Preparing for a baby: how children feel
If you're having a new baby, your other children might be excited. But they'll have to learn to share your love and attention with the new baby. This can be a big step, especially if your children are still toddlers. They might feel they're being pushed out of the spotlight.
Almost all children need to adjust when a new baby joins the family. But a positive sibling relationship will eventually develop - usually by the time the new baby has reached about 14 months.
When to tell children about the new baby
If you're preparing for a baby, when and how much you tell your children about the new baby depends on you. Your children's ages will also play a part.
It can be good to introduce the idea of a new baby fairly early in the pregnancy, perhaps at least three or four months before the baby is born. You could try talking about babies in general and then talk about your new baby.
Toddlers don't really understand time, so when you're explaining to your child that a new baby is coming, try relating it to a familiar event. You could say that the new baby will arrive soon after a special person's birthday.
Older children might want details about where the baby came from, how it got in mum's tummy, and how it will get out. When it comes to talking with your children about sex, simple, age-appropriate explanations are best. There are many books about pregnancy and birth that can help.
Preparing your other children for the new baby: tips
Before your new baby is born, you can help your other children feel positive about the new member of the family. They need preparation, communication and lots of understanding.
Before the birth
If you can make this a positive and exciting time, your child is more likely to feel that the change is about everybody in the family, not just the new baby. Here are some ideas to help you do this:
- Read your children stories about babies. Look at pictures and talk about how your family is growing.
- Show them pictures of themselves when they were very young.
- Let them touch mum's tummy to feel the new baby moving and kicking inside. You could even let them listen to the baby's heartbeat at a visit to the doctor or midwife.
- Involve them in the practical business of getting ready for the new baby. Let them help you get your home ready, buy baby items and decorate.
- Talk with your children about what they're most looking forward to when the new baby comes.
- If your children are worried about the new baby, talk with them about their worries and reassure them. Give them lots of love and cuddles, and focus on the positives - for example, they'll have a new brother or sister to love.
It's also a good idea to give your child an idea of what it's like to have a new baby in the family:
- If possible, spend some time with friends and their newborns. Your children will see that new babies are very sleepy and need a lot of care - they're not instant playmates!
- Let your children know that the baby will be a separate little person, with its own needs.
- Encourage your child to socialise and play with other children. This helps your child develop the social skills to have a good relationship with a new sibling. Perhaps you can join a playgroup, or arrange for extended family members - both children and grown-ups - to spend some time with your child.
If your child is ready to be toilet trained or to move into a big bed, it's a good idea to start making these changes well before the baby is born, or to leave these changes until afterwards.
During your hospital stay
Here are some ideas to help your children feel OK if mum will be away for a hospital birth:
- Let your children know who'll be looking after them during mum's hospital stay. If they don't know the caregiver well, they'll need time to get used to the idea.
- Print out some family photos for your other children to keep near their beds while mum is away.
- Arrange for children's routines to stay the same as much as possible. This will help them feel more secure.
- Keep in touch with other children during the hospital stay. If mum and baby are well, make times for the other children to visit.
- Make your children feel special and loved when they visit. Tell your children how happy you are to see them.
When baby comes home
These ideas can help you manage things when your new baby first comes home:
- Reassure children (especially toddlers) with a big loving hug before introducing the new baby for the first time.
- If family and friends are bringing gifts for the new baby, suggest they also bring something small for your other children. You could also have a small gift handy - make it from the new baby to your older children. Young children might like to get a small doll so they have a 'baby' of their own.
For tips on getting sibling relationships off to a good start, you can read more about helping toddlers and preschoolers adjust to a new baby and helping older children and teenagers adjust to a new baby.