Dr. Sears offers tips on preparing your toddler or child for a new baby
Q. I just found out that I’m four weeks pregnant with my second child. When should I tell my 5-year-old son that he’s going to be a big brother—right away or in a few months? And how can I get him used to his new role as easily as possible?
A. Share the good news with your child now, unless for some reason you want to keep it a secret from others for a while, because once you tell your child about your pregnancy, the whole town will know! One of the main reasons for telling a child early on is that children are so observant. They notice the little things and need to know why “mommy is so different.” Even though the bulge doesn’t yet show, many other changes will. Your child will want to know why you need more rest and more help, and why you have occasional grouchy days and less energy for him. It’s also good to get him used to the idea of “sharing mommy” as soon as possible. For example, tell him: “Mommy needs you to be quiet as a mouse when I take a nap, because I’ll be taking lots of naps.” This teaches him that someone else’s needs will be just as important as his own. Some helpful ways to get your child involved in your pregnancy and introduce him to his sibling-to-be:
Read all about it. Children need and like to know what’s going on inside of you. A useful way to play show-and-tell is by reading my picture book, Baby on the Way, with your child. The book illustrates the baby growing in the womb and shows how mommies’ bodies change during pregnancy.
Take him along to doctor visits. Bring your child along to hear the baby’s heartbeat, which can usually be done by an ultrasound device around the twelfth week. Your child will be amazed to hear the “swoosh-swoosh” sound of his little sibling developing inside you. When you begin getting ultrasound pictures, share them with your child.
Encourage him to be “hands on.” When you start to feel your baby move, let your child feel these movements. As the baby grows and the movements become more pronounced, point out to your child that he may be feeling the baby’s head move or tiny feet kick.
Share the shopping. Invite him to help you decorate the nursery and go shopping for infant clothes. Let him have some input in picking out the baby’s stuff.
Replay his birth pictures. Get out his own baby album and go through your pregnancy with him, showing him some appropriate birth photos and pictures of you interacting with him during the first year. Often use the phrase “Just like mommy did with you…” This will help him relate to what life with a new baby will be like.
With five years between siblings, there is unlikely to be much rivalry. Instead, a child at this age is likely to enjoy the novelty and excitement of having a baby brother or sister. By using the above tips to get your child involved in your pregnancy early on, you’ll steer him toward sibling harmony rather than rivalry, and the whole family will enjoy your pregnancy even more.