Thinking about having, or expecting, another baby?
… generally speaking, within about 8 – 10 weeks, everything falls into place. So this is just some of the things I learned and put into practice during all those fun years of working around the world:
Gradually get your toddler or child used to crawling or walking more around the house rather than carrying him. That way the adjustment is less marked for him when the new baby comes. Toddlers and children can learn, in part or fully, to put some clothes on and take them off. Start with the easy things and work upwards so that you make it achievable. Reward your child’s efforts with enthusiastic praise.
Turn fun games into a helpful habit: Toddlers love helping their parents in everyday tasks so dirty clothes in the laundry basket or tidying up toys (music from “mulberry bush nursery rhyme) sing “This is the way we tidy up, tidy up, tidy up, this is the way we tidy up on a cold and frosty morning…”. It takes patience but pays off when you can no longer bend over to pick things up towards the end of your pregnancy and post-pregnancy too. Lots of positive praise again.
Avoid telling your child the baby is going to be a playmate in the future. When talking about your pregnancy to your child, for my penny’s worth, its not the best plan because it generally causes huge disappointment in the beginning when it really matters. Your child is not going to like finding out they will have to wait a year or even more before this becomes really true. It will happen, that’s for sure, but that is not the truth at the beginning and a young child will only be interested in the ‘here and now’.
Don’t be afraid to say: “Mummy has a sore back with my bigger tummy but if you can wait just a minute I will sit down so that we can have a special hug.” Or “I am so proud of you that you crawl/walk everywhere these days. It makes mummy happy to see what you can do.” Then lots of beaming smiles!
Avoid: “I can’t pick you up because I have a baby in my tummy`’ or “you are heavy now and we don’t want to hurt the baby.”
Create a special way of communicating the love between you so that, in that moment, when you can’t pick up your child because there’s nowhere to get down to his level, you still have that something special between you. You could ask your child to kiss his own hand and you kiss your hand. Then take your child’s kissed hand with yours and tell him you are “joining kisses together” because you love him so very much. You can use this before and after pregnancy as your special ‘cuddly signal’ to each other.
Get a gift from your baby that your child will love and save it for the day he meets your new baby: This really has a double purpose. The first is to show that the baby values your child and wants to say “thank you for being my brother or sister”. The second is it will give your child as much distraction during endless feeding times as possible. The choice is therefore important! It’s not the size of it that counts but how much use your child will love it and get out of it.
When your child meets the new sibling for the first time:
Before your child comes into the room, make sure you are not holding your new baby. Put the baby down in the crib or have someone else hold the baby, just a little away from you so that you can greet your child with open arms and give all those lovely kisses and cuddles that you have both missed recently. Your child might suddenly seem a lot bigger to you than before but avoid telling him that as he really doesn’t want to feel that anything has changed between you both.
When you feel the time is right, introduce your new baby to your child, avoid telling him/her to ‘kiss your baby brother/sister” because your child may not immediately be ‘in love’ with this new addition to the family and that’s perfectly normal. After all, he didn’t make the conscious choice, like you did, to have a baby come into his life, even if it will be wonderful for him later on and he will love his brother or sister. In a lot of ways, he has had less time to be prepared for this big event. He simply needs time to get to know this very little member of the family, what this new baby looks like, where the baby fits in, what the baby does, if anything, and how this might change your child’s own established little world. In front of your child, tell your new baby what your child’s clever achievements are and praise your child for them.
To get your child to understand that the baby is just a smaller version, when working as a full time maternity nurse I found that by getting the mum to bring the baby close to her ear and look as though she was listening carefully to her baby, she could tell her child: “Fiona’ (use the newborns name and not just ‘baby’) is asking me if she can give you a kiss for being so clever and learning how to do all those things. Can she?” This values your child and makes him feel important. If your child says ‘No’ to the offer of a ‘kiss’ from your newborn, then just respect this and move on without making a thing of it. It may not necessarily be what you hoped for in this first meeting, however, it really isn’t fair to always expect ‘love at first sight.’ Try again regularly over the coming days/weeks and show your child how much you enjoy those kisses from him and from your baby and one day you will see a change, your child will say yes to getting a kiss from your youngest and then, not long after that, it will be your child hugging and kissing his new brother or sister. I have also seen the older sibling imitating the ‘baby listening’ technique which is just too adorable when you hear what the ‘interpretation’ is! That’s one of those lovely moments when you get emotional too. I have been known to shed a little tear when seeing all the mum’s hard work paying off like that!
If your child does decide he wants to hold your baby, get your child to sit on you or your partners knee, pop a cushion or pillow onto your childs knees as this makes it easier to support the baby better. Place your baby on the pillow. You can also choose to swaddle your baby which makes it easier to hold the baby in one neat bundle. You or your partner are right there just in case your child decides to nudge your baby off when he has had enough.
Avoid telling your child to be careful all the time. When I worked for many years as a private maternity nurse, I found that saying ‘gently’ didn’t get great results. However, stroking your child on the hand or cheek and saying ‘softly’ generally seems to go down a lot better. Soft is a word they understand from feeling certain fabrics so they seem to relate to this word better and therefore they replicate it more easily. Just remember that positive reinforcement is a very powerful tool.
This may be the ideal moment for your baby to give your child the special present. You know, the one you chose before the birth and the one that will give your child hours of fun playtime whilst you breast or bottle feed your baby
When a baby cries it can stress a child and sometimes make them act a little ‘hyper’: However illogical it may seem to us as adults, children sometimes think they are to blame for the baby crying, even when they have done nothing at all. Interpretting a babys cries by putting words to the situation helps de-stress the child ie “did you hear that? Your baby sister just told me she is hungry” or “Oh, so you are tired now? Ok, let’s sing a song to calm you down before you try to go to sleep”. I often used to find myself singing “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” frequently with the child singing along rather loudly with me. All that so that the child didn’t think he had done anything wrong and he understood more that babies cry because it was their normal way of communicating.
