Surviving Pregnancy with a Toddler Part 2 – Preparing your Toddler for the New Baby, Getting through the First Few Weeks and Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

October 27th, 2011

(Looking for part 1? Find it here)

How and When to Tell your Toddler about the New Baby

New baby books for toddlers

There are lots of 'new baby' books for toddlers on Amazon - click the picture to see more

The length of a pregnancy can seem like a lifetime to small children so try not to spill the beans about your pregnancy too early, even if you are excited. Toddlers don’t have much concept of time so don’t be surprised if when you do tell them, they start asking you every day if the baby is coming tomorrow. Probably a good time to introduce the idea is when you first start showing – your child may notice your growing stomach anyway and ask about it.

At just 12 months, I think Maya is probably too young to have any concept of what “there’s a baby in mummy’s tummy” means, and even older toddlers will have difficulty understanding that they will end up with a real live brother or sister at the end of your pregnancy. You can try to help understanding by taking them along to ultrasound appointments and encouraging them to feel the baby kicking.

Most days we point to my stomach and remind Maya that there’s a baby in there. She will kiss my stomach if I say “kiss the baby” and point to my stomach but I’m pretty sure this is just because she understands the word “kiss”. She’s also been to all of our doctor’s appointments where we point at the screen and say “there’s your little brother”.

Books designed to prepare toddlers for a new baby can be another helpful way to explain about pregnancy and babies to your preschooler. I recently bought Maya My New Baby by Rachel Fuller which has some lovely pictures to explain what a new baby will be like and has questions like “why does the baby always want milk?” and “why is the baby always crying”. Again I’m sure she’s a little young to understand most of it but if she’d been older I would have bought more books as I think they are a great way of explaining slightly complex subjects to young children.

Preparing Your Toddler for the New Baby

It’s a good idea to start thinking about any adjustments you will have to make once the new baby arrives and get your toddler used to these well before your due date. These may include:

  • Sleeping arrangements – does your toddler have his own room or do you co-sleep? Where will you put the new baby after it’s born? Have you considered that your older child may be woken by a newborn crying several times a night?
  • Breastfeeding –if you are still nursing your toddler you will need to decide if you want to stop or continue and tandem nurse both children. If you want to stop, this is best done gradually over at least several weeks (with extra time for setbacks) – I talked about this more in part 1.
  • Care arrangements – If you are currently the primary carer for your toddler, how will this change when you have another baby? Now would be a good time to introduce other carers so that your child has chance to get used to them before the birth. Remember, unless you’re planning a home birth you will probably need to spend at least one night away from home which could be quite traumatic for your toddler if they are used to being put to bed by you and only you every night.

Maya currently sleeps in our bed and will probably continue to sleep in the same room when we have the next baby, but in a separate bed. I’ve been getting her used to this on a mattress next to our bed which she has taken too quite well but I took away after we had a quite a big earthquake here – the only place to put it was next to some large cupboards and I was worried they could tip over and crush her if we have another big quake. I’m also not sure how well she will sleep through a newborn’s cries so we may experiment with moving her into another room for a while.

As we live with my husband’s parents and Maya is very used to being left with them, we do not have a problem with childcare although I am planning on getting Maya used to being put to bed by my mother in law over the next month or so and obviously still working on stopping night feeds. She usually only wakes once a night now so hopefully it shouldn’t be too traumatic for either of us. We have also recently hired a nanny to watch her during the day while I work at home which I’m sure we’ll appreciate even more once there’s another baby around. We have the luxury of living in a country where doing this is affordable but if hiring a nanny isn’t an option, you could consider asking a close family member to help out.

It’s a good idea to make arrangements for childcare for the time you spend in hospital well in advance and have at least one backup plan in place too. Make sure you talk to your toddler about where they will be staying as it gets closer to the time and if possible take them to see the hospital and explain you will be staying there for one or two nights to have the new baby. If your toddler isn’t used to sleeping away from home (with grandparents for example) on occasion, it will probably be better to try to arrange for someone to come to your home to watch them rather than placing them in unfamiliar surroundings without you.

