Friday, October 4, 2013

Adjusting to a Second (or Third, or Fourth) Baby

While there is always plenty to worry about when you're pregnant, you'll have different concerns when you're pregnant with your second (or third, or fourth...) than you did with your first. When you've already had a baby, your life has already adjusted to the presence of a child. But now you need to adjust your older child(ren) to the presence of a sibling, and you have to figure out how you are going to care for yet another child. Here are some of the common concerns parents have when adding a new baby to the family.

What if I don't love my new baby as much as I love my son/daughter? 
This is one of the most common questions I hear from second-time moms who are expressing their worries about the impending birth of their next child. The overwhelming love we experience when our first baby is born is indescribable, and we worry that it can never be matched. Fortunately, love is not finite, nor is it parceled out. Bonding with your first baby left physical changes in your brain that mean bonding with your next will happen in just as breathtaking a fashion. Love expands into a bubble that encompasses every child together and each child individually. You may not love your second in the same way that you love your first, but the quantity and quality will not be in any way diminished. Finding that each of your children is an individual with different needs for attention, affection, and interaction brings a whole new dimension to the overall love you will feel for your family as a whole and for each child. And the love between siblings gives your heart a whole new reason to swell.

What if I love my new baby more than I love my older child?
This is a different sort of worry. You know you love your child, but maybe you had trouble forming a bond the first time. Maybe the birth was traumatic, maybe you were separated for a hours or days, or maybe you were so befuddled and overwhelmed by the addition of a new baby to your little family that you took a few days or weeks to feel the kind of love you were looking for. What if, this time, you bond faster, your love is stronger? It is, in fact, likely that you will bond faster with subsequent children than you did with your first. While some parents had no trouble bonding the first time, it is very common, too, for it to take a little time to understand how this new little person fits into your world. Rest assured, your capacity for loving your children is not limited or finite, and you will find that as you experience a new bond with your baby, your bond with your older child will increase as well.

The baby will require so much attention. I don't want the older sibling(s) to be jealous.
Yes. The new baby will require a great deal of attention. This is true. And you will be tired and overwhelmed and discombobulated. And your other child(ren) will still need you for diaper changes, potty help, baths, reading books, helping with homework, meals, laundry, and everything else you already do for them. And it is entirely possible that they will get tired of hearing, "Mommy (or Daddy) will be with you in a few minutes, just as soon as I finish feeding/bathing/holding the baby." Remember, though, that a lot of the attention the new baby needs at first is fairly passive. Nursing (or giving a bottle), holding and rocking, carrying around, keeping an eye on, are all things you can do while you give attention to an older child. Your older child can cuddle with you while you nurse the baby. One great bit of advice that many new parents find helpful is to set up a "nursing basket." Put together a box or basket of special books, toys, and movies that you can engage in with your toddler or preschooler whenever you sit down to feed the new baby. Your older child will still get to spend quality quiet time with you, and may even begin to see nursing-the-baby time as a special Mommy time for him/her, too. In addition, make sure your older child(ren) get a chance to hear you say, "Hold on, Baby, your brother needs my help first." Let him know that he's not always going to be second to the needs of the baby. Also, if you can, arrange for regular one-on-one time with the older child with one parent or the other.

A second bit of advice that works well for toddlers is to have the "baby" give the older sibling a gift. When the baby is born, you'll likely receive gifts for yourself and for the baby. Store away something in advance that the baby can give to his big sister or brother. Also, if you can enlist a relative or two to give the big sibling a gift (even something small), she or he will feel less left out of the excitement.

Another part of this equation is giving your older child(ren) the chance to become helpers and caregivers for the new sibling. I have found that this facilitates the sibling bond and makes the older child feel needed and special, too. Give them a "job" (equal to their abilities, of course). "Can you help me out and be such a big girl? Can you run upstairs to the baby's room and get Mommy a diaper? I think the baby needs a change." It may sound corny, but if you make your child feel like she is the only one who can do this monumental task to help you and the baby out, she will be full of pride. And if she doesn't want to help you, no big deal. She'll still appreciate that you asked her. Another way a verbal toddler or preschooler can be of great help is by "watching" the baby for you. When the baby is in a safe place such as a swing or on a blanket on the floor, if you're trying to accomplish something like fold laundry or make dinner, ask your older child to watch the baby. Have him sit down beside the baby and talk to him, keep him company, try to make him laugh. Make sure you've already established boundaries like no touching the baby's face and no trying to pick up baby, of course, for safety. Make sure he knows what a great help he's being.

