When a new baby arrives, it’s a big transition for everyone in the family. To get yourself ready for the imminent arrival, check out our comprehensive Pregnancy and Postpartum Guide. For your older children here are some tips to ease the new sibling transition:
Read and sing together
Stories are always a wonderful tool to help your little ones prepare for and adjust to life changes. Two of my favorite picture books about adding a baby to the family are Mummy, What’s In Your Tummy? By Bernidita Romero and Ruby’s Baby Brother by Kathryn White. For plenty of other choices, this list is great.
Children over 6 or 7 may act like they are too mature to be impacted by a new baby, as parents, we know they aren’t. For those who would sniff at picture books, try reading Socks by Beverly Cleary together. Or give it to them to read on their own.
Pick a favorite family song and encourage your child to sing it to the baby everyday whiel you are pregnant. I’ve written before about how singing to baby can help kickstart bonding during the prenatal period. Involving your older child in this ritual is a sweet way to start the sibling relationship. After the birth, they will feel special when they can help soothe “their” baby with this special song.
Ease the new sibling transition by making something special for baby
In the classic books The Nesting Quilt by Cathryn Falwell and Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats, parents involve siblings in making something special for the coming baby. Having a special handmade gift to give the baby at their first meeting can help ease the new sibling’s transition. Keep it simple: a colored picture in a frame, a onesie designed with fabric markers or (for older kids) a tie blanket to use for tummy time.
Let the new sibling practice taking care of the baby
Nurture an interest in baby care in your little one. This is especially important for toddlers and preschoolers. Show them how to change a diaper or swaddle their doll or a stuffed animal. Demonstrate how to carefully hold a baby. Practice feeding and bathing their doll. This can give children a sense of what a baby’s needs are before the real deal arrives in their home.
If your little one enjoys it, extend the game when the baby arrives. While you care for the baby, have your toddler feed, change and rock their baby. Toddlers love to imitate their grown-ups.
Also let them really help! Before baby arrives, have them help you fold burp cloths, cloth diapers and sleepers to stock the changing station. Let them pre-wash baby bottles even though you’ll have to do it again. Once baby comes, they can fetch diapers, put used bottles in the sink, grab a forgotten towel during bathtime and so on. Don’t force it if they are very resistant, but children often enjoy feeling helpful and part of the family team.
Take a class to prepare for the big change
Both Wentworth Douglass and Exeter Hospital have classes to prepare new siblings for life with a baby. Attending one with soon-to-be siblings can both prepare them and be a special event for your family. Grab a special dinner or a treat afterward to celebrate your child’s new role in the family.
Making necessary changes early can ease the new sibling transition
Do you want to wean or change your toddler’s nursing schedule before baby comes? Is it time to ease a child out of your bed? Will your partner take over bedtime once baby comes? Do it as early in your pregnancy as you can. Then it’s less stressful for everyone. Making changes early can also cut down on feelings resentment towards the baby.
If you need to tackle potty training, do it as soon as possible or just put it off until things settle down a bit with the baby. It also helps to remind yourself that even children who have been potty trained for a long time may have a regression with a new baby in the house.
Plan for how you’ll entertain older children
My postpartum doula clients know how much I love to plan for life after the baby arrives. This isn’t because I think the plan will make everything go smoothly! But now that you’ve done this before, you know the early days are especially hectic. Having some plans already figured out in advance for some simple ways to entertain your older child when you need to attend to the baby will cut down on stress. One technique I especially like if you have other children under three is use rotating treasure baskets. For preschool or older children, the same principals work with small, quiet bins of toys you rotate. Think things like sticker books, small puzzles, playdough, and duplos or legos. Keep these bins in a closet or out of sight until you need them to retain the novelty factor.
This is a season of life when media can be your friend. Explore some shows, podcasts and games that can buy you a few minutes of quiet and rest. Feeding your baby, while snuggling with your older kiddo and their favorite new show can keep everyone feeling happy for a little bit. Don’t give into parent guilt about screen time right now. The goal is to ease the new sibling transition, so use the tools you have available.
This last tip is actually my number one tip for preparing for a baby whether it’s your first child or your twelfth– get help! Ask for it, accept it, pay for it if you can. Raising a baby is never a solo activity and additional children multiply the need for community support.
Meal trains are a great way for people to support you. Also consider setting up a “kid train,” to organize rides to school and extracurricular activities and even fun playdates with beloved family members or best friends. Apps and websites like Care Calendar make coordination much easier. If asking for help for yourself is hard, consider having a friend, sister, parent or your doula reach out for you.
If paying for help is in the budget, there are many services out there that can support you and your family during this transition. Consider a postpartum doula, a dedicated sibling doula, a mother’s helper, a kid food delivery service or a cleaning service. Even if it’s just for a few weeks in the beginning, this is money well spent.
No matter how much you plan or how well you prepare your older child, adding a new baby to your family may bring on some big emotions and rocky moments. That’s ok. The most important thing is to give yourself and your child some grace and space to figure it out together.