When we are pregnant with No. 2 (plus) it is normal to feel worried: will I have enough love? How will my older children cope? Do I want them present at the birth? How can I prepare them for the changes that will inevitably happen?
Ten Tips for parenting beyond the only child:
- From early on in your pregnancy, change your sleeping arrangements to mirror the post-birth arrangement. This might mean having your partner do the bedtime routine, or moving your toddler to a big bed, or ‘sidecar’ bed. Perhaps your family plays musical beds; with you sleeping alone (and afterwards with the baby) whilst your partner sleeps with your older child – whatever works! It is best to make changes well before the baby is born.
- Spend time reading together, on the lounge or in bed. This special time, can be carried over into breastfeeding time when the baby arrives. Perhaps you wish to hold a doll, and explain that when the baby is born you will be holding it and even breastfeeding it while you read the stories.
- If you are breastfeeding your toddler, you might like to use the doll to practise tandem feeding positions. This can help your toddler to accept this change and look forward to it, as well as helping you to work out some strategies.
- You can use the doll to practise looking after the baby and talk about the day-to-day life with a baby. Will you be baby wearing? Do you have your sling/wrap/carrier ready? Will you be using a pram? Do you need to get your toddler out of the pram? Or used to a new one? Where will baby be sleeping? Get this space ready and familiar well before the birth. How do you intend to toilet the baby? EC? Cloth? Disposables? Have your toddler help get the baby clothes ready, washing them, putting them away, looking at them. Your toddler may want to try them on, and will see that they are too small…talk about how small your toddler was, and what wonderful things they can do now they are bigger. That at first the baby won’t be able to play, but will love being talked to and holding your toddlers hand.
- Establish the post-baby routine well before the birth. Will your toddler be starting day care or preschool? Toilet training? Establishing these changes and being able to deal with any difficulties before the birth can help avoid associations of these changes with the sibling.
- Some mothers find a baby doll is a useful gift, others find their toddler shows little interest in playing with it. Using a doll can be a useful tool in practising, especially when you do not know anyone with a real baby, even if your toddler does not play with it.
- As part of your birth plan, you will need to decide how you will manage your child at the birth. Who is your backup babysitter? Make sure they spend lots of fun time together. Who will attend to your child as you labour? This will be your child’s ‘special adult’ during labour and birth. If it is to be your partner, do you want a doula/friend with you? Or are you happy to be left alone? You will need to discuss your intentions with your hospital care providers – if they have a problem with it, can you negotiate? If you decide to just turn up with your child, will this cause a problem? Choose some toys and books (or if you really want to, buy something special) and put them away, so that they first see it at the birth. It may serve as a good distraction. If you have more than one child, you will need to consider their individual needs and ages. Older children may be able to say if they want to be there or not, and you may be able to arrange for them to arrive soon after the birth.
- If it seems appropriate, find some positive, gentle birth videos that resemble your own ideal birth and watch them together. Talk about how you might feel. Respond positively to the video. This step is not really necessary though, as your child will take his cues from you on the big day – if you are calm and happy, and your child has his ‘special adult’ with him, your child is likely to be just fine.
- After the birth, it is important that you have the time and space to establish breastfeeding. If you are offered help – accept it! If you need help – Ask! Suggestions of real help – meals, folding washing, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, taking the older children to the park or simply playing with the kids.
- After a few weeks, it will seem like the new arrival was always there, especially if you ask your toddler to help. Maybe your toddler can pass you the baby clothes, or the washer, or can hold the book and turn the pages as you read while breastfeeding. Going with the flow, one day at a time, with no grand plan – but more a rough guide – will help you all ease into life with a new baby. If your toddler happens to sleep at the same time as the baby – sleep! If your toddler likes TV or movies, you may be able to get some rest time using this – that is ok! Balance it out with a walk every day – this will be good for all of you. Eat well and drink water to suit your thirst. You matter! Taking care of yourself means you are better able to take care of others. Again: if you need help – ASK! Is there a mothers group, a play group or a group of like-minded parents you can visit with? Company can make a big difference when it is like-minded and supportive.
Enjoy this special time…some days may be long, but the years are short.
Birth and parenting mentor