Being pregnant while you have a toddler or preschooler in tow can be both challenging and exhausting. Involving preschoolers and older children in your pregnancy is easier and often fun. Here are some ways to involve both age groups in the “family pregnancy” and prepare them for the facts of life with a newborn.
Younger toddlers won’t have a clue about a baby “growing in your tummy.” Because they can’t see it, they won’t be able to understand much of the explanation. Even when you are in your ninth month, big as a house, your older baby won’t take much notice of the bulge, except to realize that it is harder for her to sit on your lap.
1. Arrange to be around very young babies. This lets your older children hear how they sound, see what they look like, observe you holding one now and then, notice that they need comforting, and learn about nursing.
2. Talk about the new baby. Once your belly is really big, eight months maybe, talk about the new baby: “Suzy’s new baby”. Let her feel kicks, help her talk or sing to baby, and stroke your belly.
3. Show her simple children’s books about new babies. Show pictures of when she was a tiny baby and tell her about all the things you did for her. Say things like “Mommies hold tiny babies a lot because they need that.”
4. Tell older toddlers and preschoolers about the baby early on in the pregnancy. The older the child, the sooner you can tell him; very young children may be confused or disappointed when the baby fails to arrive the next day. With an older toddler or preschooler, try all of the toddler suggestions above, and in addition, use the diagrams in books on birth to talk about how the baby is growing, month by month. You’ll be surprised by questions like “What part did baby grow today, mom?”
5. Depending on the age and level of understanding, tell your child why you are feeling so tired, grouchy, short-fused, impatient, and whatever else you feel while pregnant: You might say, “Baby needs a lot of energy to grow, and that’s why mom is tired and sleeps a lot…” Or, “The hormones baby needs to grow make mommy feel funny…”
6. Expand on what newborns are like. For example, let them know babies cry (some cry a lot) and they like it when you talk to them and make funny faces. Explain to them “You can help me change the diaper, bathe baby and dress baby. Babies can’t do anything for themselves for a long time, and they can’t play games until they grow bigger. They need to be held a whole lot, just like I held you when you were little.”
7. Take them to your doctor’s appointment. Children close to three should be able to behave well at the visit to your healthcare provider and may learn from this visit. For older children already in school, include them on special visits, such as the three-month visit when you are likely to first hear baby’s heartbeat, the visits at which your practitioner has told you will include an ultrasound, and several visits toward the end, so they’ll catch the excitement and be more tuned in. Prenatal bonding cannot be overdone for siblings old enough to understand.
8. Give a hands-on demo. Usually by the fifth or sixth month, older children can feel their baby brother or sister move. During times of the day or evening that experience tells you your baby moves the most, lie down and invite your children to feel the show. Let them guess which body part they are feeling.
9. Encourage baby bonding. Invite your children to talk to and about the baby. If you already know the gender and have chosen a name, you can encourage them to use it when referring to the baby. Or you can welcome the baby nicknames your child invents. Babies can hear around 23 weeks of age, so this is a good time for the kids to start talking to the baby so he or she will get to know them. After about three months of this, their voices will be very familiar to the baby still in utero, and bonding will already be under way. Studies show that babies tend to turn toward voices they recognize right after birth.
10. Know your limits. Realize that it’s impossible to give other family members the same degree of attention they are used to while you’re pregnant. Sooner or later the children will realize that they must share mom with another tiny taker in the family. Fortunately, pregnancy provides you with plenty of time to prepare your older children for what life will be like after the baby arrives. Getting them used to helping you while baby brother or sister is still inside is actually another good tool for bonding. The children will have invested their time and energy already even before baby comes, and the baby will have more personal value to them.