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Growth and Development

Birth of a Second Child

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The happiness and love that your first baby brought into your life is beyond measure, and now you're thrilled to learn you are expecting another child. Although you've been through pregnancy and childbirth before, you now have added responsibilities and considerations in order to prepare for your second child.

Preparing for a second child can be as rewarding and special as the first time. Helping your older child understand what to expect can lessen anxiety for both of you, and being aware of the changes to come is the best way to prepare for this joyous event.

What Will Change?

Having a second child and handling two kids can be a bit overwhelming at first. Getting organized before the baby is born is your best bet, even though that might be a bit more challenging than it was the first time around.

Because your time will be restricted, you'll be busier — your once organized schedule may be stretched to the limit. Sleeping and meal schedules will fluctuate and will depend on the age of your older child.

You also might tire more easily, even before the baby is born, since caring for your older child while pregnant takes a lot of energy. After the birth, the first 6 to 8 weeks can be particularly demanding, because your main job will be trying to get your infant on a feeding and sleeping schedule, while anticipating your older child's needs and changing emotions.

One positive change that a second child brings is an increased confidence in your own abilities, knowledge, and experience. The things that seemed so difficult with your first child — breastfeeding, changing diapers, handling illness — will seem like second nature to you instead of a full-blown crisis.

How Will It Affect You?

Bringing home a new baby will affect you in many ways — some physically and others emotionally. Increased exhaustion and mild anxiety is a normal occurrence after having a child.

The "baby blues" can be frightening, but you don't have to endure feelings of depression alone. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. It's important to differentiate between a simple case of the "baby blues," which usually passes within a few weeks, and postpartum depression, a serious disorder that can lead to mood and sleep problems if untreated. If you begin to feel very depressed or anxious, or have thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, seek the help of your doctor immediately.

Physically, you are likely to be sore and very tired, particularly if you had a difficult birth or cesarean delivery. This makes late-night feeding sessions tough, especially if you have decided to breastfeed.

Seeking the help of a postpartum "doula" during the day can allow you to catch up on sorely needed rest and sleep. A postpartum doula is a specially trained woman who cares for mother and baby during the first couple of weeks after delivery.

If you work outside the home, you may be unsure about the future of your career. Making a decision about whether to return to your job is an important one; enlist the support of your family and friends when weighing all of your options.

Don't be surprised if you feel concerned about bonding with your new child. It may be difficult to understand that you will have just as much love for your new arrival as you do for your older child — but you will. As moms and dads often report, a parent's love somehow doubles when another child is born.

You will notice that you have little or no time for yourself during the first few months following delivery. Sleepless nights and everyday tensions can be overwhelming, so be sure to make "alone time" a priority for you.

Likewise, you and your partner will notice that you're rarely spending time together, so be sure to have an occasional date once things settle down.

Helping Your First Child Adjust

Your first child may experience a range of emotions, from excitement to jealousy or even resentment. Younger toddlers are unable to verbalize their feelings, and their behaviors may regress after the new child is born. They might suck their thumb, drink from a bottle, forget their recent potty training skills, and communicate using baby talk in an effort to get your attention.

Older toddlers and kids might express their feelings by testing your patience, misbehaving, throwing tantrums, or refusing to eat. These problems are usually short-lived, and a little preparation can help an older child adjust to the idea of welcoming a new sibling.

Emphasize the important role an older sibling plays. Some tips to try:

  • Let your older child help pick out items for the new baby's room. If your kids will be sharing a bedroom, this is particularly important.
  • Find a special gift that your older child might like to share with the baby, such as a favorite book or toy, or a photo of the sibling for the baby's room. You might also want to pick out something for your older child too, such as a special chair for him or her sit in while you're feeding the baby.
  • Arrange special time just for you and your older child. This might involve a trip to the library, grocery store, or simply reading a few extra stories at bedtime. Your partner can help you by caring for the baby during these times.
  • Role-play or read stories that will help your child understand what's happening in the family. There are several books written especially for toddlers that can help. Check a local bookstore or ask your librarian for specific titles.
  • Talk about what to expect when the baby comes home. Explain that a new baby cries, sleeps, and needs diaper changes frequently. Assure your older child that although the new baby needs lots of attention, there will still be plenty of time and love for him or her.
  • Reinforce your older child's role in the family, saying that he or she will be the "big brother/sister" to the new baby, and let your child revel in this new role.
  • Maybe your child could come to one of your prenatal visits or watch an ultrasound. If you're giving birth in a hospital setting, ask about sibling visitation after the baby is born.

The arrival of a new baby brings big changes to older kids, so you might want to hold off on introducing other major changes. This is probably not the best time to start toilet teaching, to begin the transition from bottle to cup, or to enroll your child in a program that means separation from you for the first time. Consistency will help make your child's adjustment easier.

Siblings play a very special role in a new baby's life, so don't leave your older child out of the decision-making. So much attention (new furniture, clothes, toys) is lavished on a new baby, making it easy for older kids to feel overlooked. Reassure yours by encouraging participation in the preparations.

Tips to Help You Cope

To help manage the added responsibilities of a second child, try these tips before the big day comes:

  • Stock the house with dry foods or quick, easy dinners. If you feel up to cooking, make double portions and freeze them, because finding energy will be harder once the baby is born. Keep some menus of take-out food restaurants handy, including a few that deliver.
  • Reorganize your laundry room, using one hamper per family member or a basket for each child so it's easier to sort and fold clothing. Laundry is usually the biggest complaint of new parents — it seems to quadruple when another child arrives, so now is the time to prepare.
  • If possible, use items you already have (or that family members can share) rather than feeling obligated to buy all new things. Hand-me-downs such as cribs, bassinets, strollers, high chairs (as long as they meet current safety standards), and clothes can help save time and money.
  • Treat yourself to a few new DVDs, but don't watch them until the baby is born. They'll help get you through those late-night feedings.
  • Stock the car with a diaper bag filled with all the necessary extras so you'll always be prepared. Many moms keep a toy bag in the car for older kids and a diaper bag with diapers, wipes, and an extra blanket for the baby.
  • Keep a book or toy bin handy in your bedroom, family room, and even the bathroom or laundry room, to keep kids busy for a few precious moments if an unexpected problem crops up.
  • Ask a family member to spend time with you right after the baby's birth, if you feel comfortable doing so. Not only will he or she enjoy it, but you may be able to get some much-needed rest.
  • Use babysitting services or a housekeeper, if possible, who can come in once a week for a month or two to help you with chores that are too strenuous and exhausting.
  • Look to your community or place of worship for support. Countless programs and classes are available that offer activities and social support for families with young kids.
  • Don't forget to take care of your own needs. Pamper yourself, even if it's something as simple as a haircut or a bath with candles and music to help you relax after a trying day.

Once everyone gets used to the reality of another child, you can all enjoy the many positive aspects of a larger family.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2010

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

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