Introducing your new baby to their siblings
Introducing your new baby to the rest of the family is a joyous and exciting time. However, alongside the inevitable celebrations there can also be major upheaval to well-established routines and changes to family dynamics. This can be a daunting time too, as new parents contemplate how they will meet the very different needs of their newborn baby and its older sibling(s). Multi-tasking takes on a whole new meaning as you provide 24/7 care to your newborn baby whilst giving your older child/children the loving care and attention that they also need.
If you already have a toddler at home they will have been used to being the sole focus of your love and attention. They will not be used to having to share their toys, bath time or bedtime routines with anybody else either. Depending on their age and level of understanding, they may not fully appreciate what having a younger brother or sister actually means; they may have quite definite views on wanting/not wanting a baby brother/sister, or may even resent the newest addition to the family. If you have teenage/adolescent children there can be very different challenges in coping with fluctuating hormones and mood swings, school runs, sports and activity clubs and frenetic social schedules… all in tandem with your newborn’s 24/7 care needs! Suddenly, mum and/or dad are no longer available to be ‘taxi’ service and, compared with life before baby, may now be time and money poor.
When baby arrives
As new parents focusing on the ‘around-the-clock’ care needs of your newborn baby, it can suddenly seem as if your older child/children are much more grown up than before your baby’s birth. However, when your older child/children meet their baby brother/sister for the very first time, all they will actually want to do is spend time with their mummy – with you!
This article provides some handy tips and suggestions for introducing your new baby to their sibling(s) and helping them to adjust:
a). One-to-one time with mummy and daddy tends to take priority over meeting a new baby brother/sister for the first time. With this in mind, it can be helpful if your baby is settled in their cot when you and your older child/children are reunited after the birth. This ensures you are able to give your older child/children your full and undivided attention. If you have had a caesarean birth and need to stay in hospital a little longer than average, it can be helpful to have some treats handy for when your older child/children visit. It can also make things a bit easier when they have to go home without you
b). Be ready to give older siblings plenty of hugs and lots of kisses and loving attention. If you gave birth in hospital and have had time apart from your older child/children, they will have missed you terribly and could be tearful and clingy
c). Parents will sometimes buy a toy as a present from the new baby to their older brother/sister. This helps foster sibling love and the principles of being nice to each other and giving and receiving. When your older child/children feel ready, they may even like to choose a toy to give to their new baby brother/sister as a gift from them?
d). Take things at your older child/children’s pace. They may initially feel quite shy and unsure around the new baby, or jealous of them, so will need lots of reassurance. It can help if your older child/children feel able to relate to their new brother or sister in some way. For example, “Your baby brother looks just like you did when you were this small”; “Your hands and feet used to be this tiny”; “You were born with lots of dark curly hair on your head too”…
e). Involve your older child/children in their baby brother/sister’s daily care whenever you can. Give them special jobs that help you eg fetching clean nappies or passing you cotton wool balls while you are changing baby’s nappy. Encourage them to hold their baby brother/sister (NB Younger children will need to be supervised)
f). Some parents involve the baby’s older siblings by encouraging them to choose the outfit that the baby wears home when being discharged from the maternity unit, or by encouraging them to pick out the baby’s outfit or sleep suit for that day/night
g). You could suggest that your older child/children read their baby brother/sister a bedtime story or keep them amused with baby-friendly toys – it is always good to supervise from a distance however, to ensure that energy and enthusiasm don’t get out of hand!
h). Remember to keep praising your older child/children for all their help and for helping to take such good care of their baby brother/sister. It is important that you do this in front of friends and family’ too, so that this praise is reinforced by visitors. This helps to ensure your older child/children feel valued, loved and secure, and don’t view the new baby as a rival for your affections
i). Consider priming visitors so that they give your older child/children plenty of attention also!
j). Friends and relatives will often bring gifts for the new baby and it can be very easy for your older child/children to feel overlooked and left out. It is always worth while keeping a stash of small goodies, treats and toys available for your older child/children. By doing this, older siblings are more likely to associate their baby brother/sister’s arrival with more positive experiences
k). There will, inevitably, be times when you need to give your newborn baby care that only you can give – eg breastfeeding. Breastfeeding however, also provides a great opportunity to sit down with your older child/children; read together or watch children’s cartoons/television. If you are bottle feeding your baby, you might wish to consider giving an older sibling a toy doll and bottle so that they can bottle feed ‘their baby’ at the same time?
l). Friends and family can provide invaluable support in the early days and weeks following the birth. It can be very easy to get into the habit of allowing grandparents and aunts to help out with childcare and take your older child/children off your hands for awhile. However, there is no reason why they cannot look after your new baby instead. This enables you to spend quality time with your older child/children for a few hours and give them the undivided attention that they need
m). If you have limited support, a practical way of managing the needs of your newborn alongside those of an older child/children, is to ‘wear your baby’ using a baby sling. Baby slings enable you to carry your baby close to you while being hands free to carry on with child care and household routines. See also our article on ‘Baby slings’
n). Teenagers will naturally be able to offer more practical help with baby care than younger siblings; though, they should never be coerced into doing so. Some parents have found however, that rewarding their teenage children’s help and support with pocket money offers a ‘win – win’ outcome for everyone… The baby gets to know their older brother/sister better; parents get quality time together; and teenagers earn money to save or put towards future purchases!
o). Children will adjust to changes in the family dynamics at their own pace and some will take longer than others to settle down. In the interim, you may find that an older child/children exhibit more attention-seeking behaviour eg Toddlers may be more prone to temper tantrums and clinginess or may regress slightly for awhile eg nighttime bed-wetting
p). Local Pre-schools and Play groups can provide an older child/children with the opportunity to spend ‘baby-free’ time amongst their peers. They also give new parents invaluable time to get-to-know and ‘bond’ with their new baby. See also our article on ‘Bonding with your newborn baby’
In time, your older child/children will understand that they have not been usurped by their baby brother/sister and are loved and cared for every bit as much as they were before the new baby’s arrival. They will also learn that the new baby has their own care needs that need to be met; however, understanding these needs may take a little longer. Should you have any concerns about the relationship between your older child/children and their new baby brother/sister, do speak with your midwife, health visitor or GP. This is particularly important if your toddler is showing anger and/or resentment towards your baby or is being ‘physical’ eg hitting, slapping or pinching them. Your health professional will be able to offer you support and guidance and can put you in contact with local groups that will be able to offer you any extra help that you might need.