Older siblings and new babies

I have been asked to submit a story for a booklet produced by our local twins and triplets club. They suggested I contribute something about having a toddler while pregnant with twins and while caring for newborn twins.  Here are some of the strategies we used to get our son prepared for the new babies.

When we thought about having a second child I had images of snuggling the new baby in to the carrier and heading off to do all sorts of things with my 2-year-old son.  I imagined going to the library, the park and the indoor playground.  I thought it would be a chance for me to explore the world with my son, with the baby hanging out with us. Having twins meant reconsidering that plan.

I don’t think our son really understood we were going to be having twins until they arrived home from the hospital. He was only 27 months old when they were born and I’m not sure he was old enough to conceptualize what it meant to have a new baby in our family let alone two. But, it isn’t from a lack of effort on our part.

We talked about babies and big brothers

Starting a few months before they were due, we began to introduce the idea of babies. The timing was good because he had suddenly started to notice babies and we had a couple of friends who had new babies. We spent a lot of time talking about babies in general and about having two new babies in our family.  We read books and talked about looking after babies. We pointed to my tummy and talked about the babies inside. At the same time, we started talking about being a big brother and how that is a special job.  The day before the babies were born (scheduled c-section) we went and bought him a “big brother” shirt.  He loved that shirt and wore it for days after the babies were born.

We established and maintained routines

We moved him to his new bedroom and made the transition from his crib to his bed a few months before the babies were due so he was settled there before they were born. We set up the crib and change table and sorted clothes for the new babies to establish their presence.

Fortunately my pregnancy didn’t interfere too much with his routine. Later in my pregnancy, Daddy had to look after getting him up because I couldn’t lift him anymore. But, as much as possible we kept things the same.  Our son went to the same dayhome until just before Christmas (the babies were born in early January).

We took advantage of the time we had before the babies were born

Over Christmas we spent lots of one-on-one time with our son. We did practical things like getting his hair cut, and fun things like going for pictures with Santa.  This meant I had to borrow a wheelchair so I could get around more easily, but it was worth it.

We prepared gifts to and from the babies

We took our son to the baby section and let him pick a gift for the babies.  He chose a package of socks. So we wrapped those up and he brought them when he came to meet the babies at the hospital.  We also bought two books for him as gifts from the babies.  The books were also a good distraction for him while he visited in the hospital.

We prepared for my hospital stay

We didn’t really do much to prepare him for my hospital stay. The morning of my c-section, I spent a few minutes explaining to him I was going away to have the babies and that Daddy and Nana would look after him. In the hospital, we found out where there was kids playroom.  We also brought some snacks and toys for his visits. When he did come to visit, I tried to spend time with him and let someone else hold the babies.

We explained to him in simple terms (“Mommy has an owie on her tummy”) that I couldn’t carry him or hold him on my lap for a little while.  He needed some reminders, but he accepted it.

We made sure there were two adults around

During the first six weeks after my c-section, I always had someone around to help. I could lift my son, so someone needed to be there to look after him and to entertain him.  Whenever there were errands to do Daddy or Nana would take him along so he got one-on-one time.

We included him

Our son picked outfits for the babies and got them blankets and bibs when they needed them.  We made the baby supplies accessible to him and gave him some responsibilities in caring for them. He could rock them in the swing or turn on the bouncy seat. When I was breastfeeding, which seemed like all the time, I would read him stories so he could feel included.  After I finished feeding the girls, he and I would have cuddle time with a blanket.

We got out of the house

When the girls were three months old, our son started going to the dayhome again two days a week.  This was for him as much as for me.  He enjoyed playing with the other kids his age, getting outside, and not having everything revolve around the babies.  It was also a chance for me to spend time with just the girls and to rest.  As the weather improved and we got more organized, we started to do more things.  We went to the indoor playground, we took mom and tots dance classes, and we went to the library program.  It helped to have a friend in the same class to help out if necessary.  And it was important to leave enough time to get ready for any trip.

We made him the expert

When people wanted to visit the babies, our son would the one to tell them things like the babies’ names. We wanted to be sure he was included when people came to see the babies.  He loved to show off his “big brother” shirt. Some people brought him gifts when the came to see the babies, so he didn’t seem to be too jealous of the attention.  When visitors wanted to hold the babies, it was good time for him to cuddle with Mommy and Daddy.

Surprisingly, there hasn’t been too much jealously or negativity towards the babies. In fact, soon after they were born we were out at a store. The people next to us were unloading an infant car seat and our son asked “why do they only have one baby?” as if having two was the norm.

Do you have any other suggestions for helping an older sibling prepare for multiples?  How did your children respond to having new babies in the family?

14 thoughts on “Older siblings and new babies

  1. Great article!! We had to prepare our 3 year old triplets for the arrival of their sister & we did alot of the same things. We read lots & lots of books about little sisters or brothers coming into the family. So we made sure to to always state “our” baby so it was everyone’s baby. When they came to visit me at the hospital, I specifically gave our new one to Daddy so I could focus entirely on them. I especially loved how you had your son answer people’s questions so he was “the expert”. That must have made him feel sooo proud!!!

