on the elements of your life that you want to continue after birth. I want you to have clarity around what brings you joy in your life, what your needs are, and what the needs of your family are so that we can ensure all of you are THRIVING in this new chapter. It is never too early to explore what the keys to your happiness are! Heck, even if you aren’t pregnant you should do this!
Tip #2 Know where you stand and what you want.
There is not one right way to prepare for a new baby. So how you prepare yourself and your family should be informed by what your ideal postpartum experience is.
For my first, I just wanted to live in that postpartum bubble healing and connecting with my daughter. This time I am hoping to get back into a routine a little sooner.
So before you set off preparing for postpartum, I have a tool to help you get crystal clear on how to prepare for your ideal postpartum experience. Click here to take the quiz (it should take you about 5 min or less)
Tip #3 Talk to your partner about their concerns.
Whether this is your first baby or your fourth, an open dialogue is so crucial to preparing a relationship. Do not assume you know what they are thinking. Practice listening to each other and sharing your fears. This skill will serve you both in postpartum and in everyday life.
Alright, let’s turn it over to Dr. Cassidy Freitas, PhD, LMFT to discuss preparing children for a new baby...
Tip# 4 Prepare your child for the tough parts of becoming a sibling.
I spent a lot of time when I was pregnant getting my daughter excited for her baby brother. We included her in preparing the nursery, bought her a big sister gift that we gave her when he was born, and read lots of books about the joys of becoming a sibling. I was so focused on all the exciting parts, that I didn’t prepare her for the tough parts. She was 3 when her baby brother was born. Every child is different, but knowing our daughter, I knew that she was sensitive to the emotions of people around her and to unexpected sounds or changes in routine. Knowing this about her, I wish I had spent more time preparing her for the emotional and practical changes that come with a newborn. She really struggled with the baby crying, and it got to the point where she wouldn’t get in the car with the baby because she was afraid he would start crying in the backseat with her. As you can imagine, this was really tough on all of us emotionally and practically!
We could have better prepared her for the tough parts of becoming an older sibling. Here are a few tips that I wish someone had shared with us, keeping in mind that they can be adjusted based on the age of your child.
1. Spending time with more babies while I was pregnant.
Before becoming a big sister, my daughter saw me carry another baby maybe once or twice. She seemed ok with it, but I was so excited to show her the baby and pump her up that we would have a baby soon, that I didn’t slow down to ask her how she felt about it. She was 3 so she probably didn’t have words to express her emotions, but I could have offered a few potential feelings that she might be having.
2. Making it clear that taking care of the baby was our job, not hers.
Babies have a lot of needs and cry for many reasons (to express they are hungry, tired, cold, hot, wet, have a tummy ache, or even just to get some energy out). It can be helpful to explain this to your child in words or examples that they might understand. We eventually found out that our daughter felt a sense of responsibility when the baby cried (especially when it was just her and him in the backseat of the car!) When we started making it very clear to her that it was our job as parents to take care of the baby, and she could just be a kid, she began to relax. In this more relaxed state, she was actually able to find more opportunities to bond with her brother.
3. Giving her words to express her feelings.
Depending on the age of your child, these tough sibling moments can be wonderful opportunities to teach your older child about the spectrum of emotions. We could explore together what the baby might be feeling, I could share with her how I was feeling (e.g., curious about what the baby is feeling, confused why feeding the baby didn’t seem to help, sad that the baby is upset, strong for being able to hold the baby, happy that I figured out what the baby needed), and we could then explore what she might be feeling.
4. Making plans with other adults in her life for quality time.
I thought I should be able to handle two kids at home alone. Moms everywhere do it all the time right? No, we were never meant to do this alone. I needed support, and giving myself permission to receive help from other adults in her life would have been good for me, and for her. I still remember the moment she was on the potty and needed me, and I was feeding the baby and couldn’t come to her right away. She was crying, I was crying, the baby was crying, we were all crying. I have a lot of compassion for what we were both feeling in that moment, and we had a good conversation about those feelings after the fact. We can’t always avoid those tough moments, and they can be great teaching opportunities. I also wish I had activated my support system and had set up more structured time for her to spend with other adults who love her and scheduled more alone time with me and her dad.
5. Setting up a routine with childcare/preschool ahead of time.
We quickly realized that she went from not wanting to go to preschool, to loving it! We noticed that she enjoyed the structure and routine from school. It also gave me a chance to have alone time with the baby, and to rest when the baby napped. This allowed me to be a more present mom when our daughter came home. Some kids may showcase resistance to routines, and it’s helpful to acknowledge that there is something they are trying to communicate in their resistance. Identifying the underlying meaning of behaviors can help you connect with your child’s experience and support them through the feelings they are having with this big transition.
Preparing yourself and your family for a new baby might not be easy, but very little in parenting is! What it doesn’t have to be, is overwhelming. Dr. Cassidy and I have your back! To gain clarity and direction for preparing for your ideal postpartum join us in our free LIVE Masterclass “4 Steps to a Restful and Supported Postpartum.”
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