Updated February 2019
Congratulations, you’re expecting baby number 2! Or maybe you’re just thinking about taking the plunge.
Now that you’ve done some time in the trenches of parenthood, you’re a hardened vet. After all, you’ve figured out how to feed a baby, get him dressed, soothe him to sleep (at least some of the time…), take care of him when he’s sick, and take him out into the world. We know these are no small feats!
But…when it comes to having a second baby, you may have a few new concerns. It’s okay – you’re not alone.
The classic fear that often besieges parents when they find out they’re expecting a second child is this: how can I possibly love another child as much as I love this one?
Most parents fret over this at some point during the pregnancy – even if they don’t admit it out loud. Although it feels absolutely impossible to ever love another human as much as you love your first, just like all parents of multiple kids will tell you, the truth is that with each child, your heart will continue to expand.
To borrow a sentiment from our twins editor, Marissa, “I know now that I have an endless supply of forever, unabashed, unconditional love to give each child…”.
At first, you may not feel as connected to your second baby as you do with your first. This is totally normal! After all, you’ve had a lot more time to bond with your first and these things take time.
You can and will love each child for the unique, wonderful little people they are—and while it’s natural to expect your second (or more) child to be a smaller copy of your first, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how different your new baby is from your first. What’s more, you’ll come to cherish the relationship they develop with each other. Watching the love and affection grow between your children is a whole new kind of happy which will totally overwhelm you in all the good ways.
Will my first child resent the baby for taking attention away from him/her?
The short answer is yes (let’s be real…). It’s to be expected that your first child (no matter what the age difference) will sometimes feel jealous of the attention the new baby is receiving. Other times, firstborns might ignore the new baby altogether, or see him more as an object of curiosity rather than a true rival.
It largely depends on the age and personality of your first (and the time of day, what your older child has eaten, how much sleep she’s gotten, whether it’s a full moon….just kidding!…sort of).
Even if the reaction is negative, you can remind yourself that in the end, you’ve given your older kiddo a true gift. It’s good for your child to have a sibling: someone to share life experiences with, to team up with against mom and dad (ha!), a built-in friend to play with; someone to remain with on this earth long after you and your partner are gone (cue the tears…).
While my sister and I were never terribly close, when our father died, I appreciated her in a whole new way; we were in it together for the long-haul.
Keep in mind that every child is unique and will experience becoming an older sibling very differently. While some on our team said their children had a relatively easy time with the transition, Meg, for example, said it was really tough for her oldest: “Lucie punished me for weeks and I felt like I was truly going crazy. She acted out and was extremely difficult when Alice was born, though that behavior faded after a few months.”
The age difference between your kiddos might give you some idea of what you can expect from your older child. Kids under the age of two may experience more intense jealousy as they adjust to the existence of their new little brother or sister (“why is my mom holding another baby?!). Labor and delivery nurses will tell you that big siblings react with jealousy the vast majority of the time (even teenagers!); it’s human nature to do so. Think about it: now your older child has to compete over resources, time, attention, affection, etc.
Siblings who are at least three years older than the baby may better understand (and accept) their new role as a big brother or sister. They may even feel a greater sense of importance in the family and enjoy getting to be mom and dad’s special new “helper.”
You should also remind yourself that the goal in child rearing is not to protect your child from any negativity, adversity or struggle. While this may be your knee-jerk reaction, remember that struggle is how children learn and grow; without any challenges in life, children become emotionally fragile and have difficulty adapting in the real world.
Will I ever have free time again?
I kid!…kind of.
When your kids are very young, it may feel like you’ll never have time to yourself again. This depends largely on your parenting style: if you’re someone who is good about asking for help (or hiring babysitters) to watch your kids so you can get out, you’ll probably fare a lot better in this regard. If you have a harder time widening your network of trust — or leaving a newborn with anyone but yourself (this was 100% Alicia’s experience) — this feeling of losing yourself to your kids’ needs can be a lot more intense.
For those of you going back to work, the second time around should be a little easier, though perhaps a bit more logistically complicated (taking one child to school and the baby to daycare, for example – or as we call it, the dreaded “multiple drop off”). For those staying at home, getting some help at home with housework or with the kids (or both!) will go a long way in helping you get some much needed time for you – even if it’s just once or twice a week.
In general, there’s simply no getting around the fact that two kids is more than one…and that it’s now a lot more to ask someone (grandma, for example) to watch them both so you can go get a haircut. Or go to the store. Or to the gym. Or to one of the million places where you really don’t want to drag a toddler and a baby. You’ll get there, I promise… but it can take a while. For now, start asking around for babysitter recommendations.
If your older child is in daycare or preschool, continuing them in the program will get you some invaluable bonding time with your newborn (and your older kid will benefit from socializing with friends). Try not to feel guilty about sending one child off to school while the other stays home, if you can (this is tough…). Remember that you had time alone with your firstborn, and it’s only fair that you can do the same with your second.
