Introducing a newborn brother or sister into a family can be an extremely exciting time for everyone involved. But it can also cause feelings of loss for younger children and they can react destructively. Understandably, younger children may feel put out and threatened by the new addition to the family. And family life can become fraught.
So, how can you make the new arrival less of a threat to the family?
Firstly, acknowledge to yourself and to your other children that they may feel a bit displaced when the new baby is introduced into the fold. If you intend to breastfeed your new baby, then explain to your children that you may not have as much time to spend with them as usual but reassure them that a routine will eventually become established and things will return to normal.
Try to involve other siblings as much as possible in the day to day care of the baby. You could nominate one to fetch baby wipes and nappies whilst another may be allocated the job of getting the night-time baby-gro. Or perhaps let them help with bathing the new baby. This will allow your other children to feel involved and important.
When you are breastfeeding the baby explain to your children what you are doing. If they are very young perhaps show them pictures of babies being fed by their mothers, including baby animals. Remind them that they were once breastfed by you too, if that is the case.
Some children will mimic what they see their parents doing so try not to show surprise if you witness a child breastfeeding her favourite teddy bear. Instead encourage her to tell you all about her baby.
Don’t go into a different room to breastfeed your new baby as this implies that there is something wrong with what you are doing. Instead, as you breastfeed the baby, encourage your children to watch how the baby is drinking your milk and explain that it will make the baby healthy and strong. In so doing you will allow them to accept breastfeeding as normal.
Whilst breastfeeding you may find that very young toddlers crave your attention and may literally be hanging off you! Prepare for this by getting a few books or jigsaws ready in advance. When it is time to breastfeed the baby, read a story to your other children or encourage them to draw you a picture or do a jigsaw. This makes them feel valued and involved.
If siblings are bickering a lot with one another and you find yourself losing your temper with them try to take some time out. And when you have calmed down explain to them why you are tired. Ask them to understand that you are not really angry but that you need a rest.
Some toddlers vent their frustration on the new baby by nipping him or pulling his hair. You must explain in terms your children can understand why this is unfair and encourage them to do nice things instead such as helping to dress or bathe him or fetching some little toys instead.
If you are aware of how your children may react to a new sibling you can ensure that things progress smoothly by preparing them well in advance of the birth. Encourage your children to see the new baby as a family member who is looking forward to coming to live with you. Show them pictures of new babies and babies breastfeeding. If possible, bring them to visit someone who has a new baby and better still someone who is also breastfeeding.
Be careful to make time for other children in the family once the baby arrives.
Siblings can be hard work and sibling rivalry a nightmare, but you can make life easier for yourself and for them with careful advance preparations.