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And baby makes four ... or more.

The arrival of a new baby into a family is a time for excitement and joy but some members of the family may be less than impressed with the new arrival. Older siblings can swing from being unimpressed, overjoyed and downright annoyed about welcoming a younger brother or sister into the family. The team at North West Private Maternity have some tips that may help you understand what your children are feeling, prepare your older children for the new arrival and help them enjoy this next step for your family.

Before the big day

Your older children will undergo some emotional ups and downs once they understand a new baby is on its way. Your child is going to get a lot less of your time and may be in the care of other close family members when the baby arrives and soon after. Prepare for this by spending more time with your support people (father, grandparents, aunts and uncles) prior to the birth and where possible have them care for your toddler in your home.

As well as emotional changes there may be some logistical ones to consider too. If you need your older child to move from a cot to a bed or change bedrooms before the arrival to the baby, try to do it well before your due date. Make these moves special and exciting for your child rather than something that needs to be done “for the baby”. Unless your toddler is very keen, avoid starting transitions like toilet training close to the baby’s arrival. This will reduce stress for the parents and toddler and can be tackled when everyone is more settled.

While mum is in hospital

Let your older children visit mum and baby as much as possible in hospital. Some parents buy a present for the older child from the baby, and your child may want to reciprocate this. Take photos of them with the new baby and make a fuss when they arrive for a visit.

If your child is missing you at home try giving them an item of yours to look after until you return or give them a photo to keep close while you are away.

After you get home

Even the most mild mannered child is likely to display some challenging behaviour once the baby gets home. The reality of sharing their parents attention with the new arrival will soon sink in and knowing what sort of behaviour to expect can help you develop strategies to manage it.

  • Jealousy – Jealousy is a normal reaction which most children will feel at some time or another after a new baby joins the family. It is based on fear of loss of a parent’s affection and will vary according to the child’s age and personality. It can present in different ways ranging from sulking, strong demands for attention and even displays of anger towards the new baby or their parents.

    It’s important to reassure children with jealous feelings that they are still a much loved and important part of the family unit. Depending on their age this can be as simple as lots of cuddles and kisses, finding time for alone time with the child away from the baby or reading a story with the child during feeds.

  • Helping – siblings will often want to help with the care of their baby brother or sister so they feel part of the baby care team with mum and dad. Older children can actually be very handy at home but it’s important to maintain adult supervision whenever they are with the baby. Helping to push the pram on walks, folding nappies and laundry and helping at bath time are all ways you can involve your older child in the day to day care of your new baby. Some children may want a “baby” of their own to feed and care for

  • Regressions – the arrival of a new baby can result in some children falling back into more infantile behaviour which can put pressure on parents already worn out from the care of a newborn. It’s important to remember that the child is not doing this on purpose or to get extra attention but because it makes them feel secure. Wanting more cuddles, reverting to sleeping in their cot (if recently placed in a bed), attachment to a favourite toy and use of a dummy can all be ways your child shows they are feeling a little misplaced.

    This behaviour is normal and usually only temporary, abating when the child feels more secure about their place in the new family structure. Attention from both parents and maintaining the child’s daily routine as much as possible can help them settle into their role as big brother or sister.

  • Attention – whatever the age of your older children they will almost certainly go through periods of demanding attention after your new baby arrives home. Inevitably the time they will demand will be from the person least able to give it (usually mum) but setting aside regular, small windows of alone time with your older child can help them settle into the new family structure more easily. Participating in a favourite activity, reading stories, talking about their day or simply having a cuddle can all feed your child’s need for attention.

While it can be challenging to juggle the needs of all family members as well as your own, try to see the arrival of the new baby through your children’s eyes. By showing them affection, maintaining routines and structures and showing them they are an important member of the team, you can help ease their transition into their new role and foster close bonds with their new sibling.