Adjusting as a family to a new baby

A new baby in the family is an occasion for great celebration. Initially though, it can also be an occasion for adjustment as family members, particularly young children, make room for another family member.

Newborns require much time and attention, but it’s important as a family to recognise that the needs of every family member are valid, especially at a time when existing routines and rhythms can be temporarily turned upside down.

Parents:

  • Establish a routine that includes setting aside time each day for quiet time together. This may be after the baby and other children are in bed, or after an early morning feed, before older children begin their routines for the day.
  • Encourage grandparents and extended family to baby sit and share in nurturing and one-on-one, undivided time with older children.
  • Enlist your partner’s time to attend to and bond with the new baby, while you bathe, feed, play with or read to your toddler.
  • Enjoy undistracted time breastfeeding while your partner supervises other children.
  • Follow established family routines as much as possible, especially mealtimes, bed and bath times for older children.
  • Sleep whenever you get the chance. If your toddler and baby are sleeping at the same time, use this opportunity to catch up on rest yourself.
  • Relaxing is vitally important. If spending time with older children, your partner, or just sitting with your feet up reading the paper, make sure the answering machine is on and the mobile phone is off.
  • Create a balance between home time and time out. You may have to rethink an active social life.
  • Visit friends and family with your new baby, and for the times you want to socialise, employ a trusted babysitter or take the baby with you if appropriate.
  • Prepare for the family emergency when you may have to drop everything to take an older child to the doctor or attend to a priority outside the home. Where possible ensure you have extended family, friends or neighbours who can step in at a moment’s notice.

Preparing older siblings:

Some children can feel displaced when a new baby arrives. Factors such as a child’s personality, closeness to one or other parent, or their developmental stage, will contribute to how well they accept a new sibling, and how willing they are to share the attention of caregivers.

Some children may become aggressive or resentful or regress in their behaviour, for instance toilet training or resorting to baby talk.

Children need time to adjust, and preparing older siblings for a new arrival can begin in the early stages of the pregnancy.

Pre-birth:

  • Tell your child about the pregnancy when you tell other family members and friends.
  • Read books about pregnancy, giving birth, bringing new babies home from hospital or giving birth at home.
  • Look through photographs or videos that show the older child as a baby and talk about their birth and how special and exciting it was. Talk about how much you and other family members looked forward to the birth, and seeing and holding them as a newborn. Talk also about all the things your child liked when he or she was a baby.
  • Explain to your child that new babies mostly sleep, cry and need their nappy changed. Your young child may be expecting an instant playmate that talks and walks, so realistic expectations are important.
  • Talk about parental post-natal issues such as tiredness, breastfeeding, and how much time you and other members of the family will need to spend on attending to the baby’s needs.
  • Moving your child to another bedroom may cause anxiety.  If their current room is required for a nursery, move your child well in advance of the birth (bearing in mind that they may wish to take all the nursery toys and trappings with them!).  Give them time to feel comfortable with the move.
  • Include children in preparing the nursery, accompanying you to medical appointments, visits to birthing centres and pre-natal classes.
  • Practise dressing, bathing, feeding and holding, using a doll or favourite toy.
  • Being present and involved in the birth can be positive for many children.  Depending on age, your child may need a dedicated carer or family member to be there for them at the birth, and depending on their stage of development, they may like to have the special job of cutting the cord or helping to wrap the baby.
  • Explain the process of birth, so that the child understands that birth can be hard work for the mother, painful and very probably noisy.
  • Talk about what babies look like when they’re first born, so that your child knows what to expect and understands that a newborn baby may look red and wrinkled, or that their head may look a bit squashed etc.

Post-birth:

  • Understand that regardless of how much preparation you may have done with your child, they may still feel some resentment towards the new baby. Make time to talk and listen.
  • Acknowledge any negativity, anger or jealousy that may be coming from the older child and encourage them to tell you how they feel.
  • Give your child alternative ways of expressing angry feelings (artwork, dancing, other physical movement) and ensure they understand they’re not allowed to hurt the baby in any way.
  • Be patient with temporary regressive behaviour, but if the behaviour continues for lengthy periods or becomes more intense, seek advice from a maternal health worker or your doctor.
  • Discourage your child from climbing on bassinets, cots, change tables or other nursery furniture.
  • Encourage your child to help in ways that foster independence and responsibility. Store baby linen, clothes and nappies on shelves or in drawers that are accessible to the child so that they can find and fetch things for you.
  • Create a special space that is theirs and not one shared by the baby or other members of the family.
  • Provide opportunities for extended family, particularly grandparents, to give your child one-on-one time, especially play time in the park or other outings while you catch up on much needed rest.
  • Invite family and friends to make as much fuss of the older child as they do of the new baby, and if they are intending to buy a gift for the baby, they also consider buying a gift for the older child.
  • Encourage children to help with bathing, changing and dressing or provide a viewing platform for very young children to sit, watch or hand you things.
  • Keep baby products and any medications safely locked away or out of reach.
  • Provide your child with a comfortable chair or cushion, book, toy or small snack so that they can sit near you and read, play or eat while you feed the baby.

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