Big Sister In Charge…Tips for Sibling Support when a New Baby is on the Way

Posted by motherandbabymatters in Articles on Mon, Mar 26, 2012

Gerri, Daughter-in-Law Abi, and Granddaughter Evie

“Big Sister in Charge” read the appliqué across my granddaughter’s sweatshirt. WOW! Another grandbaby on the way and Evie is going to be a “big sister”. We were so excited and yet, at the same time thinking how Evie will be two years and 2 months old when her baby brother or sister is born. She will be a toddler, maybe still in diapers, although she has been introduced to potty training and practices on “Elmo Potty”.

Preparing a child, especially a toddler, for the arrival of baby brother or sister can be challenging for parents. No matter how much you prepare your child, you may be surprised at such reactions as, “Mommy, it’s time to take the baby back to the hospital” or, “Put him away” or, “Let’s put the baby in the garbage”.

Dr. William Sears wrote in a recent article for Parenting Magazine that the first two years are the attachment phase of a child’s life. Your child learns that the world is a warm and secure place. He learns that if he communicates his needs to his parents, they will take care of him – feed him when he’s hungry, change his diaper when it’s wet, hug him when he needs to be held. But there comes a time in early toddlerhood when a child needs to learn the magic word, “wait.” Waiting involves delaying gratification and realizing that there are other family members that are as important as he is.

Few experiences initiate this rite of passage in the same way as the birth of a new sibling. The arrival of a baby brother or sister can help your older child understand what it means to wait and to share, and give him a sense of becoming an independent person. It will also reinforce that no matter what happens, you are still there to support, nurture, and love him.

Sibling Preparation – Before New Baby Arrives

The following is a compilation of helpful suggestions from Dr. Sears, the Children’s National Medical Center and the University of Michigan Health Systems in preparing you child for the arrival of the new baby:

  • Break the news Dr. Sears suggests waiting to introduce the baby until the 3rd trimester when you are really starting to show. However, depending on the maturity and level of understanding of your older child, you may want to introduce this at the same time you’re announcing to your friends.  Your child needs to hear about it from you, not from someone else.
  • Give plenty of time for other big changes. If you plan to move your child to a new bed and/or bedroom, do so well before the baby arrives, so your older child doesn’t feel displaced by the baby.  This also goes for any other major changes, like weaning, toilet training, and starting preschool or child care.  However, Dr. Penny Glass, Psychologist at the National Children’s Medical Center, strongly suggests that parents not ask their toddler to give up their bed, which is a familiar and safe place. Even though you may think this is a great time to graduate to a big bed, it may just create chaos by upsetting your child and a regular bed allows your child to run around the house at will. In the end, buying a second crib will be a better decision for the family.
  • Check with your hospital about sibling preparation classes and hospital tours.
  • Bring your child to prenatal visits so they can meet your birth attendant.
  • Give your child a realistic idea of what to expect when the baby first arrives.  You will be tired, and the baby will take lots of your time. The baby will not be able to do much at first, except eat, sleep, poop, pee and cry. The baby will not be a playmate.
  • Visit friends with a new baby, if possible. 
  • Read books about pregnancy, birth, newborns, and baby siblings with your child (see below for some suggestions).  Give them a chance to ask questions, voice concerns, and vent feelings inspired by the books. Or, write your own story book. Dr. Glass suggests creating a unique story with your child’s name and personal photos. In the story explain exactly what will happen when baby comes home. Tell your child who will take care of him or her, where mommy will go, when your toddler can visit mommy and the new baby in the hospital and what will happen when the baby comes home. There are many web sites available to create stories.
  • Look at pictures/videos of your older child’s birth and babyhood.  Tell them about their birth and what they were like as a baby.  Tell them how excited you were when they were born, and how everyone wanted to see them and hold them. 
  • Have your child practice holding a doll and supporting the head.  Teach them how to touch and hold a baby very gently.
  • Let your child participate in preparations in any way possible.  Give them choices, such as choosing the baby’s coming home outfit, from two acceptable options.
  • Should your child be present for the baby’s birth?  Many families have found this to be a very positive experience, but it is not necessarily right for every family. If you do decide to have your child at the birth, make sure you have an adult caregiver whose only job is to be there for the child. Prepare your child thoroughly, by watching videos of births with them, bringing them to midwife or OB appointments, and talking with them about what it may be like. It may be nice to give them a special, age-appropriate job, such as cutting the umbilical cord or putting on the hat.
  • Prepare the sib for your sub.  Prepare for “grandma’s visit while mom is in the hospital”.  Dr. Glass suggests that having brief opportunities for mom to go away before baby arrives is a great practice for the big day.

Reading list for toddlers:

  • Baby Born, by Anastasia Suen.
  • We Have a Baby, by Cathryn Falwel.
    Simple text and illustrations.  What can you do with a new baby?
  • The New Baby by Fred Rogers.
    For toddlers and preschoolers.  Nice photos of families working together and sharing.
  • Our New Baby, by Wendy Cheyette Lewison.
    Great photos and simple text for very young children.
  • How A Baby Grows, by Nola Buck.
  • My Baby Brother Has Ten Tiny Toes, by Laura Leuck.
  • 101 Things to do with a Baby, by Jan Ormerod.
  • Spot’s Baby Sister, by Eric Hill.
  • Sisters, by Debbie Bailey & Susan Huszar.

Videos for kids that deal with new baby siblings:

  • Arthur’s Baby
  • Sesame Street:  A New Baby in my House

For more information:

Mother & baby Matters doulas follow a Practice Standard on Sibling Care and Adjustment, offering many of these suggestions for sibling preparation and sibling adjustment.  Our doulas can assist you in preparing for the new baby prior to birth or lend a hand after baby arrives so that your family can focus on welcoming the new addition.

Until Next Time,


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Gerri Levrini, RN, MSN, CNAA is the President and Founder of Mother & baby Matters, Inc., an established and premier perinatal care service that has been serving the DC metro area for more than 20 years. Mother & baby Matters provides high-quality guidance and support by professionally trained Postpartum and Labor Support Doulas and Certified Lactation Consultants. Gerri has over 35 years’ experience in the field of maternal-infant health and professional nursing. As a board certified nursing administrator, Gerri held executive positions directing and marketing clinical programs for maternal-child and women's health services in hospitals across the country. She received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Nursing from California State University, Sacramento and a Master of Science degree in Nursing Administration from the University of California, San Francisco. She has also completed special training as a lactation consultant and is the former president of the National Association of Postpartum Care Services. Gerri is the mother of two grown boys and is the grandmother of a toddler and is expecting her second grandchild in September. Gerri’s blog features the latest in infant care and resources for new and expecting families, find it here .

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