A Baby on Board: When and How to Share with Siblings
A lot of parents wonder when the best time to share a pregnancy with their young children is. For me, it’s always been right away. There are a few main reasons people use when they say it’s better to wait but I personally believe the concerns people have are actually reasons to share sooner. Here are my thoughts on it:
What if I have a miscarriage, how do I explain that to my child? Won’t you have to explain it anyways? Children pick up on when their parents are sad so unless you’re going to hide your extreme sadness and grief in the event of a miscarriage, I personally think it would be easier to explain the concept of a miscarriage after to a child who's already been introduced to the concept of a new baby rather than trying to explain both at the same time.
Young children don’t really understand anyways so there’s no hurry. That one is a complete lie and misunderstanding of young children. We told my first daughter I was pregnant with #2 when she was only 15 months old (and I was only 4 weeks along). Every morning when we woke up I would say “Honeybun, there’s a baby in Mommy’s tummy!” She understood when the baby was making me sick and when we went in for the ultrasound she understood what she was supposed to be seeing. At the ultrasound for baby #3, she was naming parts on the ultrasound before I could, “Mommy, that’s the baby’s arm!”
9 months is an eternity for children to wait so why rush it? I’ve found the more time you have to talk about the new baby the better. Children process and absorb things at different paces, something as abstract as a new baby takes time to understand so allowing the child to have time to think about it and ask questions is really helpful. By the time my scond daughter arrived, my first was so excited to see her baby sister we never had a problem with rivalry or attention because the baby had already been a real part of our lives for 8+ months.
Children don't understand time and won't understand what is taking so long. This is true, but for me the excitement outweighed the constant “is your baby coming out now?” questions and I just use those as opportunities to discuss the baby's growth and devloplement and our future with the baby. We looked through books with pictures of growing babies and talked about what life will be like. I asked my girls questions like “what do you want to do with the baby when it comes out?” and “what kind of things do you think the baby will like/need?”
I'm afraid my child will be upset by the news, s/he's been the baby for so long! How you deliver any news about the baby is key in how your child reacts. If you always talk about the baby joyously and lovingly, it’s likely your children will be excited too. Likewise, if you deliver the news hesitantly, weary of their reaction, there’s a good chance they’ll pick up on your apprehension and think it’s a bad thing and will react accordingly. Of course when talking about the realities of a baby such as the crying and how much time and attention the baby will need it’s okay to be serious, but I always try to put a positive spin on everything and stay upbeat and always talk about the fun things about babies too.
I’ve also found the more often you talk about it the more excited the kids will be and the more likely they will be ready for the baby when s/he arrives. When I was pregnant with #3, the baby came up all the time and my girls asked tons of questions and I always answered truthfully. My girls already knew pretty much everything about the baby inside and how it was going to get out. Older kids may also ask how the baby got in there also but luckily that was never an issue for us.
The younger the kids are, the less they’re going to really understand and sometimes they’ll make their own understandings. I let my girls feel the baby moving and tried to explain what was going on (hiccups or if they were poking at the baby’s bum). My second daughter thought the baby was “walking awound in dere” and always talked to the baby through my belly button (even though I knew that’s not where the baby was hanging out) but the most important thing to me was that she knew there was a real, live baby in there and she wanted to engage with him.
Baby #3 is now a year old and I can proudly say we've had very little sibling trouble. My girls adore their baby brother and save most of their fighting for each other (which came about as they got older, they adored each other when they were smaller). I think all the preparations we took during my pregnancy, welcoming the baby into the family before he was even born and letting my girls be a part of everything made a huge difference in how they feel about him.
Some resources I recommend for preparing and sparking conversation are:
I’m a Big Sister by Janna Cole (there is also a brother version)
The New Baby by Mercer Mayer
What Baby Needs by William and Martha Sears
Hello Baby by LIzzy Rockwell
The New Baby by Anne Civardi, Michelle Bates and Stephen Cartwright
Adult Books that show babies growing in the womb:
A Child Is Born by Lennart Nilsson and Lars Hamberger
Watch me…Grow! By Stuat Campbell
Since I had a homebirth with my girls present (more on my labor and birth experiences), I also shared an animated video of a baby being born where you can see the process from inside that would actually be great for first time parents or anyone who is unfamiliar with the process: Labor and Birth