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Welcoming Your Second Baby,The Impact on Older Siblings

by Maurenne Griese, RNC, BSN
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The impact of having a second or subsequent child is often overwhelming to parents. Your first child has taken so much of your love, time, attention, space in your home, income, that parents wonder how they will ever manage more than one. They may perhaps wonder if they will ever be able to love a second child as much as the first. Will there be enough love for both? Will your second child be a welcome addition? If you're feeling overwhelmed, consider how your firstborn may be feeling!

Ideally, your second child will teach your first child to share and eventually provide a live-in playmate and lifelong love and companionship. He or she will also bring your firstborn down to earth a bit too! Two things parents can plan on for sure is that your second child will not be a replica of the first and you cannot predict the recption of the second by the first. So, how can parents prepare their children for the birth of a new baby?

The obvious first step is to announce that the baby's on the way. The "whens" and "hows" depend not only on the age of your child but the child's interest in the birth and age. For example, my older brother was less than amused when my father announced at the dinner table that he was going to be a big brother. I'm not surprised that he lost his appetite and went to his room to cry for awhile. Larry had been the center of my parent's attention for twelve years and didn't fancy the idea of sharing them with anyone. Fortunately, he became quite fond of me, even feeding me and changing me as I got older. However, that adjustment took some time.

While you don't want to tell children too early in case you miscarry, you also don't want to wait too long to tell a child either. It may help to tell a young child when the baby is due by tying the birth to an event instead of a month or week. For example, I was expecting my son in early December and we told our daughter she'd be a big sister before Christmas. She'll be a big sister again right after kindergarten starts.

How do you prepare your children for life with a new baby? The primary rule is to keep it positive by saying things like, "You're going to be a big brother," rather than, "You're going to have a baby brother or sister". Expose your child to babies so they'll find out how much care they need and how they behave. American children don't see near the images of breastfeeding babies as they do bottlefeeding babies. If you choose to breastfeed, let your child see a baby nursing, if possible, so it's not a new concept to them.

Be clear with your child that the baby won't be an immediate playmate - they do little but eat sleep and cry when they come home. Point out pictures of newborns in magazines and books so they will know how a newborn looks. Also point out older babies so that your child knows what they look like when they get older. Another fun activity is having help with getting your home ready for the new baby. Setting up the crib, getting clothes ready, buying diapers with you lets them be a part of the preparation.

As your due date grows closer, it's time to step up your preparations for your older children. Taking your child to the site where your baby will be born can be helpful. Discuss what his or her visit to you in the hospital or birth center will be like. Explain very carefully what will happen to him or her while you are having the baby. Where will your child be staying and with whom? The more normal things are, the less difficult it will be for your child.

Let your child help you with packing your hospital bag and think of things to put in it. Have your child make some drawings for you and the new baby. Make a birthday cake with your child and freeze it. When you and the new baby arrive home, defrost the cake and have a small party for the baby.

Once you have given birth, remember the child is usually anxious to see you, not the baby. Greet your child without the baby in your arms. It may help to have a gift available for the older child from the baby. Take photographs of the children together. Be sure to plan the visit when your child is not hungry or tired. Let your child hold the baby. Don't be surprised if the child's attention span is brief and they are more interested in your hospital bed than the baby! Be prepared for crying or anger when it is time for your child to leave. This is normal.

Once you are home, put a hold on visitors for at least another 24 hours. This is another day for your immediate family only. Be prepared for your child to display conflicting emotions for the baby. While you are feeding the baby, let your child cuddle next to you. Other things you can do at feeding time would be play records or tapes of your child's favorite songs, let them draw or color, read to your child or talk about pictures in a family album.

When visitors arrive, let your older child be the center of attention for a few minutes. Ask the child to unwrap presents for the baby. Let your child lead the visitors to the baby's room, help you bring the baby out or assist with serving refreshments. Don't be surprised if your child tells your visitors how the baby gets his or her refreshments from inside Mommy's blouse!

Regression and jealousy in children is very common with a new baby in the house. Jealousy in toddlers and preschoolers may be exhibited by regression or "watch me" activities for attention. Preteens and teens may feel embarrassed that their "old" parents have reproduced. Most older kids, though, look at the baby as a joy, an amusing and lovable plaything. It's when the baby becomes a toddler and gets into their things that problems may start.

It's best to follow your older child's lead, letting the sibling relationship develop at its own pace. Don't panic if you see jealousy or regression developing, but don't ignore it either. Acknowledge their feelings, let the child know it's okay to feel like they do. One of the best ways to deal with problem behaviors is to spend some one-on-one time with your child. Try to make some special time with your older child so that there are no interruptions. Don't try to equate fair with equal. And, don't forget time for yourself too!

My name is Maurenne Griese, RNC, BSN . I am a certified childbirth and breastfeeding educator and have a bachelor of science degree in Nursing. I am also a Registered Nurse and am board certified in Inpatient Obstetrical Nursing. I have been a writer for as long as I have been able to write! From essays in grade school to articles in professional journals and parenting magazines, writing has been a passion of mine for most of my life. Of course, I like to write about what I am passionate about, that being pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. I have my own website for my home-based company, Birth and Breastfeeding Resources, at http://www.networksplus.net/griese. I sell baby slings and breastpumps from this site.


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