Will your kids be roughly two years apart? In our experience with this age gap, the baby really isn’t the hard part when you become a parent of two. You will find that the baby’s a piece of cake — it’s the toddler who’s hard! If your kids are two-ish years apart, your second will be born right as your first kid becomes a “terrific two” (ahem) – and the birth of their younger sib may contribute to their increasingly challenging behavior.
Figuring out how to handle your toddler’s myriad new emotions, defiance, and meltdowns is where many parents lose their minds. It’s hard enough as it is to handle a two-year-old (see also: our Behavior Series)— but then you also have a baby to care for on top of it.
Don’t despair: there are some really great things about this age gap—the older child seems to accept the younger pretty quickly, for one, and before you know it they’ll actually enjoy playing together. For now, show yourself some grace for being in the trenches and remember it’s a short-term problem. The truth is: the first year of your second child’s life is the hardest year for many.
Preparing your Older Child
In our experience, talking with your first child about becoming a big sib is vital to preparing him for the big change that’s coming down the pike (or canal, as it were—ahem). As soon as you feel comfortable, you can begin talking to your little one about younger siblings and introducing the idea that soon there will be a new baby in your family.
Some parents caution against doing this too early on in your pregnancy (young kids may become confused if you tell them they’re becoming a big brother or sister and then 8 months go by before they actually see a baby!), or too often. Let the focus stay on them, like it has, rather than talking about a new baby all the time. The last thing you want to do is make your older child feel as though he’s been upstaged before the baby is even born.
If you can, keep the conversation light and bring up the idea of a new baby when you feel your older child is developmentally ready to understand what’s going on (probably around 18 months and older). He will notice mom’s growing belly at some point, and that can be a good time to begin to talk about how there’s a baby in there who can’t wait to come out soon and meet his or her awesome big sibling.
Kids’ books can be a great help in preparing a soon-to-be older sib for his or her new role. We particularly liked reading I Am A Big Brother (its companion book for girls is I Am A Big Sister) with our son, as well as Big Brothers Are The Best (also: Big Sisters Are The Best) and You Were The First (this one will make you cry— but you can blame the hormones!).
If your kid loves Daniel Tiger, Daniel gets a little sister (oh boy!) in The Baby Is Here!; for Berenstain Bears fans, there’s The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby; and if you’re expecting twins, our resident twins expert Marissa recommends I’m Having Twins! Older kids who love Arthur will enjoy Arthur and the Baby. Last but not least, if you’re adopting your second child, this one is just beautiful: Just Right Family: An Adoption Story. That one gets me every time!
Another way to introduce the idea of a baby is to get your older child a doll (if she doesn’t already have one). You can practice feeding, clothing, babywearing, and diapering the “baby” for fun. This can be a great way to show your firstborn what having a new sibling will be like (and how she can help take care of the baby).
Remember: boys and girls alike can enjoy playing with dolls, so if your little boy doesn’t have one yet, take this as an opportunity to let him get in touch with his delightful nurturing side!
Another great tip we learned is to make super sure your first child is totally done with his toys, clothes, and crib before they get passed down. The last thing you want to do is make your firstborn feel like the baby is taking all his things (especially if he’s a young toddler!). For example, if your kiddo is ready for a toddler bed (2.5-3 years +), make this transition a few months before the baby is due.
If your older one is nearing the age of potty training, experts recommend potty training either a few months before the baby is born or waiting until after your older child has adjusted to the new baby’s presence. It can be hard on a child to be mid-potty training, then have a new sibling come into the picture (that’s two big changes at once!).
You’re a “big kid” now!
Our pediatrician gave us a great piece of advice: try not to refer to your older child as a “big boy” or “big girl” when dealing with challenging toddler/preschooler behavior after a new baby has entered the family (e.g. “you can go to bed on your own, you’re a big girl!”). With all the attention the baby is getting, your firstborn may not want to be a “big kid” right now. In fact, she may enjoy “playing baby”… and it’s probably wise to indulge her a bit for the time being. Remember: your older child is your first baby…and she wants to make sure you still remember that!
We totally get that bringing home baby number two feels like a daunting challenge (it does for everyone!), but just remember that humans have been having multiple children since the dawn of time and everyone seems to figure it out. And for those of you stressing about how your toddler will deal with the arrival of the new baby, keep in mind that kiddos who are three (and under) probably won’t even remember it in the long term, like, at all!
There’s more to come for our “Baby #2” series, including Gearing up for Baby #2, the logistics of labor and delivery, and life with two. Stayed tuned for that!
Oh – and congratulations from all of us here at Lucie’s List! The good news: everything is SO much easier (with the BABY) the second time around.
~ Alicia, Meg, Brit, Marissa, Melissa and Heather ❤️