  2. My kids are younger (21 months) and we just had a third child. I agree with you about having them help. At 21 months my kids know about babies but didn’t really understand much else (so no need for presents or explanations) but they do like to “help” – take diapers to the trash, bring the swaddle blanket, etc. I like your idea about making them the expert – I’ll be trying that since neither twin says Josie’s name (they both say “the baby”). I also agree 100% about routines – we still have our nanny full time (I’ll be returning to work) and yet I can hang out with them during the day too and both kids aren’t jealous when I have to feed Josie in the nursery or go get her when she is crying.

  3. My daughter was 21 months old when her twin brother and sister were born. We did many similar things to prepare her. All three of my kids go to the same daycare so when my daughter’s best friend found out she was going to have a sibling it took her mom several weeks to convince her it was only one baby!

  4. I had to laugh about your son assuming two babies were the norm. I’m part of a terrific club for mothers of multiples, so my twin girls played mostly with other multiples until they started preschool. They knew that some mommies only had one baby at a time, and they thought those mommies must be terribly sad.

  5. Really good advice — wish I’d seen a list like this before my twins were born! My daughter was 26 months when the twins came along, and I felt like I was winging it the entire way. She did really well with the adjustment, though. I think having two babies instead of a single focus for her jealousy made it easier — and I genuinely needed her help. As you suggested, that gave her an important role.

  6. My older daughter and my twins girls are 16.5 months apart, so we worked hard to make sure we were mertig the needs of three babies, even though only two were newborns.

    My favorite idea we implemented was a special basket of toys and books that could only come out when I was nursing Meagan and Morgan. It helped during the time when the twins were getting full attention for Rachel to have something new and interesting.

    From birth, I maintained the bedtime ritual with my older daughter while my husband watched the twins, and I’ve always tried to make one on one time for each child. When you have more than one, going alone to te grocery with Mom is even a huge treat!

  7. WOW! You’re a supermom! I had my twins when my son was just 16 months old. I couldn’t even keep him at home with me. The babies were just too much to handle so he continued to go to daycare (at Grandma’s house). Looking back, I wish I would have included him more in those early months, but it just wasn’t possible for me. I was home alone caring for the two babies and that was even too much for me to handle. Now that the twins are almost 2 and my oldest is over 3, things are much easier. I still can’t take them out in public alone, though. Do you take your 3 out? Do you feel that you have control and that they are safe if you’re the only adult there?

  8. Katie – I do take all 3 children out, but the girls aren’t walking yet so I always have them in the stroller. We go to the library, the indoor playground and to the park. Depending on the situation, I’ll take them out of the stroller one at a time to go on the slide. Once they are walking, I’ll be getting a couple of those backpacks with “leashes” to keep them safe. My 3.5 year old is pretty reliable now and knows that if he doesn’t listen we won’t be going out anymore. I also find it helps to be with someone else. Even if we have 5 children between 2 adults, that’s better than being on my own.

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m 34 weeks pregnant with twin girls and my c/s is scheduled for 7/15, two weeks before my son’s second birthday. Your timing is incredible, your insights are invaluable.

  10. My son was 5 and just about to enter kindergarten when my twins were born. He had a very rough year in kindergarten and I wonder if having the twins affected him more than I expected, or if it was just normal starting school stuff. Anyway the key thing we did, which you mention, was have good routines established before and after the twins came home. The bedtime routine, mealtimes, etc. stayed in place! And I got the twins on a feeding schedule from day one, so I could still BE a functioning parent to my older son. I knew I could not be a sleep deprived zombie nursing round the clock and still function as mom to my older son. Luckily my twins did not have feeding issues, which made it possible to feed them every 3 hours (simultaneoulsy) on the clock, by tandem nursing AND supplementing with some formula using bottle props! I must admit I am glad those days are over.

  11. I will also say that I loosely (very loosely) used the principles of the controversial book “Babywise” to get my twins on a schedule. That book stresses the concept of babies becoming PART of an existing family, not the center or focus of it. It instructs in scheduling so the mom can meet the babies needs while still functioning as a mother to other kids in the family, etc. It was a lifesaver to at least have some guidelines about doing this. When twins join an older sibling, a plan is a must.

  12. Great blog post!! I have a 2 year old little girl & am pregnant with twin girls. Your blog touched on exactly what I thought my life would be like BEFORE finding out that we were having twins. And now I am all about my little girl & her reactions to the babies. Thanks for a great article & tips on how to prepare her!

  13. Pingback: Older siblings and new babies | How Do You Do It? | Baby clothes & accessories: Tigging.com

  14. Hi there! Our daughter was 14 months old when our fraternal twins were born. Our little boy was in ICU for 12 days. So between expressing milk, looking after a toddler (thank goodness she was just WONDERFUL with the whole new babies thing), looking after a tiny newborn, a Caesarean and another even tinier newborn in ICU, it was just insanity. SOOOOOO true about parents of single babies just not getting it (I can say that as I was previously also a mom to a single baby and thought my sleep deprivation was the worst ever!). Best advice is to get AS MUCH HELP as possible. My sister later complained that I was always dumping a kid on her. I said, “sorry for you and I’ll make up for it later, but I need help!”. I had a woman at a baby show saying to me that her kids were 12 months apart and that it was just like having twins. NOOOOOO! Not even close. The sleep deprivation is an absolute killer. But you know what makes up for it all? You, your husband, the twins, and their sibling being part of a special club that requires an exclusive entrance pass – multiples in the family:) And all the slimy, wet and snotty tongue kisses and “Mommy I love you SO VERY much” x 3 = priceless. Wouldn’t trade it for anything….

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