Transitioning the Only Child to Older Sibling

La Leche League’s  publication THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING sums up the fear that many mothers have when pregnant with her second child: “The mother who is expecting her second child sometimes finds it hard to imagine that she will feel as close to the new baby as she does to the little one who is already here. Can there be the same strong love the second time around? The miracle of mother love is that it increases with each new birth. It is not diminished, not limited. It is not a pie that must be sliced into smaller pieces to accommodate extra plates at the table. With the new baby comes a resurgence of love for the whole family.”

Attached parents often find that in addition to preparing ourselves for the major transition from more of focusing on one child to focusing on the needs of the family, they would like suggestions for how to help prepare the older child.

THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING states that “generous portions of love and reassurance will go a long way toward helping your older child, the ex-baby, accept the demands that the new baby is making on your time”. It talks a lot about the helplessness of the baby and acceptance of sacrifices within the family for the new baby.

“Encourage them (older children) to remember that the new baby will be the only member of the family who will be completely dependent on you-just as they were at that age. When thought of in this way, it’s easier for a young person to recognize (but not always accept) that baby’s needs must certainly come first.”

”Looking ahead, you’ll find that cheerfully putting the needs of the baby first, as a matter of course, is an example of caring for others that benefits everyone. It’s a good way to educate your children for their future roles as loving parents.

This can be a delicate balance, however.  Some mothers have found that while she is the only one who can nurse the baby, the baby is more than agreeable to receiving diaper changes from daddy, and snuggling with an aunt or uncle after feeding, while a three or four year-old often has strong feelings and preferences as to which caregiver does what things.   A point to consider is many things for a toddler or preschooler is the repetition of “this is who always does these things” so to consider every point within your rhythm and who could do what may be helpful.  On the other hand, a three or four year  old may protest, but sometimes a baby’s truly physiologic, biological need is to be with Mommy while the toddler or preschooler has an emotional need to be loved and wanted by Mommy.  It is a balancing act, and everyone in the family has needs.  Sometimes the needs of one child will take precedence first, sometimes not, but the children are always loved and the needs are met.

Advice for Preparing Your Child for Pregnancy and Birth:

The Gesell Institute books (Your One-Year-Old, Your-Two-Year Old, etc)   discusses what children typically understand about pregnancy at the following ages (and it may be much less than you really think!)

  • 3 years old – Most do not understand when Mother says baby grows inside of her. Many believe that you purchase a baby the way you buy groceries. They can understand the idea that a baby may come from a hospital.
  • 4 years old: May believe that a baby grows inside a Mommy, but may also cling to notion babies are purchased. Asks how baby get out of Mother. May think baby is born through navel.
  • 5 years old: Interested in babies, having a baby.
  • 6 years old: Strong interest in origin of babies, pregnancy, birth. Vague idea babies follow marriage. Interest in how baby comes out of mother and if it hurts. Some interest in knowing how baby started.
  • 7 years old: Intense longing for new baby in family. Associates size of pregnant women with presence of baby. Interested in mother’s pregnancy. Interested in books about baby.

The Gesell Institute offers this wise advise:  “Unless the child asks questions, best delay the announcement till the last few months…The very young child has a very different sense of time from the adult.”

It can also be very surprising to mothers who thought their children really understood everything about the pregnancy and birth to find out as their children got more verbal several years later what they really  understood and remembered from the pregnancy and birth!

What Wise  Mothers Have Suggested:

Read On Mother’s Lap or Dr Sears’ Baby On The Way to older child

Call the newborn “our baby”

Point out breastfeeding babies and that babies need to nurse when you see them

Take  the older child to prenatal visits

Tell the older child their own birth story

Point out older siblings who are helping younger siblings when you see them

Let Dad take over some of the routines for the older child before the baby arrives….Many mothers commented to me that the children that they waited to do this with until after the baby was born seemed to  feel displaced and were not accepting of this change at first….Also harder on Dad, because Dad feels unwanted by the older child whom he is trying to help and assist.

If your child develops separation anxiety during the pregnancy, go with it

Some mothers have their children watch maternity/birth shows or videos – I personally have an issue with this, but that is just my own personal opinion….Please do consider your  child’s age and temperament though!

If your child is still nursing, talk about that your milk may dry up during pregnancy but the baby will bring it back (make the baby a hero :))

What Mothers Say About Including Siblings at Birth:

Write down a birth plan and figure out what you are comfortable with

Prepare your children for the physicality of birth – some children are uncomfortable with the things that happen, even older children. such as 9 year olds.  You must be prepared for not only what you have in mind, but your child’s needs regarding this.