It takes me 10 minutes to get out the door with just one kid. How long will it take with two?!
You'll find that because you've already got experience with packing up a diaper bag and getting everyone dressed and ready to go, adding a baby to the mix likely won't end up doubling your "out-the-door" time. Certainly, at first, you will need to leave yourself extra time to get where you're going. In my experience, it's always just as you're about ready to leave for an appointment that the baby poops and needs to eat. But getting everything else ready shouldn't take too much more time than it already does. Snacks, diapers, wipes, change of clothes for the older one (as needed), diapers, wipes, change of clothes for the younger one (and bottles if applicable) all go in the bag, and off you go. Some people find it easier to keep two bags ready, one for the older child and one for the baby, although I find this just means more to carry and keep track of. If your older child still needs to be carried out the door and into the car, leave the baby in a safe place in the house (already buckled in the infant car seat, for example), run the toddler out to the car, buckle him in, then go back for baby. I find that if I start encouraging the older child to be able to walk out to the car and climb in before the baby's born, while I can help him figure it out, getting everybody in is much quicker once you're juggling more than one child. This, of course, depends on your older child's age and abilities. Of course, if you live in an apartment or have to park on the street or have another circumstance where something like this scenario isn't realistic, you'll find a way to make it all happen. You've already worked out how to get one kid out safely, after all!

How will I manage bedtimes, naps, and errands?
I like to plan ahead and understand how the bedtime routine might change, where I'll put everyone when I go grocery shopping, and when and how everybody will get the naps they need. The thing is, it's hard to really plan ahead for any of this, because you have to see how your older kid(s) will react to the new baby, you have to see what the baby's needs are, and you need to know how much help you'll have in terms of other adults around. If you can share the bedtime routine between both parents, then I'd start making any necessary transitions at least a few weeks, if not a few months, before the baby is born. If Mommy usually cuddles with the toddler until he falls asleep, can Daddy do it now instead? Or can you help the toddler learn to fall asleep on his own, or after just a few minutes of cuddles? If you are alone with your kids at bedtime and you're used to "doing it all," you may have to improvise. At first, you can likely just hold and/or feed the baby while you do any book reading, cuddling, and so forth. If your baby is fussy or needy right around your older child's bedtime (which is common!), this may be more difficult. I find that it's usually helpful to get the older child to bed and then deal with the baby, if that's possible.

Naps are really the place where the younger sibling will suffer. I've been in the situation where the toddler's nap falls exactly between the baby's naps, and I feel like I can't ever leave the house because one or another of my kids is supposed to be sleeping. Unfortunately, it may happen that your baby becomes a slave to the routine and schedule you've already established. If that means baby naps in the car or during errands, at least he's getting some sleep, right? If you can baby-wear and/or arrange to take your longest car trips when baby needs to sleep, you'll at least be able to ensure that she's getting some nap time in, even if naps aren't always in bed!

As for errands, baby-wearing will be your friend, here, too. If you have a toddler who still needs to sit in the cart, for example, you can wear the baby and still put the toddler in the cart. Some of the larger stores have carts that can accommodate more than one child at a time, but in a regular grocery store, you may not have any other options. It is dangerous to prop the infant car seat on the child seat in the cart, so I don't recommend doing that, regardless of how many children you have. One thing I used to do when my third was born was take all three of my kids shopping. My oldest was capable of pushing the baby in his stroller while my middle sat in the cart, which I pushed. My oldest really liked having that important job to do. Better still is if one adult can run to the store while the other stays with the kids! Or take just one kid with you on errands and make that a special one-on-one time. Maybe you can get ice cream or buy him a special treat once in a while if he comes with you, so that he'll see that he still gets a fun time alone with Mommy or Daddy.

The best observation I can make is that, yes, the first several weeks will be a period of adjustment. You'll fumble with figuring out how to integrate the new baby into your routine. You'll have to figure out how to meet the baby's needs without depriving your other child(ren). You'll have to get used to dividing your time and attention. Your older child(ren) will likely act up or behave strangely because they will also be affected by the change in their routines and their lives. They'll notice that you are not as readily available to them. They'll be aware that things are different now. Be sure to acknowledge those feelings. Also, know that things will get easier. You will adjust. Your family will adjust. Give it some time and get a little creative, and, most of all, take what help you can get!

Enjoy your growing family!

What tips do you have for parents adjusting to the birth of a subsequent child? How did you help your older child(ren) get used to having a new baby in the house? How did you integrate the new baby into your established routine and busy day-to-day lives?

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