Baby Steps: Little Big Sister

by Anita Sethi, Ph.d.

Baby Steps: Little Big Sister

Q. My daughter Jenna is 8 months old and the joy of my life. A few months ago, my husband and I were shocked to find out that I am going to have another baby! (It turns out that the antibiotics I was taking for an ear infection counteracted the effects of my birth control.) Jenna’s been showered with love and attention from our friends and family since she was born. How will she adjust to having another baby in the family so soon? A mom in the park with two babies said that her older one wants to be held all the time, and that made it difficult to nurse the newborn. I love this baby, but already I don’t feel like I’m paying as much attention to this pregancy as I did to my first. Will I love this baby as much as I love Jenna? Will I be as good a mom to this new baby? Any advice would be very helpful.

It is very normal not to be able to attend fully to all the details of pregnancies after the first. First of all, you have other, more pressing details to attend to, and second, the novelty is not as great, especially in the context of your life right now. It is simply not as compelling to note the details of your morning sickness as it is to record Jenna’s attempts at crawling. There is nothing wrong with this, and it doesn’t mean you will love your second baby any less. I bet if you took a survey of moms with more than one child, the majority would tell you that #2’s baby book is significantly less detailed than #1’s, but that the size of the baby book has absolutely nothing to do with how much they adore their second child. In fact, most parents are surprised by the capacity of their hearts to grow to love each succeeding child with as much fervor as the first.

There’s a more relaxed attitude that comes with later children, and that’s a good thing — it means that you can be less anxious and enjoy your baby more, because you will be more secure in your skills as a mother.

Jenna is very lucky and so is her younger sibling. Just the fact that you are asking these questions now suggests that you will be attuned to any differences in feelings or behavior that you have toward your new baby, and will try very hard to be fair to both children. This isn’t always easy — often one child has to give in to the needs of the other — but think of it the way I think of my toddler’s diet: It may not be perfectly balanced each day, but it evens out over the course of a week. I think you will find that, rather than loving the new baby less, you will be faced with the dilemma of divided loyalties: Who should you attend to first when both babies need you? How do you protect your vulnerable newborn from your (suddenly very large) firstborn, and how do you preserve your firstborn’s sense of importance in your life?

Preparing Jenna for the new arrival is the first step in helping her adjust to her future role as big sister. You can start by pointing out babies in the park and in books, and simply stating (when the time is near), “We’re going to have one, too.” You could even get her a baby doll and show her how important it is to be gentle to the doll. (Although when the baby comes home, she may want to toss the doll around and you should let her.)

When the baby first comes home, try making nursing a time for all three of you. Get a few of Jenna’s favorite books, a cup of juice, and some crackers, and sit down on the couch or bed. Invite Jenna to join you and offer a book or other activity for you to do together while you feed the baby. You could even watch a video together. The idea is to let her know that she is still your baby too, and that you can pay attention to both children at the same time.

Jenna is also lucky in that she has a loving community of family and friends. Now is the time to enlist some of those people, either to take care of Jenna or the new baby. Have someone visit when you need to bathe the newborn so that Jenna gets some attention at that time, or have someone watch the baby so you and Jenna can go for a walk alone.

Don’t be hard on yourself when things don’t go smoothly. Juggling the needs of two very young children is no small challenge, and there will be many times when you will feel that you are not up to it. Remember, you’ll be tired, too. Your situation will be further complicated by the limited verbal skills of a 1-year-old, making it difficult to explain things to her fully, and also making it hard for her to always tell you what is troubling her. If managing the demands of both children becomes overwhelming, don’t be afraid to ask for help — it doesn’t suggest that you are inadequate. On the contrary, it shows how much you love your children.