Preparing the Family

Getting ready for your new baby includes helping other family members adjust. A new baby brings new sounds, new schedules, and new ways of coping for everyone. Most families soon find ways to adjust to the changes that take place. But it's helpful to prepare some family members for what's ahead.

Preparing siblings for the arrival of a new baby

A new baby will bring enormous changes to any family. These changes are often the most difficult for the older brothers and sisters. Children older than age 5 often have an easier time, as they have started to have experiences and friends outside of the home. Toddlers often have a harder time. Not only do they have to share their parents, but also the environment and their routines are affected. It has a big impact on them.

To help your children adjust, start talking about the new baby well in advance. In general, the older the child, the earlier you can bring it up. If possible, include them in making some of the decisions. Books are a wonderful resource. Explore the resources at your local library or bookstore. The right books are those a child wants to read over and over again. Acknowledge that there will be stresses and disappointments. But also talk about the positive parts of the experience. Promise that you'll set aside time for the older brother and sister, without the baby.

Some toddlers love having a special doll that's their baby. You can buy this in advance or bring it home with the new baby. A fairly realistic baby doll can give the child a chance to practice holding, diapering, and feeding.

Let the older siblings know exactly what they can expect. Talk with your healthcare provider or the hospital where you'll be delivering about sibling preparation classes. Visiting the birth parent in the hospital can be very important, if allowed.

The big brother or sister needs a chance to welcome the baby at home. If someone other than mom carries the baby, she can focus on the older siblings. 

Be sure the older sibling isn't ignored by visitors who come to meet the new baby. A small book or toy can help counteract all the gifts for the new baby.

Right from the start, pick a regular time, daily or weekly, that will be just for your older child. Ideally both parents will be able to have their own times. You may already spend a lot of time with your children at home. But it can be helpful for them to have this special time that they can count on. It may help them to feel that they’re not always competing with the baby for your time and attention. And when you're busy with the baby and your older child needs something, you can say that you need to take care of the baby now, but "Remember we'll have our special time later."

Feeding time can be especially hard. So think about having a basket of toys, books, and other distractions for your toddler to use only during this time.

It's very easy, as busy new parents, to expect too much of the older siblings. A 2-year-old is still a 2-year-old, even as a big brother or sister. Just like adults, children have limits to their coping abilities. When the stresses get too much they may regress a little, with toilet training or dressing for instance, or wanting a bottle again, like a baby. Don't belittle these needs. But be sure to give your older child a little extra attention. Remind them how wonderful it is to be older and to be able to do so much more. It's hard enough for them to act their own age. Don't fall into the trap of expecting your 2-year-old to act like a 5-year-old.

If there are any changes planned for your older child (such as changing beds or bedrooms), make these changes well before the baby comes home. Don't try to make any big changes (such as potty training) around the time the baby is expected.

Keeping your family routines and rituals, at mealtimes and bedtime for instance, can also help reduce stress for the whole family.

Preparing grandparents for the arrival of a new baby

A new baby may be the most wonderful gift you can give your parents. Their excitement matches your own, and they look forward to a very special relationship with this child. And being close to grandparents is a very special gift for children. Depending on your relationship with your parents, becoming a parent can also give you a new realization and appreciation for your parents and make your relationship closer as well.

Many grandparents love being included in the plans and decision-making. Some will hardly be able to wait to get their hands on the new little one, others will be more reluctant. There are so many new products and changes in baby care (all the new vaccines for example) that some grandparents will feel a little worried about things. They may appreciate taking a baby care class or, if available, a special grandparenting class.

Grandparents can provide vital help when the baby first comes home. Give them a chance to get to know the new grandchild. But also happily accept any help they give with housecleaning, laundry, and meals. This can also be a chance for them to spend some special time with older siblings.

There are possible problems, of course. You'll be developing your own knowledge of your baby and your own philosophy of child-rearing. So happily accept any help and suggestions. But don't let grandparents take over, or make you feel that you can’t handle things, or that you're a bad parent. Trust your instincts and your knowledge. Be true to your own values.

Preparing pets for the arrival of a new baby

Most parents with pets have questions about how a new baby will affect their dog or cat. This is especially true if the pet has played a very central role in the home for many years.

It's important to start preparing your cat or dog for a new baby before the baby comes home. A thorough veterinary exam is essential to make sure of your pet's health and to test for any infections, such as intestinal parasites. Flea and tick control on your pet is important, as is killing any existing pests in the home.

Some parents are concerned that their pet (especially a dog) is too aggressive and may harm the baby. If you are worried about this, keep your dog separated from your baby and contact a professional dog trainer for help. If you plan to change the routine for your pet, such as sleeping in a different room rather than in your bed, start early.

A new baby's arrival home can often be chaotic. Pets may be curious. Or just like children, they may feel some jealousy about competing for their owner's attention. It's often advised that you bring home a blanket, a worn article of the baby's clothing, or a used diaper with the baby's scent for the pet. This way the baby is more familiar to the animal.

When your baby comes home, let your pet sniff the new baby. Some experts advise that someone other than a parent bring the baby into the home for the first time. It's wise to keep a close eye on all contact between your baby and your pets. Even an animal that is normally very gentle can injure a young infant or child.

Keeping interactions positive is important. Many pets can sense stress and emotional upset, and crying babies may be upsetting for them at first. Treats and rewards are helpful in reassuring your pet. Talk with your veterinarian if you have concerns about your pet and your new baby.

Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Tracy C. Garrett RNC-NIC BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
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