Consider your child’s age

Have a back-up plan

Have drinks, snacks, toys at the ready

Some kids celebrate by baking a birthday cake while Mom is in labor

What Mothers and Other Sources Say About Adjusting As A Family

The Gesell Institute books say, “Downplay the baby. He or she absolutely will not care.”


Regarding Housework:

  1. People before Things.
  2. Simplify, declutter before baby comes
  3. Do “spring cleaning” before baby comes
  4. Rearrange cleaning supplies so they are child-proof but easily accessible
  5. Make your bed or not.
  6. Focus on one or two top priorities for the day.

Regarding Meal Planning:

  1. Advance meal preparation
  2. Simplify
  3. Use a slow-cooker or crock-pot.
  4. Prepare snacks at beginning of day with assistance of toddlers and older children
  5. Use music and sing, make meal-times special.

Regarding Laundry:

  1. Have an ample supply of clothing.
  2. Enlist your husband’s help
  3. Pre-sort and pre-soak
  4. Involve toddlers and older children.
  5. Don’t iron
  6. Find a way children can help hang up clothes.

Regarding Time for Other Little Ones:

  1. Have a nursing corner that will accommodate all children.
  2. Keep an assortment of play toys/ideas for other children that come out when nursing and change the assortment frequently.
  3. Sit on the floor while nursing.
  4. Toddlers love to dust and clean- work together
  5. Enlist Dad to keep older ones busy when you need time with the baby alone
  6. Encourage the older children to think of ways they can help each other, teach then household skills.

Typical Areas of Challenge in Meeting Family Needs:

And every family will come up with different ways to work with these challenges that work for them, but here is a list to get you thinking:

  • Tandem Nursing, or the older child who has weaned who wants to come back to the breast after the baby is born
  • What the older child  can do while baby nurses (or “the minute I sit down to nurse the baby, my older child needs something! 🙂
  • Co-sleeping
  • Older child waking up baby/Baby waking up older child
  • Naptimes and Bedtimes
  • “Alone” time for each of the children
  • When Number One Child  Wants to be the Baby – regression is common
  • When Number One Child  Feels Left Out

What Wise Mothers Say:

  • Try to maintain as close to a normal routine as possible
  • Be prepared for negative feelings from the older child regarding the baby
  • Be prepared that tandem nursing may not work out the way you thought
  • Be prepared for your own negative feelings
  • Try to make time to spend alone with your older child every day
  • Cultivate Dad-older child relationship
  • Let your older child hold and help care for the baby with supervision; if your child is young (ie, 18 months to 2 years of age),  some mothers suggest what worked well for them is  letting the older child touch the baby gently on  the feet and try to steer touching and loving to the feet more than the baby’s face and neck 
  • Try not to “blame” the baby for something your older child cannot do or have at that moment
  • “In any event, it is never wise to leave an untended, unprotected infant with an older sibling under the age of 6 or 7.” (Gesell)
  • “Keeping older children happily occupied, providing for them as rich and full a life as possible, reduces their need to attain emotional satisfaction by feeling and expressing jealousy of brothers and sisters, and especially of a new baby.”  (Gesell Institute)

Advantages to Being the Number Two Child  or more in a family  from author Nancy Samalin in her book “Loving Each One Best:  A Caring and Practical Approach to Raising Siblings”:

Parents are more experienced, less uptight

There are older siblings to teach you the ropes, be your playmate

Parents are less intense and can roll with the punches more

There is more activity and fun!

I personally truly believe that giving your child a sibling is the most wonderful gift you can ever give your child! Watch your family evolve with the addition of more children and, above all, have fun and LOVE each other!!

5 thoughts on “Transitioning the Only Child to Older Sibling

  1. Pingback: Even More About Transitioning The Only Child To Older Sibling « The Parenting Passageway

  2. This was truly helpful information & insight. I am 2 days away from being induced with baby 2 and struggling with the emotions that all of this will entail – most importantly how my 23 month old will be affected. At least now I know my husband and I have been on the right path these last few months! Thank you so much!!

  3. Pingback: Sunday Surf: Homebirth and Natural Childbirth: Dads and Siblings « alivingfamily

  4. Pingback: Sheila Pai: A Living Family | Intuitive Birth Preparation: Dads and Sibling Preparation

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