Toddler and newborn

Maya practising being a big sister with a friend's newborn baby

As well as getting your child used to being looked after by other people, you will probably want to take the opportunity to spend some quality time alone with them before there is another baby to consider. Have a few fun days out with just you, your partner and your toddler and make some fun memories of when you were a family of just 3!

If your toddler is old enough to understand, try to talk regularly about what the baby will be like and spend time with friends or family with a young baby if possible. Explain that at first the baby will not be able to play and will just eat, sleep and cry for most of the time. Try not to use terms like “you’re a big boy now” as this can make the toddler feel even more insecure.  On the other hand you can try and make your older child feel important by telling them how much you’ll need their help when the baby arrives and how glad you are that the baby has a big brother or sister to help look after them.

I’ve already bought Maya a baby doll so she can get used to the idea of having a ‘baby’ to look after and I’m guessing that when the time comes she will watch me looking after her little brother and copy by changing the doll’s nappy, putting it to bed and so on. Role play toys are great for small children as they really help them to understand the world around them.


When the New Baby Finally Arrives

When it’s time for you to head to hospital, make sure you explain to your toddler where you are going and that you’ll be coming home with the new baby. It helps if you’ve been reminding them of this in the weeks and months leading up to your due date. If you have an older toddler consider waking them up if you leave in the middle of the night – they may be worried if they are used to you being there when they wake up, even if someone else explains that you’ve gone to hospital.

Have your toddler come visit you and the baby in hospital as soon as possible if you are staying longer than one night. Try to make sure that the new baby is in his cot or you have someone else to hold him when your older child arrives so that you can give them your full attention.

Sibling gifts can be a really helpful way to avoid jealousy when the baby is first born. Make up a small gift bag that you can give your toddler when she visits you in hospital or when you return home and explain that these are presents from the new baby.  Even if your toddler is too young to understand this concept, it can still be helpful to give a new toy to distract them from feeling insecure about their new sibling.

When you get home it will be a bit of an adjustment to make going from looking after a toddler to looking after a toddler and a newborn. Accept any help you are offered from friends and family and expect to feel exhausted and sleep deprived for the first few weeks. Let the housework slide and remember that the only important things in this vital period are taking care of your newborn and making sure your toddler gets lots of attention.

They have a great tradition here in Bali where new mothers are not allowed in the kitchen until the umbilical cord stump falls off the newborn. This forces the mother to rest while the rest of the family cooks, cleans and brings her meals and water, allowing her to concentrate on looking after the baby and getting rest. While you probably won’t have this option, you can make things easier by cooking and freezing lots of meals in advance of your due date and perhaps asking your partner or a family member to stock up the fridge while you are in hospital.

Maya sweeping

Maya loves 'helping' around the house with things like sweeping so I'm sure she'll enjoy helping take care of her little brother too.

While it will be hard work when you’re dealing with a crying baby who wants milk every 10 minutes, try to spend lots of quality one on one time with your toddler so they don’t feel left out. If your newborn wants to be held all the time, invest in a baby carrier or sling so you have your hands free to cuddle and play with your older child. I have both a Beco Butterfly II baby carrier which comes with a newborn insert and is also suitable for toddlers and a Wrapsody Bali Baby Breeze wrap which is great for newborns through to toddlers and the most flexible kind of baby carrier out there once you’ve figured out the different wrapping styles (the coolest available for hotter climes too!). Involve your toddler in caring for the baby as much as possible so they feel that they are helping you as well as making sure you spend time together. Toddlers love helping out with basic tasks and asking them to do things like bring you a clean nappy or put soap in the baby bath can make them feel important. Encourage sibling bonding by asking your toddler to interact with her little brother by kissing him, talking to him and making funny faces. As your baby grows up, their bigger brother or sister will no doubt be the first source of entertainment and smiles.

I have asked many people and read many experiences of raising a toddler and a newborn together, particularly with a small age gap and the general conclusion is that the first few months may be harder than anything you’ve done before but the reward at the end of it is siblings that will grow up with a close bond that is hard to achieve with a larger age gap.  While I wait for Maya’s little brother to be born in approximately 3 months. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the same situation – leave a comment or drop me an email via the contact form.

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