Bringing home another baby is an exciting time for a family. Many parents report that seeing their older child or children meet their new sibling is a treasured memory. As the older child becomes acquainted with and learns to love this baby, there are many touching moments.
But what about negative reactions? What about the adjustments the older child must make as another little person invades his or her territory? The good news is that an overall negative reaction is the exception, not the rule. But some negative behaviors can accompany this adjustment.
Below are some behaviors that an older sibling may exhibit. Don't be overwhelmed by the list as your child may exhibit only 1 or 2 of these behaviors - at least on any given day!
Regressing to more baby-like behavior:
- Wetting pants or bed
- Asking for bottle, breast or pacifier
- Talking baby talk
- Referring to self as "baby"
- Crying more
- Wanting to be fed by parent
- Wanting to be rocked
- Increased interest in baby toys
- Needing more help with dressing, etc.
- Demanding more attention
- "Acting out" behaviors
- Acts of aggression toward baby or parent
Negative behaviors can be minimized if parents prepare the older sibling before the baby comes and plan for activities to make the adjustment to the baby as smooth as possible.
- Don't tell a young child too soon about the new baby. Pregnancy is a long time! (But do tell him or her before they hear it from someone else).
- Have your child attend a prenatal exam to hear the heartbeat or to see an ultrasound. Or, share an ultrasound picture.
- Let your child feel the baby kick.
- Discuss pregnancy openly and honestly. Answer questions but don't overload the child with too much information.
- Have your child help pick out the clothes the new baby will wear home.
- Help mom pack her suitcase. Include a photo of the older child to put on the baby's bed and/or pictures the child has made to decorate the baby’s room.
- Talk to your child about how babies sometimes come in the middle of the night so he or she will be prepared to be taken somewhere, or wake up and find someone else at home when his or her parents are gone.
- If your child will be going somewhere when you leave, have him or her help pack a suitcase.
- Talk of the baby as "ours."
- Teach and reinforce the concept of "gentle."
- Let him or her think of ways he can help with "our" baby.
- Draw pictures for mom to take to the hospital and hang in her room; pictures to decorate the baby's room; pictures for the front of the baby announcement.
- Get something "cool" for the baby to give to his or her sibling.
- Help your child shop for a special gift for the baby.
- Have some little gifts for the older child hidden away in case the baby is receiving lots of gifts and the older child feels left out.
- Talk about how happy you are to be home with the older child.
- First day home, no visitors!
- When company does come, let the older child meet/greet and be central for a few minutes, then bring out the baby. Ask friends ahead of time to give extra attention to the big sibling.
- Let someone else carry the baby into the house so you can hug siblings.
- Give the child new privileges of a big sibling - maybe a later bedtime or a special activity.
- Try to have alone time with your child(ren) every day (even just 5 minutes).
- Allow for usual or new bedtime rituals.
- If you're having time with the older child and the baby starts to cry, don't rush to the baby. Ask the sibling "What should we do?" Let it be their idea to check and see what's wrong.
- Even if you are with the baby, notice and praise the sibling's efforts and accomplishments.
- Try to keep some routine the older child is used to.
Interactions with the new baby
- Encourage "gentle touch."
- Let your child show the baby to visitors.
- Suggest that your child get diapers, refill baby supplies, fasten adhesive tabs of diapers, push stroller, put on lotion, etc.
- Talk about all he or she is able to do that the baby can't.
- Take pictures of all the children, together and separate.
- As the baby grows, encourage sibling to "teach" the baby to crawl, talk, etc.
Always remember, children are very perceptive of both verbal and nonverbal communication. Whether their feelings are negative or positive, reinforce your love for them as special, unique individuals of your family. As you grow as a family, so does your love for one another.
If you see some negative behaviors, here are some general guidelines:
- If the child needs extra rocking or cuddling or just some extra attention, try to give it to him or her. Remember the older child needs time to adjust and needs to know that mommy and daddy are still there and still love him or her.
- Praise the older sibling for helping, for gentleness towards baby and for other positive acts. Let the older child overhear you telling visitors or telling the baby the good things that big brother/sister has done.
- Ignore the regression. If you need to diaper the child again, do so with no judgmental comments. It won't take long for them to want to go back to the independence of big kid behaviors. (Remember they are confused why some behavior is okay for the baby, but not for them.)
- If older sibling acts aggressively toward the baby, get down to his level, look him in the eyes and holding his/her hand firmly say "you may be angry, but hitting the baby is not allowed." If the behavior continues, use a time-out. Explain what he/she did wrong, set a timer and put him/her in a time out where no attention is given to the child.
- If negative behaviors are intense and/or long lasting, seek advice and assistance. Call your family practice physician, your pediatrician or nurse practitioner.
Resources for spouses
Partner's role in breastfeeding: Many people believe if their partners are breastfeeding, they don't play an important part in feeding the baby. Not so, says research. One of the most important factors in the success of a breastfeeding mom is a supportive partner.
There are many ways partners can help breastfeeding mothers:
- Care for the baby. There are a lot of other tasks a partner can help with besides feeding the baby such as burp the baby during feedings, change diapers, dress the baby, bathe baby, comfort, talk to, and offer to watch the baby so mom can get some sleep.
- Be the protector. Limit the number of visitors and phone calls so mother and baby can get enough rest.
- Assure mom. If mom is upset and worried things aren't going well, assure her she is doing a good job.
- Help mom feel more comfortable with her body. Changes are occurring and your support is needed at all times.
- Get help if it’s needed. Sometimes professional help is needed to overcome potential roadblocks while breastfeeding. Gundersen offers the services of certified lactation consultants, but mothers can be reluctant to ask for help because they think it reflects poorly on them.
Partner’s role with postpartum depression: Postpartum depression is depression that occurs after giving birth and lasts for many months.
- It may occur quickly after giving birth or up to a year later. Women can become depressed while they are pregnant. It most often it occurs within 3 months after having a baby.
- About 1 out of 10 pregnant women and mothers get it.
It is not only hard on the mother but also to those around her. It can be treated. The healthcare team, family, and friends can be helpful in working through this.
Don’t let your own feelings of helplessness keep you from reaching out. Social support is needed for women who suffer from this.
Here’s how to help:
- Ask how she is feeling and truly listen. Do not judge. Her feelings are real.
- Assure her that treatment and support are there.
- Offer to help. Ask if there are things you could do for her such as running errands, cleaning and giving her time away from the house.
- Let her take some time for herself. Help her plan how to do that.
- Show your patience and caring for her. Assure her that you will be there for her.
- Encourage her to consider or continue going to counseling, therapy or using medicines.