The happiness and love that your first baby brought into your life is beyond measure, and now you're expecting another child. Preparing can be as rewarding and special as the first time.
But you'll have some different things to consider as you await your second child, even though you've been through pregnancy and childbirth before. Being aware of the changes to come — and helping your older child understand what to expect — is the best way to prepare for this joyous event.
What Will Change?
Having a second child and handling two kids can be a bit overwhelming at first. Getting organized before the baby is born is your best bet, even though that might be challenging.
You'll be busier, and your once organized schedule might be stretched to the limit. You might tire more easily, even before the baby is born, since caring for your older child while you're pregnant takes a lot of energy.
After the birth, expect the first 6 to 8 weeks to be particularly demanding. You'll be trying to get your infant on a feeding and sleeping schedule while handling your older child's needs.
One positive change that a second child brings is an increased confidence in your own abilities, knowledge, and experience. The things that seemed so difficult with your first child — breastfeeding, changing diapers, handling illness — will seem like second nature now instead of a crisis.
How Will It Affect Me?
Bringing home a new baby will affect you in many ways — some physically and others emotionally.
Physically, you are likely to be sore and very tired after delivery, particularly if you had a difficult birth or C-section. This makes late-night feeding sessions tough, especially if you have decided to breastfeed.
Getting help from a postpartum doula (a woman trained to care for mother and baby during the first couple of weeks after delivery) or baby nurse (a newborn care expert) during the day can let you catch up on much-needed rest and sleep.
Emotionally, don't be surprised if you feel concerned about bonding with your baby. You might worry about whether you'll have just as much love for your new arrival as you do for your older child. You will — as moms and dads often report, a parent's love somehow doubles when another child is born.
Are you feeling a little sad? The "baby blues" can be scary, but you don't have to go it alone. Talk to your doctor if you have feelings of depression. It's important to differentiate between the baby blues, which usually will pass in a few weeks, and postpartum depression, a serious disorder that can lead to mood and sleep problems if untreated. If you begin to feel very depressed or anxious, or have thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, get help from your doctor immediately.
You can expect to have little or no time for yourself during the first few months following delivery. Sleepless nights and everyday tensions can be overwhelming, so be sure to make "alone time" a priority. Even a few hours out of the house by yourself can help you feel calmer and more relaxed.
Likewise, you and your partner will notice that you're rarely spending time alone together, so be sure to have an occasional date once things settle down.
Helping Your Older Child Adjust
Your first child may have a range of emotions, from excitement to jealousy or even resentment. Younger toddlers, who can't verbalize their feelings, might regress to earlier behaviors — like thumb-sucking, wanting to drink from a bottle, forgetting their recent potty training skills, and using baby talk to get your attention.
Older toddlers and kids might express their feelings by testing your patience, misbehaving, throwing tantrums, or refusing to eat. These problems are usually short-lived, and a little preparation can help an older child adjust to the idea of welcoming a new sibling.
Focus on the important role an older sibling plays. Some tips to try:
- Let your older child help pick out items for the new baby's room. This is particularly important if your kids will share a bedroom.
- Find a special gift that your older child can give to the baby, such as a new book or toy, or a photo of the sibling for the baby's room. Consider picking out something for your older child, too, like a special "big kid" chair he or she can sit in while you feed the baby. You also could have a small gift ready from the baby for your older child.
- Arrange special time just for you and your older child. This might involve a trip to the library or grocery store, or simply reading a few extra stories at bedtime. Your partner, a family member, or a friend can help you by caring for the baby during these times.
- Role-play or read stories that will help your child understand what's happening in the family. Books written just for toddlers about growing families are available. Check a local bookstore or ask your librarian for specific titles.
- Talk about what to expect when the baby comes home. Explain that a newborn cries, sleeps, and needs a lot of diaper changes. Assure your older child that although the baby needs lots of attention, there will still be plenty of time and love for him or her.
- Reinforce your older child's role in the family, saying that he or she will be the "big brother/sister" to the new baby, and help your child enjoy this new role.
- Think of ways that your child can be a part of the baby's care. Your oldest might get a diaper or a burp cloth when you need it, help pick out the baby's clothes for the day, or even dance around in front of the baby when your newborn is cranky.
- Maybe your child could come to a prenatal visit or watch an ultrasound. If you're giving birth in a hospital setting, ask about sibling visitation after the baby is born.
The arrival of a new baby brings big changes to older kids, so you might want to hold off on introducing others. This is probably not the best time to start toilet teaching, to transition from bottle to cup, or to enroll your child in a program that means separation from you for the first time. Consistency will help make your child's adjustment easier.
Siblings play a very special role in a new baby's life, so don't leave your older child out of the decision-making. So much attention is given to a newborn, making it easy for older kids to feel overlooked. Reassure yours by encouraging his or her help in the preparations.
Tips to Help You Cope
To help manage the added responsibilities of a second child, try these tips before the big day comes:
- Stock the house with quick, easy dinners. If you feel up to cooking, make double portions and freeze them. Finding the energy will be harder after the baby is born. Keep some menus of takeout food restaurants handy, including a few that deliver.
- Consider reorganizing your laundry system using one hamper per family member or a basket for each child so it's easier to sort and fold clothing. Laundry is usually the biggest complaint of new parents — it seems to triple when another child arrives, so now is the time to prepare.
- If possible, use items you already have (or that family members can share) rather than buying all new things. As long as they meet current safety standards, hand-me-downs such as cribs, bassinets, strollers, high chairs, and clothes can help save time and money.
- Stock the car with a diaper bag filled with all the needed extras so you'll always be prepared. Many parents keep a toy bag in the car for older kids and a diaper bag with diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, and an extra blanket for the baby.
- Keep a book or toy bin handy in your bedroom, family room, and even the bathroom or laundry room, to keep kids busy for a few precious moments while you're feeding or bathing the baby, or doing chores.
- Ask a family member to spend time with you right after the baby's birth, if you feel comfortable doing so. Not only will he or she enjoy it, but you'll be able to get some much-needed rest.
- If possible, have a housekeeping service come in once a week for the first month or two to help you with chores.
- Look to your community or place of worship for support. Many programs and classes are available that offer activities and social support for families with young kids.
- Don't forget to take care of your own needs. Pamper yourself, even if it's something as simple as a haircut or a bath with candles and music to help you relax after a trying day.
Give everyone a little time to get used to the "new reality" of life with a second child. Then, you can all celebrate the many joys of your larger family.