From baby to ‘big’ sister: Preparing a toddler for a new arrival.

When we found out that we were expecting, back in December, my first thought (apart from whether the baby would be healthy) was how Primrose would cope with the transition to big sister. Breastfeeding, a growing bump, scans, appointments and, eventually, a baby! How would this little one deal with becoming the not-so-little one? She will be just 23 months when he arrives, so very young; too young to really grasp what’s going on. That said, I have friends with just 13 months between babies and they’ve survived to tell the tale!

Breastfeeding and Sleep

To begin with, I panicked about this. I thought I should stop feeding her to sleep and encourage her to go to sleep without cuddles. Except that this would have gone against everything I believe in as a mama – her secure attachment and knowledge that we’re always there for her could have been so easily broken had we tried to rush her into moving away from that sense of trust and security. I didn’t want to ‘rock the boat’, especially when she was sleeping for 12 hours each night, just for the sake of forcing her to do things differently. So that initial panic segued into an acceptance of ‘what will be, will be’ and I decided to continue nursing her to sleep for as long as she wanted/needed to and was prepared to tandem feed her alongside the baby when he arrived (see our Guest Post on this topic by Mother Sider Lyndsey). I did experience some nursing aversion in the first trimester but, on the whole, I was glad to have a gentle, guaranteed way to get Primrose off to sleep each night.

Fast forward 8 months and we’re no longer breastfeeding. It was clear from very early on in the pregnancy that my milk either tasted different, was diminishing, or both – Primrose fed for shorter durations as the weeks went by. By this point she was only feeding before a nap and before bed and, around 3.5 months, she no longer wanted to feed before her nap, asking to ‘duggle’ (cuddle) instead; my supply had obviously dwindled and I knew then that it was likely that I was one of up to 80% of women whose milk would dry up in pregnancy (usually around the 4 month mark). Again, I panicked initially, not wanting to lose that time each night but, again, she gradually stopped feeding, content to ‘duggle’. I decided not to try to dry nurse until my supply returned, simply because she seemed completely unfazed by the change. Had she been upset I would have looked into it more. More information on milk production in pregnancy is available here.

So now, we cuddle. Or she and Daddy cuddle. When we say, “I love you Primrose”, she says it back but, the other night, I got a, “Love you Mama” out of the blue, which was such a wonderful thing to hear, like a confirmation that she’s happy and content with the arrangement. What will happen when I also need to cluster feed a newborn in the evenings? Who knows – we’ll take it as it comes. She won’t want these cuddles forever and we’re in no rush to rush her, especially when the world as she knows it is about to change, big time!
I’m on the look out for a bigger feeding chair that will also accommodate a wriggly toddler for cuddles!

With the exception of two midwife appointments, Primrose has been to all our scans, my CVS and all checkups (though there haven’t been many of these in this second pregnancy). She was with us when we had a homebirth check at 37 weeks (see right), and is on first name terms with two of our community midwives.
Our scan photos are visible for her and she often points them out, saying, “Scan… baby brother.” She is fascinated by the blood pressure monitor and the midwife’s Doppler, referring to the baby’s heartbeat as a ‘helicopter’.
Again, how much she understands is anyone’s guess; I suspect not a great deal. The main thing is that she has been part of the journey.

Testing out the birthing pool AKA: swimming pool

We would have liked to have had Primrose at home but, living in a boarding school made a term time EDD a tricky issue. We went for the middle ground with a waterbirth on our local Birth Centre. I hoped that, if we had another baby, the dates may fall within holiday time, making a homebirth more practical. Fortunately, they did – slap bang in the middle of the summer holidays, so plenty of leeway on either side.
In addition to not wanting to leave the comfort of home – our bed, our bathroom, hot tea and yummy food etc – my main reason for wanting to avoid ‘going in’ was to keep things as consistent as possible for Primrose. Of course, there is always the chance that we may have to transfer to hospital for some reason, and my best friend will be here should that eventuality occur, but if we can keep the family together in one familiar place, this will cause the least disruption to her, and the shock of having a tiny baby in the house will *hopefully* be diminished a little if he’s just ‘there’ rather than us being gone and then appearing with him… Of course, I’ll be sure to let you know how this pans out!

The ‘Bump’
Primrose has found this source of constant interest as the months have passed. I showed quite quickly and we encouraged her to talk to her ‘brother’. She went through a long phase of blowing raspberries on it, before moving to more gentle kisses as it grew. The henna I had applied for my Blessingway brought her a lot of happiness, first sniffing it (the essential oils smelt amazing), then watching the henna crumble off, then wanting to look at it over the next few weeks, pointing out her name, which was worked into the design. She lifts up my top to say, “Morning brother” each day, and has recently started wanting to fall asleep with her hand on the bump.
The poking of my belly button and lifting up of my top to kiss the bump in public… not such fun for Mama!

Books and Toys
We have a couple of books that Primrose has enjoyed reading. My sister-in-law gave us one called Mummy, Mummy, What’s in Your Tummy?  by Sarah Simpson-Enock and Lauren found one called There’s a House Inside my Mummy by Giles Andreae. Both are age appropriate for littlies, whereas some of the others on sale would be better for children aged 3+. The former is more ambiguous, running through all the possible things that could be in Mummy’s tummy, before revealing that it was, in fact, a BABY! The latter is more ‘practical’ – a journey through pregnancy through the eyes of a toddler, watching his mama as her pregnancy progresses.
We have bought My New Baby by Rachel Fuller, for after he arrives – particularly appealing because it includes breastfeeding and babywearing, so it will be a good way of helping her understand these things.

There are a couple more in this lovely post about preparing children for a homebirth and/or waterbirth that I would have purchased were she a little older. The one we’d really love is Mama, Talk About when Max was Born but it’s only available in the US, sadly. Mummy Laid an Egg is a great one for older children too.

We also decided to buy a doll and a quick ask in a local Gentle Parenting group on Facebook elicited a recommendation for this one, which we opted for. (Beware – it arrives naked, in a clear plastic bag; not the nicest of arrivals, poor chap). It is ‘anatomically correct’ and is meant to be newborn size, though it is definitely smaller than an average newborn! We picked up a pram from someone selling it locally. Primrose is very taken with him… most of the time. Sometimes, I find him abandoned face down on the floor, with his legs and arms contorted into odd positions, or she’ll wander into a room ‘carrying’ him in a choke hold. I also found a toy snake in the pram the other day. For her age, it’s been a good investment – she shows lots of affection towards him and often asks to have him in her cot, or next to her when we’re reading.

This is something we have been very aware of, not wanting Primrose to feel like she is suddenly ‘a big girl’ because, really, she is still a baby herself. We (and she) refer to ‘baby brother’ and we call her ‘sister’ and don’t talk about her as a ‘big girl’ or ‘grown up girl’. It’s pretty likely that she’ll ‘regress’ in some way – perhaps sleep, or speech, or suddenly taking an interest in breastfeeding again. We don’t want to exacerbate her feelings of suddenly being usurped by making her feel like she’s not our baby anymore.
We haven’t referenced Sarah Ockwell-Smith for a while, but she perfectly sums up the pitfalls of using this type of language on a child too young to understand it.

So, there we have it. We’ve done all we can think of to prepare our little one for a littler one. I’ll report back in a few months about how Primrose has taken to her new role as a sister. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for us!

How did you prepare your toddler or older child for the arrival of a sibling? Did it go smoothly? Did they show any signs of regressing? Share your stories with us.

Jo, The Mother Side x

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Cover photo and the first photo above courtesy of Emma Tunbridge Photography.

3 thoughts on “From baby to ‘big’ sister: Preparing a toddler for a new arrival.

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