We have all struggled with the changes a new baby in the family brings. Emotions runneth over during this time, and mothers often wind up with more than their fair share of the baby blues as they grapple with meeting the needs of the whole family. I have sat and listened to many, many new moms share with me how they are dealing with the newness of it all. Below are ideas and thoughts that many moms have found comfort in over the years.
Everybody’s cool, yes? Maybe? Um..?
The goal of every parent is to minimize negative feelings older children may have about their new brother or sister, and to protect them from hurt feelings. Add to that finding confidence in ourselves to know we have enough love for all. We want the whole family to see this transition as a welcome and positive thing. Allow children to express themselves. But heed that advice yourself! Find outlets for you frustrations and challenges: mommy & me groups, post partum support groups, LLL, yoga, hire a babysitter for date night, online communities (hello!). All that wise advice about taking care of yourself post partum? That you listened to with your first, nap when baby naps? It still applies! Nap, nourish, rest – as best you can! If you’re really struggling with baby blues, seek out the advice of your midwife or doctor. Don’t isolate yourself and not reach out for the help you need!
Birth, breastfeeding and brothers & sisters:
It is clearly understood that breastfeeding gets off to the best start if you begin your preparations before baby arrives. Care and thought on planning your birth, how and where you birth, can effect outcome. We know outcome deeply impacts the mother-baby pair and plays a significant role in the success and the longevity of the breastfeeding relationship. The same is true of transitioning to two. How we give birth, how we bring our new one Earth-side, how we allow family and loved ones to say hello for the first time, are integral parts of transitioning. Whether at home, in hospital, a surgical birth or vaginal – we must prepare children for this.
Start the birth conversation before baby arrives.
We know parents share the pregnancy with their kids, but don’t forget to talk about the birth and those first few weeks post partum. My experience is that overwhelmingly children respond to their parents emotion and energy. If you’re calm, warm, compassionate about the birthing process, so too will your children be. Let us model for our children that birth, like breastfeeding, is a natural process and not a medical event.
Advice about labor: at some point or another children may come upon mom laboring – loud or soft, mom will be in a zone, and children need to know that mom is safe and ok. They need to know her “funny” breathing, making loud noises, crying even, is all normal. It is her “birth song” to help her bring the baby out.
If they’re really young, just practice with them – get down on your hands and knees and gently say, “when baby comes, mama is going to sound like a lion because her body is getting ready to birth. I’m going to make some very funny noises … shall we make them together?” And crawl around the house roaring like a lion, breathing like a snake, moving like a hippo in the muddy water! You’ll have giggles doing it and the child will see your body in positions and motion the same as you may be in during labor.
Have I ruined my child’s life?
One day when I was just a week or two post partum with my 2nd and crying about ruining my firstborn’s life, my girlfriend looked at me deadpan as we sat on a bench in Riverside Park and said, “Deirdre, the mama bear in you loves both of them. Evolution protects this system. We don’t eat our young! So stop worrying about not having enough love for the 2nd one or that Mother Nature doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
I remember being overwhelmed and confused by her joking honesty. “Of course we don’t eat our young, but look how miserable my two-year old is?” I wanted to shout.
Was she miserable though? Or was that just my head-game? All parents have moments where they feel heartache about the change they’ve inflicted on their firstborn. Feel it, honor it … then let it go!
Be honest about the good and the bad:
Depending on your child’s age, be patient with their ability to grasp the concept of what is happening. While they’re transitioning, allow for the expression of both the good and the bad. Explain how you’re feeling if they seem concerned. They may feel unsafe and scared if mom is healing from a difficult birth and no one is communicating to them what’s going on.
Remember, positive good feedback is easy for them – we know when they’re happy. Expressing the hard stuff is their challenge and it can manifest in all kinds of unexpected ways. Find outlets for kids to express what they need.
Helpful Transition Ideas:
~ I found sitting with my daughter with an artists pad and asking her to “scribble” or “draw” what she was feeling helped. Kind of like journaling, 3 year old style! She’d scribble, I’d ask her to tell me about it, then I’d write her words next to her art work. I think this helped her feel validated that I was really listening to her. And it gave us time together. A book I turned to was Siblings Without Rivalry. It has what I felt were compassionate strategies to help in this transition.
~ Another fun, artistic way to tell children it’s ok to feel off balance is to play with the yin-yang metaphor. Draw them, doodle them, craft them out of every thing in your craft box. Sometimes we’re tired, sometimes no. Sometimes we feel bright and colorful, sometimes a little darker! Sometimes we’re mad, sometimes we’re happy.
~ Is there a sibling class in your area? Many childbirth educators and doulas offer sibling classes. Homebirth educators tailor the classes for those siblings who will be around when mama gives birth. These classes are usually just a few hours long and are filled with useful information – how best to hold and show your love to the new baby, why babies cry, what baby needs, how it eats, what it’s like to be a big sister or brother.
~ Have a stash of “special treasures” that only come out when you are nursing the baby. Some kind of treasure that is usually off limits, but because this is a special time, let older brother or sister have something special too. Mom’s costume jewelry, dress up, special magic markers or pens, fun scissors, ribbon, stickers.
~ Put a blanket down on the floor and have a picnic with you child each day. Put books, toys, snacks and just camp out on the blanket for a bit. Have the new baby in a Moses basket or swaddled near by, but not at the center of your picnic. Lay down, head to head, giggling, loving, playing … just you and the older sibling. B
~ Give your child a doll of their own! Their very own baby to nurture, breastfeed, diaper, “wear,” cuddle.
~ Establish a secret handshake, wink or word that is just between you two! The purpose of this word is use it when grandparents, family and neighbors are ooogling over the baby and barely saying hello to big sibling. Pretend together that moments like those are so annoying! Roll your eyes and joke with you kid, “again?” They’ll feel not so all alone in their frustration if they know you’re in on the secret!
Books We Like:
I’m a Big Sister and I’m a Big Brother, by Joanna Cole
We’re Having A Homebirth, by Kelly Mochel
Baby on the Way, by Martha Sears
Mama’s Milk/Mama Me Alimenta, by Michael Elsohn Ross
We Are Having a Baby, by Viki Holland
We Have a Baby, by Cathryn Falwell
Welcome With Love, by Jenni Overend
My New Baby, by Rachel Fuller
Lisa’s Baby Sister, by Anne Gutman
And join our Facebook page! We are a growing online community and welcome you to share your struggles & triumphs with breastfeeding, birth … and whatever else coming into Motherhood means to you!
Special thanks too, to Gertie and George, for letting me use that wonderful picture of them!
Breastfeeding Blessings ~