You are pregnant with your second (or maybe your third) and you are worried about how your toddler might adjust to no longer being “the baby.” This concern is so common for mamas. There are a lot of emotions involved when it comes to a new baby taking your current baby’s spot as “the baby.” Of course, this doesn’t mean you will love the new baby any more than you love your toddler, they will BOTH always be your babies, and that is exactly what you have to help your toddler understand. You might be overjoyed at the thought of a second baby and your toddler having a sibling, but that does not mean your toddler feels the same way. How do you prepare her for life with a new baby while also making sure she knows just how much she is loved and will ALWAYS be loved?
Include your toddler in your pregnancy.
Talk about your pregnancy with your toddler at her level of understanding. Explain that she has a new baby brother or sister who is growing inside of your tummy and that the baby can’t wait to meet her. Let her place her hand on your growing stomach to feel the baby’s kicks or hiccups. If your doctor’s office allows it, bring her along to some of your appointments so that she can hear the heartbeat or see images from the ultrasound. Depending on the age of your toddler, you might even consider enlisting her help in setting up the nursery and picking out any new items you might need for baby. If your toddler is old enough to understand, you can share with her how big the baby is each month of pregnancy and compare it to an object she is familiar with. Talk about baby names with your toddler and ask her what her ideas are–you are sure to get some fun answers!
Talk about your toddler’s birth.
Look at pictures from the time you were pregnant with your toddler and from when she was born. Talk about how excited you were to meet her, how much you loved meeting her for the first time and have loved her ever since. Explain that it will be the same process with the new baby, filled with just as much love and joy, but NEVER to replace the love and joy surrounding her own birth.
Start teaching your toddler how to care for a baby.
If your toddler does not already have a baby doll, consider getting one and use the doll as a way for your toddler to practice for the new baby. Teach her how to gently care for and hold the baby. Teach her how to wash or sanitize her hands before touching her doll, how to not touch her doll’s eyes, noses or mouth, and how to be gentle with her doll’s head and neck. Teach your toddler how to gently stroke her doll, and then do the same to her, so that she can feel the gentle motion and understand how softly a baby should be touched. She might even want to take care of her baby doll right alongside you while you care for your new baby after his or her arrival.
Consider the details of the first time your toddler will meet the new baby.
Speaking from experience, it is overwhelming for a toddler to walk into a hospital room filled with unfamiliar objects, faces, and smells. Not only this but then to see her mama hooked up to wires and tubes, wearing some strange clothing AND holding a baby! Talk about a shock! Try to ensure that the room is calm as you prepare for your toddler’s arrival to meet the new baby. Consider only having your little family in the room during introductions. Greet your toddler enthusiastically and let her know how much you’ve missed her and how happy you are to see her. It might also be helpful to have someone else holding the baby for when your toddler first enters the room. Introduce the baby to your toddler by saying something like, “This is your new baby brother/sister.” Some parents also find it helpful to have a gift prepared ahead of time to give to their toddlers. Whether you call it a big sister gift, a gift from the baby, or a gift from mom and dad, it will often help your toddler feel special, loved and not forgotten, making her feel more at ease.
Teach your toddler that the baby will not be ready to play just yet.
Explain to your toddler that babies are very small and cannot do anything on their own yet. It might be helpful to discuss some of this when you look back at some of your toddler’s pictures as a baby. Remind her that she did not use to be able to walk or talk or feed herself. Help your toddler to come up with special ways she can interact with the new baby that is appropriate. These ideas might include singing the baby a song or reading a book, holding up a toy for the baby to look at, making silly faces and talking in different voices to the baby, or giving her soft cuddles.
Help your toddler to feel special and important.
The role of a big sister or big brother is, well, a BIG one! Help your toddler find ways to feel important and needed. Ask her to fetch a diaper or wipes when the baby needs a diaper change. Have your toddler track down baby’s paci when he or she is crying and needs to soothe. Let your toddler help you pack your diaper bag with all of your baby essentials before leaving the house. And don’t forget to praise your toddler for all her wonderful help and for being such a big girl, she needs to feel special too!
Make time for one-on-one time with your toddler and come up with some special quiet time activities.
Newborns sleep a lot. Take advantage of the times your newborn is napping and your toddler is awake to do something with just her. Play her favorite game, read some books, get your coloring and art supplies out, play playdoh, color with chalk, blow some bubbles, ride a bike, bake some cupcakes. Whatever it might look like for you and your toddler, do something that will help to fill her cup and let her know that you see her and still want to spend time with her. It might also be helpful to come up with some special quiet-time activities for her to do while you are nursing, because of newborns also nurse, a lot! Create some sensory bins, set aside some special toys that are only for those times, or let her watch some of her favorite movies or TV shows.
Maintain your normal routine as much as possible.
Adding a new baby to the mix can really throw schedules off and make it feel like life has been turned upside down! This being said, it is especially stressful for a toddler if her familiar routine is suddenly no more. Toddlers thrive on routine, it helps them to feel safe and secure. It might not be perfect, and some days will be better than others, but do your best to keep your toddler on her same routine as much as possible!
Give yourself grace and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Welcoming a new baby and a new sibling into a family is such a special time. It is filled with excitement and wonder, happiness and love. It also comes with lots of emotions, very little sleep, and quite often, tears–whether from you or your toddler. Give yourself grace, mama. You are enough! You are enough for BOTH of your children, they can feel your love no matter how tired and overwhelmed you might feel. If you need newborn support or sleep support, reach out to your local Mama Coach, we are here for YOU!