Mum guilt? Ugh, it ‘s unavoidable! It doesn’t matter how much your logical self tells you it’s unhelpful to have mum guilt, your emotional self will keep pulling you to the other side of the court. The trick is to simply accept it is there as part of parenthood, but not to let it eat you up and rule your everyday decisions. When a new baby arrives, in the middle of this mum guilt is an underlying concern about whether your child will still feel as loved or love you as much as before the baby was born.
Here is my way of explaining this rather abstract question of love to your child:
Every time he grows, your love for him grows too. You can draw a visual image of love by drawing a small circle and show your child that this ‘circle of love’ started when he was in your tummy and it got bigger and bigger as your child grows. You can draw bigger and bigger circles that your child can colour in if he likes. Keep that paper and stick it up somewhere where you can access it easily. Explain that the same happens for the baby so with each new baby a new circle of love grows and grows and it doesn’t change the big love you have for your child. That way, in your child’s mind, the idea that the new baby has taken your love away to give to the new baby shouldn’t become an issue. A few reminders of that loving circle over the weeks and months that come usually does the trick. For you, remember that the same applies, your child’s love is undeniable.
One-on-one mum/child quality time: This is where, in your very tired state, you will need to pull out the stops and spend pretty much-uninterrupted quality time with your child, even just 10 – 15 minutes with no phone, no distractions. Try this at least once a day. The key is to make sure your baby is well fed and properly winded so that there is less likelihood that you will be interrupted.
Getting down on the floor to play with your child may not be an immediate option. The way around this is to arrange the toys or get your child to arrange them on a coffee table or kitchen table and say to your child “I really want to play with you and this doesn’t hurt mummy sitting up here right now”.
If your baby cries, yes it is stressful! You know you have fed and winded her and you are spending special time with your older child. Just remember that sometimes when babies are tired they do cry. As long as it’s not full blown crying without a break, you might have to try and wait just a little bit to see if she will settle and also to show your older child that his needs are important too. It’s another juggling act!
Accepting help makes sense! If someone else that you trust offers their help or wants to cuddle your baby, don’t knock the offer. Accept help, make the most of it and have that special time with your older child or just rest and try to sleep. It takes a village to raise a child and I always say you can’t always be a whole village alone.
Maintain continuity in your child’s routine particularly around sleep: With everything that you are coping with and the ‘mum guilt’ popping out its unhelpful head, there is a temptation to let your child’s daily pattern slide because you feel for him with all the changes he is having to cope with. However, that daily routine helps your child to see that although some things may have changed, a big part of his world is the same and gives your child the reassurance he needs.
Breastfeeding your baby whilst managing you childs demands:
Mastering ‘ hands-free’ breastfeeding or one-handed bottle feeding, as soon as possible, is a saving grace and this is where a supportive breastfeeding cushion at the right height to you baby’s head and your nipple can come into its own or a firm pillow for bottle feeding. When you can latch your baby onto the breast and let go of him because he is in the right position and supported in place by the cushion, it allows you to read a story to your toddler whilst feeding or eating and drinking water. Mastering breastfeeding in the rugby hold is also great. It gives you a hand or even two hands free to give your child a cuddle or help your child open a snack or play with a toy.
During those frequent breastfeeding sessions, you will need to be inventive and organised. If you can have a few exciting toys that only come out during breastfeeding then they may be more appealing to your little one and playtime may last that little bit longer. If your child is at the potty stage, have that nearby. Prepare, in advance in a box or basket, everything you might need for you, your toddler and your newborn. This minimises the times you have to interrupt feeding to answer your toddler’s list of requests. It’s well known that, as soon as you can’t move, a toddler will ask for a string of things and pre-empting those demands makes it less stressful. Remember at the end of each feed to top up that box or basket with anything you have taken out of it… in those early days, you never quite know how long you will have before the next feed starts, so best be ready for it.
Don’t feel guilty about leaving your child to have a bit of (extra) TV or iPad time. Let’s be realistic, it is not such a bad thing in those early days if it helps you get through some sticky moments and it can always be reined back later on when you are more mobile and can get out and about more with your little tribe. Just make sure you turn it off at least an hour before your child’s bedtime so that it doesn’t interfere with his ability to go to sleep.
Once you have got to the point where, sitting on comfy cushions on the floor, you can breastfeed or bottle feed, getting down to your toddlers level so that you can be a part of his playtime, makes it easier for him to feel a little more included and patient whilst you feed and wind your littlest one. Just make sure your back is fully supported and that you are comfortable.
Looking after yourself is not a luxury, it is a necessity: One extra special note to you as a very busy mum, even though you may not have much time left for yourself, find a way of having just the bare minimum of 2 x 10 minutes (more if you can manage it) every day to do something for yourself outside of sleep or feeding. Good parenting, at its best, is recognising your own needs and acting upon them. It doesn’t have to be a big plan as that is really not achievable in the early days, but even if it’s making a cup of tea and watching even just a small part of your favourite recorded TV program or reading a page of a magazine or listening to music, do it! It’s not selfish at all, it’s healthy and so very necessary. Taking time out for yourself means you will be more readily available to care for you your whole tribe.
Author: Suzy Lane
Suzy has many more tips and techniques to help with sleep settling, managing the evening ‘rush hour’ with two tired children and more, so should you need support for just for a few hours, 24 hours, a few days or nights to help you settle down again into family life, have a look at Welcome New Baby and contact Suzy for a unique tailor-made and caring service.