When my second was born, my 3 year old was very curious about it all. He’s always been pretty advanced for his age so we laughed when he came with us to our 20 week ultrasound and informed the doctor that “the baby isn’t in Mommy’s belly, it’s in her uterus” and the proceeded to ask if everything he was seeing on the screen was the placenta. He’s a kid who wants to know the answer to everything and does much better in scenarios he’s been prepped for- but really who doesn’t? No one likes to go into new situations completely blind, so I feel like whatever questions you can help answer in advance as your kids move into this new stage of big brotherhood/sisterhood the easier it will be for everyone.
Here are 10 things I’m doing with my 5 and 2 year old to help prepare them for our upcoming birth. Note: We’re planning to have this baby at home, but even if I wasn’t I’d still be doing a lot of these things, because babies are unpredictable and most likely you’ll do at least some portion of your labor at home where your child(ren) might be present. And my second born taught me that just because you had a 30 hour first labor doesn’t mean the 2nd can’t come in 3- you may have a home birth whether you intend to or not!
1. Read books. Lots and lots of books!
A few of our favorites are Mama Midwife, Hello Baby, The Baby Tree, and It’s Not The Stork (that one is more appropriate for the 5 year old) and so many others! Berenstain Bears have a couple different ones including “New Baby”, “And Baby Makes 5”, and “The Birds, the Bees and the Berenstain Bears.” And of course there are tons of “I’m a Big Brother” type books and books that aren’t directly about having a new baby but just about sharing the love, like “Plenty of Love to Go Around.” So hit your local library and start reading to your kids! Ask them lots of questions and be prepared to answer even more!
2. Take your kids to your doctor/midwife appointments
Sometimes this is inconvenient, I know, so you certainly don’t have to do it all the time. But going along to the appointment lets your kid(s) hear the baby’s heartbeat, watch as they measure your belly (and maybe even help them do so) and see the baby during the ultrasound. For home births it’s also nice because they’re meeting some of the potential faces who will be there the day the baby is born so they don’t feel like their house is suddenly filled with strangers. Regardless, It helps them to understand that something is really growing in there, even if they don’t totally get it yet.
3. Discuss baby names!
And if you haven’t found out what you’re having yet have them guess gender and dream about what they think their new brother or sister will be like. Not only does this give them a chance to talk about their feelings, it often produces some pretty hilarious quotes to write down. (My firstborn told me when his brother was born that we were going to “throw the baby away….and then have tea”)
4. Show them photos of their birth (if you have them) and their newborn photos.
My kids LOVE to look at pictures of themselves. (little baby narcissists) And because we’re planning a home birth, showing them pictures of their own births helps solidify that birth is a natural process and kind of get a visual understanding of who will be around and how it will potentially happen. Bonus: I’m all for boys learning about birth and babies from an early age- seeing pictures of their dad supporting their mom hopefully will burn into their brains so they do that for their wives someday.
5. Talk about who will be there (and what they may hear and see)
What are your plans if the baby comes early? Will someone be coming to stay with your kids while you’re in the hospital? If you’re having a home birth who will be coming to the house? We’ve been talking about this quite a bit with the kids, even though my 2 year old really doesn’t understand. But my 5 year old does and we’ve even gone on to use this as an opportunity to talk about calling 911 in case of emergency and what would happen if we did have to go to the hospital for some reason. There are some kids this might be too much for, so obviously think about what is going to scare your kids and then decide from there how much you want to to discuss with them up front.
6. Watch birthing videos
Obviously preview these before just going down a youtube spiral of gnarly birthing videos that will scar you all, but I found this really helped my older son–>especially seeing the ending when the baby is born and everyone is happy and the mom is no longer in pain. We watched a few videos without sound first and then once he got used to the sights we went back and watched them with sound.
7. Practice making labor sounds together
This sounds silly but my kids think it’s great fun. Like I said earlier, you’ll probably labor at least a little bit at home, so unless it’s the middle of the night and they sleep through it all it’s a good idea to talk about what kind of sounds they might hear when the baby starts to come. My oldest keeps talking about how loud it was when his brother was born…(he doesn’t remember he slept through the whole thing!) and has been asking me if I said a lot of bad words (I did.)
8. Create a baby kit for them
This is something I didn’t think to do when my second was born, but this time I’m putting together a little box of goodies for the boys including things like: a flashlight for each to them, a magnifying glass, soft measuring tape, a forehead thermometer, noise cancelling headphones and charged iPads, snacks, juice boxes, the baby books mentioned earlier, their own baby doll, etc. Again, even if you’re having a hospital birth, consider packing something like this for when they come visit their new sibling! Encourage them to inspect the teeny tiny toes with their magnifying glass, measure how tall baby is, swaddle or “nurse” their own baby, etc.
9. Ask them what they want and read their cues
Some kids will be so excited to be involved and want to hold their new sibling right away! Others won’t want anything to do with them for awhile. As a photographer I don’t like to force siblings to act or hold their new baby a certain way and as a mom I feel the same way. Before and after that baby is born I think it’s important to respect their choices- do they want to be in the room or not? My 5 year old is still debating. That being said, my 2 year old wasn’t given that choice- I don’t want him there for my own sanity. But he will get to decide when and if he wants to come into the room after the baby is born. Instead, we have been asking him if he is going to watch a show while his new sibling is born or go to the park? And then guessing questions like “Do you think you’ll be awake or asleep when the new baby comes?” Anything to get them talking and thinking.
10. Have them pick out a birthday present for the baby and pick out a present for the baby to give to them.
Bribery goes a long way! I’d recommend getting your older kids something that will entertain them while you’re distracted with nursing, changing diapers or desperately in need of a nap. Sticker books, magna-doodles, glow sticks, DVD sets of their favorites show (now is not the time to be strict about screen time), etc. I got my older son a dinosaur lego kit and my younger son some new Sticky Mosaics (which are AWESOME if you’ve never played with them before). Both things that aren’t messy and they can do without too much assistance beyond me handing them the box. For the baby I’m having them pick out this baby’s new lovey so when they hear the baby cry they can go get the soothing thing they picked out special to help calm them down.
Having a newborn is hard, but I found that having a new older sibling is harder. Your sweet first born will do things you never thought imaginable. Potty training will regress, whining will increase, needing to “be the baby” will take hold. But more on that later…..for now, focus on preparing them for this major event and help guide them into this awesome new role as a “Big.” What have you done to help prepare? I’d love to hear thoughts to add to this list!