I still remember holding my second baby, moments after she was born.
She was a perfect little sister for my older son. But the more I thought about my firstborn, the more emotional I became.
Bringing a new baby home was going to change everything, I thought. How was my son going to react? And how will this affect our relationship, which was so intimate and special? I had this overwhelming feeling that I was about to let my son down dramatically. What had I done?
It turns out that baby number two comes with a few challenges, and grieving for the relationship you had with your firstborn is one of them. Getting out of the house with two kids is another. But fear not: with a bit of preparation, you can survive the second baby phase and everything that comes with it.
Kathy O’Donnell, Child and Family Health Nurse from Nurturing Hands, agrees that for many mothers the emotional adjustment to their second baby is surprisingly difficult. Welcoming baby number two into the world invariably means the intimate relationship you had with your firstborn changes. You might even find yourself mourning the exclusive time you used to have together.
Looking at the positives of what you’re providing your firstborn can help you adjust, says Kathy. “What you’ve given your firstborn is a sibling, and that’s a gift for life. That’s something that a parent can’t offer because we’re not going to be here forever.”
YOUR FIRSTBORN’S REACTION
Baby number one may present his share of challenging behaviour as he adjusts to the new person in his life. Don’t panic. “Try not to give the behaviour too much attention, but do try to talk it through with him when he’s calmed down,” Kathy advises. Your toddler’s curiosity in the baby might manifest in some less-than-gentle pokes and prods as he explores his new sibling, but this isn’t surprising.
“If you watch a toddler with a new toy, this is how they would play with it,” says Kathy. “It’s up to you to teach them gentle. He doesn’t know he can’t poke baby in the eye.” You can help your firstborn adjust by involving him with the baby as much as possible. Encourage your toddler to interact with his sibling, says Kathy. “But make sure it’s always under supervision.”
BONDING WITH BUB
While you probably took your time with feeding and enjoyed relaxed bonding time with your first baby, you might not find it so easy with your second one. Dealing with a demanding toddler while you’re trying to spend time with your baby can impact on the quality of that time.
“Sometimes when you’re all consumed with accommodating your toddler, you’re not getting that intimate time with your baby. Instead, you can end up robotically feeding and attending to your baby’s needs,” Kathy says. Consider having someone take care of your toddler occasionally so you can enjoy quality time with your newborn.
ALL THE NAPPING
With a sleepy newborn and a toddler who still naps at lunchtime, it can be difficult to plan activities and get out of the house. But while your new baby is still young, you can be relaxed about where he naps during the day.
In those early weeks, you can head to the park and use a pram or baby carrier for your baby’s sleep. “For the first three months, your baby needs to be close to you, anyway – and your toddler needs fresh air and exercise,” Kathy says, adding that you should use the bassinet or cot when you can at home.
LEAVING THE HOUSE
If you thought getting out with one child was hard, wait until you try it with two. Preparation is paramount here. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready, and keep the plans simple. Don’t plan complex adventures involving long car trips and make sure wherever you go has facilities for toddler toileting, changing nappies and feeding
your baby. Above all, says Kathy, keep your expectations low. “Aim to go with the flow. If plan A doesn’t come off, plan B is okay.”
MAKING TIME FOR YOUR ELDEST
Having a newborn means time with your firstborn is going to be limited, but it can still good for both of you. “It’s about quality, not quantity”, agrees Kathy. “Toddlers thrive on spontaneity – so five minutes for a kiss and a cuddle, getting on the floor for a tickle, these are just the sorts of spontaneous moments your toddler needs.” If you have some outside space, use it for bubble blowing or simple activities you can share that won’t involve a big clean-up. The key is not to make obvious plans around the
If you have some outside space, use it for bubble blowing or simple activities you can share that won’t involve a big clean-up. The key is not to make obvious plans around the baby because they can be so unpredictable. Seize spontaneous moments as they arise instead.
TAKING CARE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Having two children to care for can be hard on a relationship because of the sheer workload involved. But it’s important to look after each other during such a period of adjustment, even if it’s just taking time to hold hands on the couch and chat. “You can be intimate just by talking,” says Kathy.
“Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling and give him the opportunity to express his needs.” Use the time to connect and enjoy each other, and don’t worry – there’ll be the chance for a date night before too long.