If your new baby has older siblings, it’s important to tell them about the new baby before he or she arrives, maybe a month or two before the birth. Young children generally can’t grasp of the concept of time, so if you tell them too far in advance they may wear you down with daily questions about when the baby is coming or why the baby hasn’t come yet. However, if your older child notices your stomach getting larger, this is a good chance to explain that the baby is growing inside so they can start getting used to the baby’s existence.

Older siblings, depending on their age, can react differently to the birth of a new baby. Some may be excited, some may be indifferent and others may be resentful. Just before or after the birth, it can be a good idea to give the older sibling a gift “from” the newborn, as this often makes them more interested in getting to know their new brother or sister.

You can also prepare your older child for the new arrival by:

  • reading books to them about brothers and sisters
  • including them in deciding your baby’s name
  • going with you on doctor or midwife visits
  • visiting friends or relatives with new babies
  • encouraging friendships with other children, as it’s important for children to have a close playmate
  • preparing your older child for your visit to hospital by explaining you will be away for a while but will return after the baby has arrived
  • organising for someone that your older child knows and trusts to care for them while you are in hospital, which can reduce feelings of separation anxiety while you are away

After the baby arrives, giving your older child the attention he or she needs can be quite difficult. Playing together is hard when you’re constantly nursing, feeding or attending to your newborn, but it’s important not to use your new baby as an excuse for spending less time with your older child. Try scheduling some one-on-one time each day during at least some of the new baby’s frequent sleeps.

You may find that your older child will regress slightly in their development and this is very normal. So a child that is completely toilet trained may start to wet the bed at night again. You should not get upset or angry with your child if this happens. Just deal with it as you did before and eventually the older child will regain their skills.

Behaviour in the older child can also go off for a bit after the birth of a new baby. I often get calls from mothers perplexed as to why their two year old who has always been a great sleeper, all of a sudden now won’t go to bed and is screaming the place down. When I ask them when this all began it usually coincided with the birth of the new baby. The mothers then tell me that the older child absolutely adores the baby so why would they be acting out? Although an older child might not display any animosity towards the baby, things for them have changed. Their world is now very different and they don’t know why and you can’t explain it to them. So they may not relate it directly to the baby but they will often display it by behaving differently to the way they were before the baby arrived.

In dealing with this behaviour change you need to take into consideration that your older child’s world has just changed and you are no longer completely available to them. So be gentle and understanding but maintain good boundaries and don’t let them get away with bad behaviour just because they are getting used to this new person in their lives. Have a good routine and stick with it and always make sure you have some one-on-one time with your older child every day.

How do I get my pet(s) to adjust to the new baby

If you have pets, it’s important to be careful around them while you’re pregnant. Avoid touching animal faeces or cat litter boxes as these can be a source of toxoplasmosis, a disease that domestic animals carry in their excrement from eating wildlife, and which can also come from eating undercooked meat. If you need to clean up after cats or dogs, be sure to wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly.

After your baby is born, there’s no reason why he or she can’t co-exist with your pets … as long as you’re careful and vigilant at all times. Like older siblings, it’s important to introduce the pet and the baby so the pet can become used to having a new person in the house. Be sure to keep pets out of the baby’s room, especially cats who like sleeping in warm places like prams or cots. Your pet may display signs of ‘sibling rivalry’ when the new baby arrives and your attention is no longer completely devoted to them. As with older children, try to spend some one-on-one time with your pet every day and avoid disrupting their usual routine, which includes walks and playtime.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.

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