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Preparing the Welcoming Committee

Preparing for the Welcoming Committee

WebMD Feature

If you think that you can bring a new baby home without the family routine skipping a beat, you're kidding yourself. A new family member means change for everyone: you, your child, even the family pooch or kitty.

The good news is that with a little forethought and patience, you can teach everyone that life goes on -- not the same, maybe, but with plenty of love to go around.

"One of the major tasks for an older child is to realize they haven't lost their important position as king or queen of the mountain," says Dr. Joseph Hagan, a pediatrician from South Burlington, Vt., and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at University of Vermont College of Medicine. "Now there are two (or three or four) royalty holding that place."

With some planning, even Frisky can stay curled on the throne.

Preparing for a Birthday Party

How much your child understands about having a new sibling will depend in part on the child's age and how much he can comprehend. But nestled together on your ever-expanding lap can be a good starting point to talk about the new baby and what infants are like.

If your child is still using a crib, try switching him to a new bed at least a few months before the new baby arrives so that he doesn't feel he's being usurped. Dr. Hagan says you don't have to remove the crib, but use it for something else, such as stuffed animals. And, don't refer to it as your child's crib but as "the baby crib." Same with old baby clothes.

"You want to disconnect its ownership ... that these are items our family uses for our babies, not just our former baby," says Hagan, who serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on psychosocial aspects of child and family health.

Leslie Kincaid Burby of New York took her then 3-year-old son, Henry, to all her midwife appointments so he could hear the baby's heartbeat. She also shared old photos with Henry so he could visualize what newborns are like, how they nurse and more.

But Dr. Hyman Tolmas, a pediatrician in New Orleans, says not to make too big a deal too early. You can let them feel the baby kick, but don't focus too much on it or overdo the "big boy" or "big girl" role, which might exacerbate regression later.

"Nine months is a long time for a child to have to wait for a baby brother or sister," says Dr. Tolmas, clinical professor of pediatrics emeritus at Tulane University School of Medicine, clinical professor of pediatrics at Louisiana State University Medical Center and another member of the AAP psychosocial committee. "Once the announcement is made, I wouldn't make a lot of fuss over it because by the time the baby comes, they're already sick and tired of hearing about it."

No matter how much you try to prepare them, children still won't be able to grasp the full meaning of having a sibling until they meet face to face. They might imagine the 9-month-old baby down the street or a friend's 3-year-old brother who can already play catch.

As Jackson Teague, then 5, of Brooklyn, N.Y., inspected a plastic fetus and had a lesson in what it would be like during his family's home birth, he drew pictures illustrating his interpretation: a mermaid with some baby fish next to her, recalls his mother, Jennifer.

"Most kids have a fantasy system that won't be well-grounded in what it means for their family," says Dr. Hagan. "You can't expect them to fully know what's going on."

When you go to the hospital, bring a framed picture of the older sibling to put on your night stand. "Don't say anything about it," Dr. Hagan says. "One hundred percent of older siblings see it, and it just proves to them that they haven't been traded in for the new model."

When your older child visits after the birth, make room on the bed for both of you to hold the baby. You can even throw a birthday party. Your child can wrap a birthday present ahead of time to hide and retrieve when the baby is born.

"My wife actually made a birthday cake and popped it in the freezer," says Dr. Hagan, whose children are 21, 18, and 14-year-old twins. It's just another way of celebrating the birth in a way that an older child understands and can be part of ... And, it feels good."

Dr. Tolmas suggests that a friend or relative take your older child out when you bring the baby home so that when he bursts excitedly through the door, the first thing he sees is you, without the baby, to shower him with kisses and your undivided attention.

That's Life, Plus One