I was honored to get to share a few tips about helping kids become siblings over on the Blooma Blog last week in anticipation of my siblings class coming up this Thursday at Blooma Minneapolis. It was really fun to put it together with Alisa Blackwood, and I wanted to share it with all of you here! Enjoy! -Kate
True story: I spent almost my entire second pregnancy worried about my 2-year-old son. How would he respond to the new baby? Would he feel resentful? Should I consider having him attend part or all of the birth? How can I be mindful now, to set the stage for a good sibling relationship later? And of course, who will take care of my first baby while I’m in labor with my second?
Mamas, please don’t worry like I did.
Because here’s a second truth (aside from the fact that three years later my son is a stellar big brother): Transitioning your family from three to four (or more) can be done mindfully. Love expands! With some advance prep, both you and your child can feel ready and excited about this change.
To offer up some tips and tricks for transitioning your child to becoming an older sibling, as well as how to prepare children for attending the birth (if that’s in your plan), we invited moms to submit questions to Kate Saumweber Hogan, a certified professional midwife. She teaches a class on this very topic and regularly welcomes siblings at births she attends.
Mamas, if you have additional tips about what worked for you, we would love to hear them in the comments section below.
Q: I know it will be a big change for my child once our new baby arrives. What can I do to make it easier?
Kate: At some point, all parents encounter this concern, and it is completely valid and understandable. Many parents can remember those first few days after their first baby arrived, and just how quickly everything changed. It’s scary to think of your older child having to cope with so many changes. However, there are SO many things that parents can do to help ease that transition long before the birth and arrival of the new baby. In my practice, I regularly talk with families about how to include children in the pregnancy, help kids know what to expect when mom is in labor, and how to prepare them in advance for the changes that will come once baby arrives. Those preparations help pave the way for a smoother transition after the birth.
Q: I don’t plan to have my older child there during the birth, but we definitely want to engage her in welcoming the baby while I’m in labor. Have any suggestions?
Kate: Even if they aren’t attending the labor, there are many ways a child can celebrate and prepare to become a sibling! It can be really fun for an older child to help grandma (or whoever is taking care of them) make a birthday cake for baby. Not only is the baking activity fun, but it also means that they won’t meet their sibling empty-handed … and they will get to eat a piece of cake! It can also be fun for them to draw a picture for baby, or make a birthday card. It might also be a good time for the older child to go on a special date with their careprovider, maybe to the children’s museum or to the zoo. They won’t get as much one-on-one time after baby arrives, so take advantage of this time during labor. It can also be fun to pick out a book or special toy to give baby as a birthday gift. Sometimes parents will even pick out a gift ahead of time to give to the older sibling (from baby) so that the gift exchange can go both ways.
Q: We are debating whether or not to have our older child attend the birth of his little sister. We want him to feel involved in the expansion of our family, but I’m nervous he’ll be freaked out by my noises or that I won’t be able to focus on the birth if he’s there. Thoughts?
Kate: Even more important than considering the child’s comfort, I think we need to first consider what mom wants and how to best support her during this time. Some moms enjoy having their older children with them during labor, and other moms know immediately that having their older child there would make them feel uncomfortable and bring labor to a halt! I think it is really important to follow mother’s intuition on what would be best for her individual self, and her family. If the child will be around mom in labor (even just early labor) then there are a lot of ways we can help prepare them for the sights and sounds of birth. Helping them know what to expect is really important in helping them stay comfortable in labor so that they don’t feel scared or surprised by the sounds mom is making or how she is moving.
Q: In your experience as a midwife, how have you seen children respond to attending a younger sibling’s birth? Is there a specific age you’d recommend waiting until?
Kate: In general, children are really wonderful at births, especially when they are prepared for what to expect prior to labor. Some children can just go about normal life while mama is laboring, checking in here and there. Other children are very in tune to how hard their mom is working, offering her a sip of water or putting a hand on their mom’s back. I don’t think there is a specific age that is ideal or not-ideal, but it is really just so individual and based on both the mom and the child’s desires and personalities.
With that said, I do recommend that there be a caregiver present whose sole responsibility is to take care of the child. That way if the child needs a snack, is getting bored, wants to go to the park, needs a nap, etc., there is someone there just for those needs, and the laboring mama and her partner aren’t distracted by the child. Often that caregiver might be a grandma, aunt, nanny, or good family friend. However, it is also important that the laboring mom is okay with this person at her labor. Sometimes families don’t have someone close to them that they would want at the birth. One option is to hire a doula whose specific role is to take care of the child. The doula would meet the child child prior to labor so that they can get acquainted and she can get to know the child’s needs and desires, and then they would be the person to help the child stay comfortable at the birth.
Q: What are some of your favorite books or videos to help kiddos prepare for welcoming a sibling and/or attending the birth?
Kate: Over the years, I’ve enjoyed reviewing a ton of resources to help kids prepare to have another baby in the family. I always bring all of the books and learning tools to my class so that participants can look at them for themselves and see if there are any they want to share with their kiddos. That way we can also discuss them individually in regards to resources for certain age groups. Below are my personal favorites, but it is hard because there are so many to choose from!
Baby Egg Countdown Calendar
Mother Layer Puzzle
Mama, Talk About Our New Baby by Toni Olson
Hello in There!: A Big Sister’s Book of Waiting by Jo Witek
My New Baby by Rachel Fuller
When You Were Inside Mommy by Joanna Cole (hospital birth)
Welcome With Love (Hello Baby!) by Jenni Overend (home birth)
Mama, Talk About When Max was Born by Toni Olson (home water birth)
Mama Midwife by Christy Tyner
If you live in the Twin Cities metro area and would like to learn more about preparing your child to become a sibling, please join Kate at Blooma Minneapolis on Thursday, Feb. 6, 7:30-9 p.m. You’ll learn lots of specific things to help that transition be smoother for your child, whether or not they plan to attend the birth itself.