Sibling Adjustment to New Baby

I have been asked to answer questions on this topic so much this year, that I thought I should just write out my thoughts all at once and before my memory leaves me.

I remember being so concerned also, each time I was pregnant, (yes even with my sixth), about how the "baby" of the family would adjust. (The last three times it hasn't been a baby adjusting but a older toddler/preschooler-two times before that I had more of a "baby" that had to get used to a new sibling.)

First I think during the later months of pregnancy, our minds can get anxious so easily.  A new baby seems overwhelming, and if we know what we are in store for during the first couple months, we tend to think, "I can't do this!"  I always have to remind myself-I will not be nine months pregnant AND have a newborn!  Yes, I will still be tired but for different reasons. I won't be roly poly, I will be able to move around again in a normal way, and I will be able to eat and breathe much better. (I won't add sleep to that list! :)  I will be able to tie those little toddler shoes, and pick up all the gear off the floor. I will be able to take stroller walks and just physically function better.

Second, we feel a loss-we know our baby-whoever he or she is at the time-won't be the baby anymore.  In this post I wrote about the world rearranging itself and what an awesome thing that is. Once you have more than one, and this is another thing that we always forget going into those final months, (I swear this is the devil at work trying to make us doubt ourselves and our mothering capabilities) is that our hearts WILL grow.  I always think of the line from The Grinch about his "heart growing two sizes that day." It's a miraculous thing, this growth, but our hearts make room for more love and we bond with this new baby just like we did with the ones that came before him or her. It is easy to dwell on our older "baby" losing his/her glorious crown of babyhood before the newest baby is born, but then magically our hearts grow.  But I still cried at least once in that last month knowing that the "baby" wouldn't be my baby anymore-it almost feels like a special bond is broken a little.

And yes there will be an adjustment time-that rearrangement to make room for a whole new life-sometimes it's right away, but I always found it to be about three months in for me-maybe just a little more whiny or fussy or older siblings squabbling a bit more. But it will pass. Go on as usual, discipline as you usually do, don't panic. They want to know everything else will be the same-they just have to grow a little and sometimes that takes growing pains.

I think some great advice is to call the baby "our baby" all the time, even during pregnancy. Don't expect jealousy. Compliment them and let them hear you say to others as often as you can about how great they are with the baby. Teach them about being gentle and soft and don't tolerate any roughness at all, but correct it calmly and quickly and firmly or it will become a trigger point for attention if too much attention is given for it. Show them how much the baby loves them. (Look she's kicking because she heard your voice, she thinks you are awesome already!)

I also think it's important to try to spend time one-on-one again, but I also think that it sometimes more pressure when we moms are already feeling overwhelmed. I know with our last three who were fussier, I just couldn't do that as much as I would have liked, it was truly impossible.  But even just the littlest thing makes a difference-reading a book while nursing maybe if possible, or asking questions and having a conversation, or just letting them know you are watching them (even if you are sleeping with your eyes open), etc.

I think we have to be careful to also remember our attitude towards what we have heard so much about-this sibling jealousy, sibling rivalry.  If we expect it, if we watch for it, if we give this look of pity towards our older children, wouldn't it make sense that they think they have something to be pitied for?  They are so sensitive towards our attitudes and our emotions, it comes off of us like infrared waves. And they hear and see everything!

Here is a better way to explain what I am saying.  Every mother knows that if their toddler wipes out, chances are they will get up and dust off and be fine, except when they hear that dreaded gasp from others, especially mom or dad.  If we gasp, rush over, and "poor baby" that fall, they will bawl.  If we pretend not to see it, or respond matter-of-factly with an "Oospy Daisy, you're ok, go get that ball!" and squash our gasp, all is miraculously almost always fine.  They look TO US for a sign of their capability, to see what emotion they should show, to gauge how they should react.

