Lauren Gardiner, a Melbourne mum of three and author of a new story book for soon to-be-big brothers and sisters called ‘baby + me’, believes that sharing the pregnancy and nesting experience with your children can help prepare them for the significant changes a new baby can bring.
Congratulations! Hospital bag packed – tick. Car seat installed – tick. Netflix shows selected for late night breastfeeding sessions – tick.
You’ve got this, right? But hang on … what about your older child or children?
Introducing a new baby into a family is possibly the biggest thing to have ever happened to your older child.
Debbie Isaac, a Melbourne-based occupational therapist with many years’ experience and three grown-up kids of her own, says that children can experience a range of feelings. Jealousy, surprise, frustration and bewilderment are common emotions in the early days of a new arrival.
Some children feel “absolute shock”, Ms Isaac says.
“Children have seen the big tummy but have difficult reconciling that with the end product (the newborn baby).”
Preparing children for a new baby can help them cope.
Ms Isaac suggests providing information and sticking with routines.
Equally important is letting the child know that they are loved and special.
But preparations need not be expensive or elaborate.
Nicole Avery, a mum of five, the author of the book “Planning with Kids” and also a popular blog of the same name, suggests involving kids in planning for the baby’s arrival.
“In my own experience, some activities are more engaging than others, depending on the child’s personality, interest level and age,” she said.
“Sharing picture books and pretend play with a doll were helpful in my second pregnancy.
“In my third pregnancy, both boys (then four and five) loved making a shopping list of baby items. Nappies were a real curiosity… probably because it played to their interest in poo and wee!”
Here are Lauren’s top ideas for sharing the pregnancy and nesting with your children:
1. The talk!
Even if you’re not showing it can be hard to hide a pregnancy. People will soon notice that you’re opting for orange juice and avoiding the cheese platter.
Tell your older children first – the news will affect them the most.
For the talk, pick a place free of interruptions and distractions.
Make the message relatable (for example, refer to another child with a new baby they know).
Alternatively, use an ultrasound picture.
And if all else fails – point to your tummy!
Parents should also sensitively manage other people’s messages about the baby as they may upset your older children.
With three boys and one girl, in her fifth pregnancy Nicole’s response to comments about a preferred gender was “we are just happy with a healthy baby”.
All the hype about the new baby can also be overwhelming for your older children.
Some people might talk about the baby like there’s absolutely no one else in your life (such as that toddler clinging to your leg).
Here, change the conversation to include the other children.
2. Books, books, books!
There are some fantastic picture books about new babies.
The author will have spent countless hours thinking from the child’s perspective and crafted the story to help children with the adjustment (trust me – I know because it’s what I’ve spent the last 16 months doing).
As well as being a fun and intimate experience for adult and child, sharing a book can prompt further discussion.
3. Let your body be a guide!
Your body is simultaneously growing a baby and preparing for labour and readying the milk supply – WOW!
Your body can also help prepare your older children for a new baby – so try to embrace it and let them embrace it too (literally).
By letting your older child touch your belly and feel a kick, you’re nurturing the beginnings of a very special relationship.
4. All in for nesting! Your older children can help with preparations for the new arrival.
In Nicole’s book, “Planning with Kids”, she suggests older siblings can help with setting up the baby’s bassinet, making meals in advance, washing baby clothes and looking at baby photos.
These activities provide an opportunity to talk about the baby – its size, its routine, its capabilities and some of the demands and disruptions for the family (eg night waking).
Having your children help with these tasks also shows them they can have a role to play (rather than simply telling them).
5. Baby projects!
If your kids are into art, they could complete an art project for the new baby – such as a drawing for the nursery wall or a handmade card.
Grandparents can get in on the act here too.
My mum helped my boys create a beautiful welcome home banner for our third child, which now has a place amongst our most treasured keepsakes.
6. Sharing memories!
We love to look back on photos of our children when they were little, including ultrasound photos and tell stories about those times.
Share these with your children and discuss how the baby is just like they were and how they are different now.
And does it get easier?
“Yes,” says Nicole.
“When you do have a few, once you put in the work for the first one or two it flows on to the others. The older ones lead the process with the younger ones.”
So there’s good news for those planning an entire basketball team like Nicole!