Having another baby
A new baby arriving in the family brings big changes for everyone.
It can be a very exciting time for toddlers and young children but involve some stresses as well.
Young children often feel left out and insecure when a new baby is on the way or has arrived in the family.
They might not know how to tell you they feel worried or upset about the attention the new baby is getting.
This can show in their behaviour. This is normal for young children. It doesn’t mean they are being bad, naughty or selfish.
You can help them to feel loved and secure by giving them hugs and smiles and by spending special time with them.
Before the baby arrives
Tell your toddler about the new baby, but not too soon. They don’t understand time very well and it can be a long time for them to wait.
Tell them later in the pregnancy when they can see what is happening.
Make any changes for your toddler, such as moving from a cot to a bed, well before the baby arrives. Make it something special for them.
Tell your toddler what will happen when the baby arrives. Involve them in planning if they want to. You could:
- ask them to choose between two outfits for the new baby
- give them a doll as their baby
- talk to them about babies and look at books and pictures.
Plan ahead for the mother's time in hospital.
Your toddler will cope best if they stay at home with people they know well, like a father, grandparent or other trusted adult.
If they have to go somewhere else or be with someone they don’t know well, help them get used to it before the baby is due.
Try to reduce stress around the time of the baby’s arrival. For example, avoid toilet training unless your toddler clearly wants to try.
Let your toddler visit their mother and the baby in hospital as much as you can.
Even if they cry when they leave, it can be better for them to see their mother and know where she is. It can help to:
- make them feel special when they visit - it might help if their mother is not holding or feeding the baby when they arrive
- take photos of your toddler with the baby to show them this is their family and it’s a special time
- give your toddler something of their mother’s to look after while she’s away, like a favourite scarf - this will help them understand that their mother is coming back
- give your toddler a photo of their mother to hold
- let them choose a special present for the baby
- give your toddler ‘a present from the baby'.
If they are not able to visit their mother, phone calls can help.
Make sure they know you will still love them when the new baby comes home.
This can help them to adjust and sets the foundation for a positive relationship with their brother or sister.
Bringing the new baby home
Your toddler’s behaviour might change when the baby comes home, even if you have prepared them well.
Changes might go on for some weeks and this can be hard when you are also managing a newborn. They might:
- go back to younger behaviour - like wanting a baby bottle or going backwards with toilet training
- show other signs of stress, like tantrums, when you are feeding or bathing the baby.
These are normal reactions which show that your toddler might be feeling insecure and less loved when you spend time with the new baby.
Don’t worry if your toddler’s behaviour goes backwards for a little while.
Let this happen without comment and it can help them to feel better sooner.
How you can help
There are things you can do to help your other young children when you bring your new baby home.
Spend time together
Try to spend special time with your toddler every day. You may need someone to care for your baby while you do this.
Other family members could have special time with them too.
Have special activities you can do together while the baby feeds. You could:
- read a book together
- have some special toys that only come out when you are feeding the baby
- watch a special DVD
- tell them stories about when they were a baby
- some children like to have a doll they can ‘feed’ too.
Let them know you understand how they feel.
You could say ‘I know you feel upset when I’m feeding our baby and you want to play. I like playing with you too'.
Read books together about new babies. Find books showing the older child both happy and upset about the new baby.
Show them how to touch the baby gently
Always be there to make sure the baby is safe.
Let them know they are not allowed to hurt the baby. Teach them that hitting is not how to show angry feelings.
Encourage good behaviour
Notice the good and helpful things they do and give them praise. You can encourage them to talk and sing to the baby too.
Persevere and be consistent even though it can be hard when you are tired and busy with the new baby.
Some parents miss the relationship they had with their toddler before the baby arrived.
Being aware of these feelings and giving yourself time to adjust can help you understand more about your toddler’s feelings too.
Showing that you understand how they feel can make a big difference.
Find out more, including where you can get help to manage another baby, on the following pages:
- child heath - community care centres and remote health clinics
- counselling and relationships - Parentline
- learning and development - Raising Children Network.
This information was adapted from the Parent Easy Guide series © Parenting SA, Government of South Australia.
Last updated: 28 November 2017