“In cases of children under the age of 2, my experience is that parents can even wait until week 30 of the pregnancy. When you do approach the subject, be sensitive and accepting of their reaction,” Ben Yishai said.
With older children, you can be more flexible. “Older siblings can likely be given the news sooner than a younger child. If a mother is not ‘showing’ yet, it may be more difficult for a younger child to understand, whereas an older child may understand, ask questions and have additional time to prepare themselves for a new member of the family,” said Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., a pediatrician and instructor at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University, who examines adversities during childhood and adolescence.
When the baby arrives, don’t allow the sibling to visit before you’re ready. The first family photo op doesn’t have to be immediate; if possible, take some time to recover. When my second son was born, I missed my older boy and was eager to be home, only to find out that I was not prepared. I alternated between staying behind closed bedroom doors with the newborn, needing more time to recuperate from my C-section, and keeping the sleeping baby in the bedroom to interact with my toddler, pretending through pain like nothing had ever happened.
“Sometimes, because parents want to avoid the issue of jealousy, they don’t give much attention to the baby,” Nahum Leumi said. “Instead, parents should allow themselves to start showing love to both children as the new normal.” Hiding the sleeping newborn in the other room, as tempting as it is, is sending the wrong message.
“Plan to act as a cohesive family. Breastfeed in the living room, for example, while your child is playing next to you. Have family meals while the baby is in their cradle nearby,” advised Ben Yishai. Try to send the message that you are there for both of them.
Some parents prepare a gift from the newborn for the older children, a practice that experts are split on. Some say it will encourage affection toward the new intruder, while others believe too many favors put unnecessary pressure on the acceptance of the new sibling. It might not be wise to introduce a baby with magical spending powers into the house. Consider your older kids’ personalities: If you think it will make them happy, it could be a special moment. If you think they might hit up the baby with more toy demands, hold off.
Many older children also enjoy baby-related chores such as changing a diaper or putting clothes in the washing machine. Or you can let them entertain their tiny sibling in the bath. “These types of day-to-day activities empower them to feel like big kids,” Ben Yishai said.