I remember hearing this beautiful piece of wisdom somewhere along my parenting journey and it was Godsend to me and I've found it to be incredibly true:

A sibling is the GREATEST GIFT you can give your child. It is nothing to feel guilty for, it is nothing to feel doubtful of. The children will become more independent because they will have to be (and this is good, as they learn to do things themselves and we are most certainly doing things for them that we had no idea they could do, they grow incredibly-this is the root of self-esteem!), they will have someone to share time and attention with, they will have a playmate, (maybe not right away but quick enough), they will have someone to entertain, and someone to be entertained by. They will learn they are not the center of the universe (and yes there are other ways to teach this for sure, but this takes NO effort whatsoever when you add more and more children-it is just checked off "things I don't need to worry about", an added benefit!)  They will learn by watching how to care for a baby-the time and love and attention and work it brings but also the incredible joy and they will take that with them into their parenthood. It is an incredible gift we are lucky to be able to give to them. This perspective helps so much alleviate many worries and anxiety for us and gives a growing family a beautiful attitude towards new life.


  1. I think you wrote this just for me. I was in tears earlier this afternoon talking to my mom about the new baby and #3 adjusting to not being "the baby" anymore. I have been dreading it, honestly.

    But all your advice is so perfect, and best of all, I loved your reminder that a sibling is the greatest gift. That is why I got pregnant again. Because I believe in family. And that new family will be beautiful. Even if there is a bit of growing pains as we expand.

    Thank you so much for your wisdom.

  2. The greatest gift! I love this post. Thank you!

  3. Spot on and you have a lot of experience to back up what you've written! It helps to remember that your husband can be very critical to this adjustment too - he can cuddle the baby while you spend some focused time with the other children and he can step in with the other kids. I used to treasure the times my husband would take the older kids to the park or to breakfast or to visit grandparents and I could rest with the newborn. The older kids were getting a little treat and special time. And a baby Bjorn allowed me to still take the older kids on walks or bike rides on our road, or out to the swings...the baby would be content and I had hands free to push the others or hold hands on a walk. A sibling is definitely a gift!

  4. Pregnant with number seven, and this post made me cry! Darn hormones :) Thanks for being so encouraging and uplifting when I needed it.

  5. You are so wise and you have such a way with words. I hope someday I can find the words to encourage mothers like you have. It's an inspiration. I only have the one child and am not feeling ready for more yet, but I am Pinnning this article. It's possibly the most sound parenting advice I've heard.

  6. Hmmm, I was sure I was only going to have just one, but your lovely post has made me question that decision :) Any advice for Moms who had a traumatic first birth experience and are having a hard-time with the idea of having a second?

    1. Hi Fawn-My first birth was excruciating and it took me months (body and psyche) to recover. Although I was overjoyed, I cried from fear when I found out I was pregnant with my second-because I just imagined going through that pain again and having the same things happen. I switched to a midwife and it made all the difference in the world-she was so caring, so reassuring, so knowledgeable (I have posterior births and the first dr I had, had no idea how to handle it and made it much much worse) and I really trusted her. I would highly recommend a good midwife, because they will take the time to listen to your past experiences, find out what went wrong and how they can make a difference this next time-and then they stay with you your entire labor.

  7. Perfect, Sarah. The heart does grow and siblings are the most beautiful gift you could give any child. Thank you.

  8. This is beautiful. We are weeks away from having our sixth, and I so agree that no matter how many times one brings a new baby into the world, there is the same worry and fear about how it will all play out. Each time however I have been blown away at the joyous siblings and the love that comes into our home with each new baby. I am also always surprised at my new capacity. I am always sure I am not able to handle any more, but each baby has brought new abilities and better priorities. I also second your advice on finding a good midwife. That has been the best thing I have ever done when to having babies. The good ones are pretty incredible.

  9. Have you heard the expression, "Families with babies and families without babies always feel sorry for each other"? We pitied our friends who didn't have babies at home... and maybe they pitied us for our lack of trips and toys, but siblings are the best gift ever (I have 7!) I don't remember being jealous, and my own kids have viewed their siblings as wonderful blessings. We are so lucky to have a baby, we say! I hate getting new baby books from the library though, as it seems the majority of them are based on the idea that the first child doesn't want a sibling and fears the parent won't love them anymore etc. Such a silly idea to put into the child's mind!