Dear Midwives,

I’m pregnant with my second child. What should I do to get my eldest daughter ready for a little brother or sister?

Expecting in El Rito

Dear Expecting,

Most families put a great deal of thought and effort into preparing their oldest child for the arrival of a sibling: bringing her to prenatal visits, reading special storybooks and watching special movies, making gifts for the new baby, drawing pictures and telling stories, visiting other newborns, and talking about the coming event.

No matter how well you believe you are paving the way for your older child to accept the arrival of her new sister or brother, the actual event may come as a total shock to her despite all your hard work. Especially for toddlers, who live deeply in the moment, all your previous efforts may vaporize when the baby arrives.

Many families have had great experiences including their older child at the birth if labor takes place at home or in a birth center. This decision will completely depend on your own comfort level, the age and personality of your child, and the availability of a close, trusted adult friend or family member (not your spouse) who can be completely responsible for her while you are in labor and postpartum.

Seeing you give birth can be an amazing and powerful bonding experience for an older child with their new sibling. It can also help her form a trust and respect for natural birth and for your power as a woman that will last a lifetime. But if your child is uncomfortable with seeing you express strong emotion, the birth may be confusing for her — only you can judge. Have an alternate game plan with the child’s special caregiver in case she needs to exit earlier than you had hoped.

When the new baby arrives, expect your older child to experience some regression, and be as present as you can for the full range of her emotions. Children are so passionately attached to their mamas that the prospect of having to share her attention is dismaying to even the sunniest personality.

If you’re approaching or planning any big milestones for your eldest during your pregnancy, such as toilet training, starting preschool, or moving her to her own bedroom, make sure these changes are complete well before the baby arrives, or put them off until well after. Don’t plan on adding any additional stresses to her life while she gets used to her new sibling. Otherwise the strain of accepting her new rival while struggling to cope with additional demands on her maturity may throw your older child completely off her game.

Accept the full range of emotions that the new big brother or sister will express, from adoration to jealousy and resentment. Comments about the baby such as, “Can’t we send him back now?” are no reflection on your skill as a parent. They are a normal reaction to the prospect of sharing the limelight of your love.

If you can listen gently and lovingly to the hurt and resentment without judgment, your child will feel secure. Knowing that you don’t dislike or scorn her for having selfish feelings will allow her to move through them more easily and return to a loving connection with the baby.

More detailed advice is available at: www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/newbaby.htm

The midwives at the Northern NM Birth Center answer a lot of questions about pregnancy, birth, and babies. We want to share this information with the community. Please send your questions to: midwiferycenter@gmail.com.

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