Preparing the Family

Preparing for your new baby includes helping other family members adjust. A new baby brings new sounds, new schedules, and new ways of coping for everyone. Most families soon find ways to adjust to the changes that take place. But it's helpful to prepare some family members for what's ahead.

Preparing siblings for the arrival of a new baby

A new baby will bring enormous changes to any family, and these changes are often the most difficult for the older brothers and sisters. Children older than age 5 often have an easier time, as they have begun to establish experiences and friends outside of the home. Toddlers often have a more difficult time. Not only do they have to share their parents with the interloper, but also the environment and their routines are affected. It has a tremendous impact on them.

Close up video of young girl hugging and pressing her ear to her mother's pregnant belly

To help your children adjust, begin discussions about the new baby well in advance. In general, the older the child the earlier you can begin discussions. If possible, involve them in making some of the decisions. Books are a wonderful resource. Explore the resources at your local library or bookstore. The right books are those a child wants to read over and over again. Acknowledge that there will be stresses and disappointments, but also the positive parts of the experience. Promise that you'll set aside time for the older brother and sister, without the baby.

Young children are very concrete. You might consider using large candles for the parents, smaller ones for the children. Light the parents' candles, and say that the candlelight is the love that the parents share with each other. Then light one of the smaller candles from the first two. Point out that the flames of the parents' candles are just as large as they were, and that there's more love to go around. Then light the other small candle from the first three, and again point out that the love has only grown, and there's still a lot for everyone.

Some toddlers love having a special doll that's their "baby." This can be purchased in advance or brought home with the new baby. A fairly realistic baby can offer opportunities to practice holding, diapering, and feeding.

Let the older siblings know exactly what they can expect. Talk to your obstetrician or the hospital where you'll be delivering about sibling preparation classes. Visiting mom in the hospital can be very important, if allowed

The big brother or sister needs a chance to welcome the baby at home. If someone other than Mom carries the baby, she can focus on the older siblings. The first time the older sibling holds the baby can make a very memorable picture. Be sure the older sibling isn't ignored by visitors who come to meet the new baby. A small book or toy can help counteract all the gifts which are showered on the new baby.

Right from the beginning identify a regular time, whether daily or weekly, which will be specifically for the older child. Ideally both parents will be able to have their own times. Even if you spend a lot of time with your children at home, it can be helpful to have this special time which they can count on, and not to feel they're constantly competing with the baby for your time and attention. When you're busy with the baby and your older child needs something, you can answer that you need to take care of the baby now, but "remember we'll have our special time ..."

Because feeding time can be especially difficult, consider having a basket of toys, books, and other distractions for your toddler for use only during this time.

It's very easy, as busy new parents, to expect too much of the older siblings. A 2-year-old is still a 2-year-old, even as a big brother or sister. Just like adults, children have limits to their coping abilities. When the stresses get too much they may regress a little, with toilet training or dressing for example, or wanting a bottle again, like a baby. Don't belittle these needs, but provide a little extra TLC and remind them how wonderful it is to be older and to be able to do so much more. It's hard enough for them to act their own age, don't fall into the trap of expecting your 2-year-old to act like a 5-year-old.

Keeping your family routines and rituals, at mealtimes and bedtime for example, can also help decrease stress for the entire family.

Preparing grandparents for the arrival of a new baby

A new baby may be the most wonderful gift you can give your parents. Their excitement matches your own, and they anticipate a very special relationship with this child. And being close to grandparents is a very special gift for children. Depending on your relationship with your parents, becoming a parent can also give you a new realization and appreciation for your parents and make your relationship closer as well.

Grandmother holds baby while grandfather looks on.

Many grandparents love being involved in the plans and decision making. Some will hardly be able to wait to get their hands on the new little one, others will be more reluctant. There are so many new products and changes in baby care (all the new vaccines for example) that some grandparents will feel a little apprehensive about things. They may appreciate a "brush-up" at a baby care class or, if available, at a special grandparenting class.

Grandparents can provide invaluable help when the baby first comes home. Give them an opportunity to get to know the new grandchild, but happily accept any help they give with housecleaning, laundry, and meals. This can also be an opportunity for them to spend some special time with older siblings.

There are potential problems, of course. You'll be developing your own knowledge of your baby and your own philosophy of child rearing. Happily accept help and suggestions, but don't let grandparents take over or make you feel inadequate or like a bad parent. Trust your instincts and your knowledge and be true to your own values.

Preparing pets for the arrival of a new baby

Most parents with pets have questions about how a new baby will affect their dog or cat. This is especially true if the pet has played a very central role in the home for many years.

It's important to begin preparing your cat or dog for a new baby before the baby comes home. A thorough veterinary examination is essential, to examine health and to test for any infections such as intestinal parasites. Flea and tick control on the pet is important as is killing any existing pests in the home.

Some parents are concerned that their pet (especially a dog) is too aggressive and may harm the baby. Professional trainers can offer advice on managing an aggressive dog. However, you may want to consider keeping your dog outside if it has dangerous tendencies. If you plan to change the routine for your pet, such as sleeping outside rather than in your bed, begin early.

The entrance of a new baby can often be chaotic. Pets may be curious, or just like children, they may experience some jealousy of the competition for their owner's attention. It's often recommended that you bring home a blanket, a worn article of the baby's clothing, or a used diaper with the baby's scent for the pet. This way the baby is more familiar to the animal.

When the baby comes home, allow your pet to sniff the new baby. Some experts recommend that someone other than a parent bring the baby into the home for the first time. There are many myths about pets and babies, such as cats sucking the air out of a baby's mouth. While many of these are untrue, it's wise to keep a close eye on all contact between your baby and your pets. Even an animal that is normally very gentle can injure a young infant or child.

Keeping interactions positive is important. Many pets can sense stress and emotional upset, and crying babies may be upsetting for them at first. Treats and rewards are helpful in reassuring your pet. Talk with a veterinarian if you have concerns about your pet and your new baby.


Next Steps