Hannah Dahlen
Babies second time around“When are you going to have ‘number two’? You’re not going to let her be an only child? Don’t you think she needs a brother or sister?” Not only are we eventually asked these questions publicly by well meaning friends and relatives, but also at some point we begin to ask these same questions of ourselves privately as parents.

The decision to have more than one child is not an easy one for many parents. Australia’s fertility rate has declined dramatically over the last forty years and is now down to 1.7 children per family. Whilst having the first child fulfils those natural urges most of us have to be parents, having a second child for many parents seems to complete the family and most importantly provides a sibling for the first child. The decision to have a second child is not easy for everyone, neither is it always a conscious one. An unplanned second pregnancy can cause great turmoil, particularly if your first child is still a baby. You may still be trapped in that daze of sleepless nights and endless nappies and find it hard to comprehend that it will all start again in a few short months. Even when the second child is carefully planned, anxieties will surface and questions will need to be answered. Second time around as a parent you are suspended somewhere between a novice and an expert, and a dreamer and a realist.

Pregnancy second time around

Whist pregnancy the second time around is certainly familiar, it is rarely an identical experience to the first. Women often comment on how different each pregnancy is. Your body will also be slightly different second time around. The muscles of your abdomen are not as taught, you are likely to be a bit older and your life is most likely busier than it was when you were pregnant with the first baby.

Studies of differences in pregnancy symptoms between first time mothers and those having subsequent babies don’t show huge variations. Some symptoms, however, such as accidental leakage of urine with coughing or sneezing and dry skin are more likely to occur during a subsequent pregnancy. Stretch marks are reported less by women during a subsequent pregnancy than during their first. This is most likely due to the fact that all the stretching needed for subsequent pregnancies has already been done with the first baby. If, however, you have put on a lot of weight with the first baby and not lost it by the time you are pregnant again then the added weight gain can make you more prone to stretch marks.

If you had nausea and vomiting during your first pregnancy, you are more likely to have it in the next pregnancy, though the intensity may differ. The closer you have your babies together the more exaggerated the general aches and pains of pregnancy seem to be, such as a sore back and unstable feeling in your pelvis. Second time mothers are bending over picking up toys and lifting growing toddlers and this adds stress to vulnerable backs, joints and ligaments. You need to try and bend at the knees when you do these things rather than bending at the waist to reduce potential problems. If the aches and pains seem to be worst, in my experience mothers having second babies often tell me the pregnancy passes much quicker. We have less time to navel gaze when chasing a demanding child around the house.

Only you can decide when the best time is to get pregnant. Getting pregnant, however, in the first year following birth does put a big demand on your body. These women are more prone to getting anaemic and are more likely to need iron supplements during pregnancy. Discuss this with your care provider. You are likely to feel more tired during the second pregnancy, especially if your first child is still very young. You will have to try and snatch a nap when your child does.

Women having their second baby tend to feel the baby move earlier than women having their first baby. They are more likely to feel these movements at around 16 to 18 weeks compared to 18 to 22 weeks with their first. The most likely reason for this is they tend to recognise those first movements earlier. Women having their second baby are often surprised at how early they begin looking pregnant compared to their first experience. The maternity outfits do seem to be resorted to earlier. This is probably due to the fact that the abdominal muscles are not as toned as they were with the first and tend to allow the uterus to lean forwards a bit more. Unlike at the end of the first pregnancy women often find the baby’s head is less likely to go right down into their pelvis (engage). Sometimes this doesn’t happen until the labour actually begins.

If you had problems with your first pregnancy such as high blood pressure or premature labour you are at more risk of this occurring again and so will be watched closely for any potential problems. This doesn’t mean you will definitely have these problems again.

You may still be breastfeeding your first child and wondering what to do with another one on the way. It is a myth that breastfeeding while you are pregnant is harmful for either the breastfeeding child or the unborn baby. Concerns about harmful hormones in the milk or stimulating premature labour have not been supported by research. There is no reason why you cannot continue breastfeeding. Pregnancy is, however, the most likely time your child will wean or be easily weaned if this is your choice. Some children wean early in pregnancy because the breasts feel different, the quantity of milk decreases or the taste of the milk changes. Don’t be too insulted by an unexpected ‘yucky’ from your toddler. Later in pregnancy your expanding uterus may make feeding awkward and make your toddler lose interest. You may also find your breasts and nipples become very tender when you are pregnant.

Involving the first child in the pregnancy helps them to adjust to the concept of a new sibling easier. If you plan to have them present at the birth you need to start preparing them early. Make sure you have a support person organised for the child so they can be taken out of the situation if it distresses or bores them. The last thing you need when in labour is to be worrying about your child or have your partner unable to focus on you. If you plan not to have your child there for the birth remember to organise someone who will be on call during the last few weeks of the pregnancy.

Women having their second baby are less likely to attend parent education classes than they were with their first. Some hospitals run short, refresher, parent education courses for second time parents. You will best know what your needs are.

Birthing second time around

With the first baby you journey through a great unknown. You may have reasonable knowledge but you have no experience to draw on. With the second baby there is more of an understanding of what is going on. This does not mean you will have no anxieties. Sometimes the anxiety is in fact worse. With the first birth you can delude yourself but with the second you are forced to be a realist. If you had a hard time with the first baby you may in fact find you are more fearful than you were with your first. Many a second time mother has gripped my arm in labour and said “its all coming back to me now”. It is as if that protective amnesia that softens birth memories is rolled back with the first contraction. The reality is the second birth has a very high chance of being uncomplicated. Women often find the second birth helps to heal any disappoi