My first 2 children were born twenty months apart. I was enjoying the first baby. When, SURPRISE, I found out I was pregnant. I sorted through a mash-up of emotions before settling on happiness. It was embarrassing, as a newlywed, I wondered if people would think that making babies was all we did! (It was not!) I wondered why we hadn’t taken more precautions. But years of fibroid-related fertility problems had convinced me that a second pregnancy was unlikely. (Especially since I was still breastfeeding…a lot!) I worried about how I would manage a job, a husband a one-year-old, and pregnancy. After I stopped worrying about the pregnancy, I started worrying about handling a two-year-old and a new baby. Looking back, I’m sure those wonderful pregnancy hormones contributed to my anxious and emotional state. But hormone-induced or not, the struggle was real. And I had to get my baby ready, to no longer be the baby.
When to tell your child you are pregnant?
The first decision I made involved telling my child. I didn’t want to start preparing her too early. I know that if you tell a child something is going to happen and it doesn’t, they don’t understand. For a two-year-old, a two- or three-month advance notice was plenty of time. I would have waited later. But I had to explain my growing belly bump and why we couldn’t do certain thing anymore, like breastfeeding.
Can you continue to breastfeed while pregnant?
Absolutely! It is possible for your body to feed both children at the same time. But, as my doctor explained to me; “Your body is going to feed the fetus first, the nursing baby second and you last.” This means that you don’t get the nutrients that you need. I stubbornly persisted. Breastfeeding was our special time. We bonded, cuddled and just loved on each other. How could I ask her to give it up for a new baby, like she wasn’t important anymore? Okay, here the pregnancy hormones might have been kicking in again. Because I was unbearably sad thinking about weaning her. Then I started to see my doctor’s predictions come true. I was drained even with extra supplements, eating right, and increasing fluids. My nails were weak, chipping and breaking. My hair thinned and fell out, leaving bald patches in the back of my scalp. I didn’t have energy to play with or read to her. So even without weaning, she was still losing some of our connection. It was time to wean. But I was determined to never let her feel that she was being weaned because of the new baby. Even though I hadn’t yet told her, I didn’t want her to connect those dots, when I did.
How to tell your child about the new baby?
My daughter was very young. I didn’t want her to feel like we didn’t love her anymore. That she wasn’t also our baby. I also didn’t want her to feel like the baby was ours and not also hers. I wanted her to feel, even before the baby came home, that this was a gift a blessing for the entire family. The most important thing here are: your words and your actions. I used words like: “our baby”. But I also used words like, “your baby”. I tried to get her to feel included. I never said things like, “we can’t do this, because of the baby”. Because I didn’t want her to feel any resentment.
When I told her, I kept it very simple. (Remember she was not quite two.) I prepped her in the weeks leading up to the announcement. We read story books about welcoming a new baby. Because she was so young, I bought her a doll and began calling it her baby. I used language and actions that I wanted her to model. I would tell her; “Give your baby a kiss”. “You love your baby, don’t you? Hug your baby. You’re my baby. Let me give you a kiss and a hug. And now I will kiss your baby. We have to love babies.” As you can see we role played. Lots of careful thought went into pre-addressing what I thought would be her concerns. It was designed to build a loving attitude towards the baby. On the day I told her, I put her hands on my belly. I said, “Mommy has a baby in her tummy tool. Just like in the book and we are going to have a new baby in our house.” It was very simple. But once she knew, I began referencing it all the time. And I would invite her to kiss the baby (in my belly) all the time. Saying something like “Oh the baby is moving; he might need you to rub him”. I think if you prepare and make dua (pray) about it. The words will come easy.
Helping your child to help themselves:
Because she was my first, I had been babying her for her short eighteen-month life. I still feel that was okay. But now that her life was changing, I had to get her ready for that change. And let her do somethings, that I knew she was capable of, on her own. I began giving up more of my cherished lap time to her father. I knew two laps would make it easier. And Al Hamdulillah, we had two laps in the house. I wanted her to get used to going to someone else as an equal source of comfort. I also got her used to small things like eating in her chair. We didn’t get her to sleep in her bed. That was not happening! But I did get her used to sleeping on her father’s side. She also learned to take a nap in her bed. I stopped holding her hand for everything. Because I knew that I wouldn’t always have two hands free. I also taught her how to do some small things for herself. For example; “bring me a diaper and the wipes”. Because I anticipated having a c-section, I knew I would need her help. I also knew that she could help me with some of these small things and she did.
How to get your child helping with the new baby.
She was used to climbing all over me. I took “No don’t jump on my belly.” And changed it to, “Use gentle hands.” But I started taking her hands and helping her to gently stroke my belly. Teaching her this motion means; gently or softly. I knew it wouldn’t be enough to tell her to be gentle, if I hadn’t demonstrated what a gentle touch is. And even with demonstrating, I knew that we also needed to practice and practice soft gentle touches. We practiced holding a baby. Something I knew she would want to do. But I made sure to teach her that you can only pick up or hold the baby with mommy’s help. We tried potty training, but she wasn’t ready. But she was able to put her plate and fork in the sink. She could pick up her toys without help. She did learn to put on her shoes and take off her coat. All things that she could have been doing, and all things that I had been doing for her.
Dealing with anxiety over the new baby:
Some children don’t know or exactly understand what is happening. Even though they don’t fully comprehend, they still react. Sleeping more, regressing to baby talk, wetting the bed, refusing to use the potty, crying more frequently or being clingy can be a lot to deal with when you are also managing a pregnancy and your own anxiety. But with everything in life and parenting, sabr – patience is key. Recognize that this is still your baby and they are in distress. Offer extra comfort and affection if they request or need it. This is not babying. This is teaching your child that I am still someone you can trust to be here for you. Reward generously (not with food) and profusely when they do the behaviors you want to encourage. Children love when adults are amazed and proud of them. You can express this verbally and non-verbally. Read to them, talk to them, reassure them, and most importantly listen to them. There are a lot of ways to let your child know that you still care and that they have your attention. They want to be the focus of that attention. Sometimes you won’t have time. But let them know that; “I will be with you in a minute.” And when you get that minute, don’t shortchange them. Give them your pure and undistracted attention. Get down on their level, get physically close to them and focus. A fifteen-minute quality focused session can change your whole relationship with your child. When the time draws to a close and they want more time. Let them know you that have to move on but that you will give them more time later. And DO IT! Once they see that you will keep your word, then they won’t fuss as much when you must leave because they are confident of your return. Never compare them to other children. Praise the behavior of other children without comparing them. For example; “I really like how Isa always puts his shoes away. Isa you’re doing a good job.” With consistent reassurance, affection and praise, they will move past their anxiety.
Thank Allah (God) every day for the wonderful gift of a new child. Of course, it will be challenging. Of course, it will come with some difficulty. But Allah doesn’t give anyone a burden that they can’t bear. If He brought you to it, that means He will bring you through it. And after “every difficulty, there will be ease.” This is His promise, and His word is true. I pray Allah will make it easy for you and your family, Ameen.