A new baby changes your family. It is an exciting time. But a new baby can be hard for your older child or children. Learn how you can help your older child get ready for a new baby.
Tell Your Child About the new Baby
Tell your child that you are pregnant when you are ready to share the news. Try to let them know before everyone around them is talking about it.
Know that your child will notice that you feel tired or sick. Try to stay positive so your child will not resent the baby for making you feel unwell.
Be Prepared to Answer Questions
Let your child decide how much they want to know and how much they want to talk about the baby.
Be prepared for your child to ask, "Where does the baby come from?" Know what you are comfortable talking about. Keep the conversation at their level and answer their questions. You can:
- Tell them that the baby comes from inside the uterus that is behind your belly button.
- Read kids' books about childbirth with your child.
- Bring your child to a doctor appointment. Let your child hear the baby's heartbeat.
- Let your child feel the baby when the baby kicks or moves.
Understand your child's sense of time. A young child will not understand that the baby will not come for months. Explain your due date with times that make sense to your child. For example, tell them that the baby is coming when it gets cold out or when it gets hot out.
Try not to ask your child if they want a brother or sister. If the baby is not what they want, they may be disappointed.
Know That Your Child is Tuned in to you
As your belly gets bigger, your child will notice:
- They cannot sit on your lap anymore.
- You are not picking them up very much.
- You are low in energy.
Explain to them that having a baby is hard work. Reassure them that you are OK and that they are still very important to you.
Handle Your Child's Emotions and Behavior
Know that your child may get clingy. Your child may act up. Set limits with your child as you always have. Be caring and let your child know they are still important. Below are some things that you can do.
Your child likes to hear about themselves. Show your child pictures of when you were pregnant with them and pictures of them as a baby. Tell your child stories of what you did with them as a baby. Tell your child how excited you were when they were born. Help your child see that this is what having a new baby is like.
Encourage your child to play with a doll. Your child can feed, diaper, and care for the baby doll. Let your child play with some of the baby things. Your child may want to dress their stuffed animals or dolls in the clothes. Tell your child they can help do this with the real baby.
Try to keep to your child's regular routines as much as possible. Let your child know the things that will stay the same after the baby comes, such as:
- Going to school
- Going to the playground
- Playing with their favorite toys
- Reading books with you
Avoid telling your child to act like a big boy or a big girl. Remember that your child thinks of themselves as your baby.
Try not to Make big Changes
Do not push potty training right before or right after the baby is born.
Do not push your child to give up their baby blanket.
If you are moving your child to a new room or to a new bed, do this, weeks before your due date. Give your child time to make the change before the baby comes.
Get Prepared for the Birth of Your Baby
Check if your hospital or birthing center offers sibling birth classes. There, your child can tour the facility, and learn things such as how a baby is born, how to hold a baby, and how they can help at home with the baby.
If your hospital or birthing center allows children to attend the birth, talk to your child about this option. Many children find this a positive bonding with experience with their new sister or brother. However, for other children, their presence may not be appropriate if they are too young to understand or their personality is not suited for such an experience.
Ask your child to help get ready for the new baby. Your child can help:
- Pack your suitcase for the hospital.
- Pick out the baby's coming-home clothes.
- Get the new baby's crib or room ready. Set out clothes and arrange the diapers.
- You shop for baby things.
If your child will not be attending the birth, tell your child who will take care of them when you have the baby. Let your child know that you will not be gone for long.
Plan for your child to visit you and the new baby in the hospital. Have your child visit when there are not a lot of other visitors. On the day that you take the baby home, have your older child come to the hospital to "help."
For younger children, a small gift (a toy or stuffed animal) "from the baby" is often helpful to help the child deal with the family adding a new baby.
Let your child know what the baby will do:
- Where the baby will sleep
- Where the baby car seat will go in the car
- How the baby will breastfeed or take a bottle every few hours
Also explain what the baby cannot do. The baby cannot talk, but they can cry. And the baby cannot play because they are too little. But the baby will like watching your child play, dance, sing, and jump.
At Home With the new Baby
Try to spend a little time each day with the older child. Do this when the baby is napping or when another adult can watch the baby.
Encourage your child to help with the baby. Know that this takes longer than doing it yourself. Your child can:
- Sing to the baby
- Help with diaper changes
- Help push the stroller
- Talk to the baby
Ask visitors to play and talk with the older child as well as visit with the new baby. Let your child open the baby's gifts.
When you breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby, read a story, sing, or cuddle with your older child too.
Know that your child will have mixed feelings about the new baby.
- They may start talking in baby talk. They may act out.
- Help your child talk about their feelings about the new baby.
Siblings - new baby; Older children - new baby; Prenatal care - preparing children
American Academy of Pediatrics, Healthy children.org website. Preparing your family for a new baby. www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/prenatal/Pages/Preparing-Your-Family-for-a-New-Baby.aspx. Updated October 4, 2019. Accessed December 14, 2022.
Review Date 10/22/2022
Updated by: Charles I. Schwartz, MD, FAAP, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, General Pediatrician at PennCare for Kids, Phoenixville, PA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.