30+ years ago, my first sibling was born. I was 4 years old, and my parents gave me the greatest gift.
And no, I don’t mean her – well, at least not initially (though we’re great friends now).
I mean a Sibling Care Class.
We brought our stuffed animals to the hospital for a story hour that consisted of loads of pretend play and baby basics: babies cry; mom or dad will need to take care of said baby; – and my favorite part (I truly thought this was the best fun) here, you can help change diapers!
I walked out with teddy in his Huggies diaper grinning ear-to-ear because I was going to change our new babies diaper. But then, my baby sister was born – she wailed better (louder) than any baby I’ve met to date, I never changed one diaper, and I felt tossed aside. I’m a relentless truth-teller. (Sorry, Mom.)
Since diving into motherhood myself I’ve learned a thing or two! And also, I have definitely had some fails (as in the acronym F.A.I.L, “first attempt in learning”). Here are five of my favorite sibling care tips as a moms of two and Postpartum Doula, today:
- Tell your child about your pregnancy when you tell your family and friends. Regardless of your child’s age, your child needs to hear about it from you, not from someone else. Bonus: There are some great books to help you do so. A stop at your local bookseller can help guide you to pick one or two out!
- Be mindful of changes in your household before baby arrives. If you plan to move your child to a new bed and/or bedroom, consider doing so before the baby arrives. This also goes for any other major changes, like weaning (though your doula can help you tandem nurse, should you so desire!), toilet training, and starting any other care plan. Side note: This was one of my big “fails” – attempting to teach my first to use the toilet mid-pregnancy, which led to a regression postpartum, which led to me feeling like an absolute failure. If I could tell my past self anything, it would be to walk this course with all the self-compassion and grace.
- Consider checking out mommy groups before baby arrives. If need be, look for ones that will support you and your families needs. This includes making sure your older child is welcome. It can be really helpful for your older child to spend time around families who have babies; and really helpful for you to meet families who are already juggling a few precious souls. (La leche league meetings, story time at the library, and local mothers circles are often a great place to sew some roots!) Personally, I attended and taught mommy and me fitness groups through my pregnancy; and it was there that I found some of my very best friends.
- Explore the past and look ahead to the future with social stories. Look at pictures of your older child’s birth and infancy. Share what this time looked like. For younger kids, social stories are an extra special support. You can use clay, draw, watercolor, or bring out all the stuffed animals to create a safe space for exploring what your first postpartum looked like (with older child), and what your next season of life will look like too! Will your child be at babe’s birth? Who will support you postpartum? Can you introduce your child to your postpartum doula and care team before your new baby arrives? This extended playtime can be fun for everyone in the family. It can also help to deliver real expectations to your kids! (Like if you don’t plan on letting your 4-year old change diapers, perhaps you can explain that s/he can do something else that helps… maybe sing to the baby or change her own baby dolls diaper? Also, I promise I’m not holding any resentment three decades later! This transition can be tough for some families; and we absolutely honor that.)
- Create a breast, chest, or bottle feeding station. You’ll need a few things for you and babe, of course – and can plan a sibling care basket to keep there, too! We find this to be an incredible help. We have posted about these baskets before, by the way! You can find that post here. Remember, there is no wrong item to put into this basket. But we definitely suggest items that are extra fun and magical – think magic markers with invisible ink or a water mat, sticker books, sensory bags and more! (We highly suggest Pinterest for ideas that meet your child’s needs.)
Bonus Tip: As an Ayurvedic Postpartum Doula, I find that routine with our children (and ourselves) is absolutely critical for families to thrive. With my first child, I established a simple practice of oiling his feet each evening before bath and bed. In Sanskrit, the word sneha is used to refer to both oil and love. A simple massage of your child’s feet with sesame or coconut oil can bring so much balance into your home! For mothers, stability in your pregnancy and postpartum seasons will benefit your family for years and years to come.
Questions? Need more ideas on how to best support your family in this incredible transition and life space? Your doula is well-versed in the journey ahead! Being with you here is truly such a gift.
Jennifer Magnano is our Director of Postpartum Care, an Ayurvedic Postpartum Doula, Writer & Mental Health Advocate.