Preparing for a new baby: how children feel
When a new baby is coming, other children might be excited. But they’ll have to learn to share love and attention with the new baby. This can be a big step, especially if children are still toddlers. They might feel they’re being pushed out of the spotlight.
Almost all children need to adjust when a new baby joins the family. But a positive sibling relationship will eventually develop – usually by the time the new baby has reached about 14 months.
When to tell children about a new baby
If you’re preparing for a baby, when and how much you tell your child about the new baby depends on you. Your child’s age will also play a part.
It can be good to introduce the idea of a new baby fairly early in the pregnancy, perhaps 3-4 months before the baby is born. You could try talking about babies in general and then talk about your new baby.
Toddlers don’t really understand time, so when you’re explaining to your child that a new baby is coming, try relating it to a familiar event. For example, you could say that the new baby will arrive soon after a special person’s birthday.
Older children might want details about where the baby came from, how it got in their parent’s tummy, and how it will get out. When it comes to talking with your children about sex, simple, age-appropriate explanations are best.
Preparing children for a new baby
Before your new baby is born, you can help your child feel positive about their new sibling. They need preparation, communication and plenty of understanding.
If you can make this a positive and exciting time, your child is more likely to feel that the change is about everybody in the family, not just the new baby. Here are some ideas to help you do this:
- Read stories about babies. Look at pictures and talk with your child about how your family is growing.
- Show your child pictures of themselves when they were very young.
- Let your child touch the baby bump to feel the new baby moving and kicking inside. You could even let them listen to the baby’s heartbeat at a visit to the doctor or midwife.
- Involve your child in the practical business of getting ready for the new baby. Let them help you get your home ready, buy baby items and decorate.
- Talk with your child about what they’re most looking forward to when the new baby comes.
- If your child is worried about the new baby, talk with them about their worries and reassure them. Give your child plenty of love and cuddles, and focus on the positives. For example, they’ll have a new brother or sister to love.
It’s also a good idea to give your child an idea of what it’s like to have a new baby in the family:
- If possible, spend some time with friends and their newborns. Your child will see that new babies are very sleepy and need a lot of care.
- Let your child know that the baby will be a separate little person with their own needs.
- Encourage your child to socialise and play with other children. This helps your child develop the social skills to have a good relationship with a new sibling. Perhaps you can join a playgroup, or arrange for extended family members – both children and grown-ups – to spend some time with your child.
If your child is ready to be toilet trained or to move into a big bed, it’s a good idea to start making these changes well before the baby is born, or to leave these changes until afterwards.
Labour, birth, hospitals and other children
During labour and birth
Some parents consider having their child present at the birth of a new baby. Or you might be planning a homebirth and considering what’s best for your child. If these are things you’re thinking about, it might help to consider:
- how old your child is
- how to explain the birthing process to your child beforehand
- whether you’re comfortable with your child being present
- whether you’re comfortable with your child being exposed to nudity and sexuality
- whether another trusted adult could be present to support your child if they feel uncomfortable or upset.
During a hospital stay
Here are some ideas to help your child feel OK if you and your partner will be away for a hospital birth:
- Let your child know who’ll be looking after them during the hospital stay. If your child doesn’t know the caregiver well, they’ll need time to get used to the idea.
- Print out some family photos for your child to keep near their bed while you and your partner are away.
- Arrange for your child’s routines to stay the same as much as possible. This will help your child feel more secure.
- Keep in touch with your child while you and your partner are away. If the birth has gone well and everyone is OK, make times for your child to visit.
- Make your child feel special and loved when they visit. Tell your child how happy you are to see them.
When the new baby comes home
These ideas can help you manage things when your new baby first comes home:
- Reassure your child with a big loving hug before introducing the new baby for the first time. This is especially important for toddlers.
- Organise a small gift from the new baby to your child. Young children might like to get a small doll so they have a ‘baby’ of their own.
- If family and friends are bringing gifts for the new baby, suggest they also bring something small for your child.
- Plan some quality time with your child. This could be a short outside game, some drawing or craft, or a book at bedtime.
For tips on getting sibling relationships off to a good start, you can read more about helping toddlers and preschoolers adjust to a new baby and helping older children and teenagers adjust to a new baby.