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Toddler Tips

Helping Your Child Adjust to a New Sibling

From New Beginnings, Vol. 31 No. 1, 2010, pp. 23-25

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine New Beginnings, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of New Beginnings to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I am expecting our second child in a few months. I don't know whether my two-year-old will still be nursing -- he has shown less interest in nursing as my pregnancy has progressed. I am open to the idea of tandem feeding if my firstborn continues to nurse; however, I want to be prepared for our new arrival either way. What can I do to help my two-year-old adjust to having a new sibling, whether he’s still nursing or not?

Response

Lucky you, a new baby and a toddler to have fun with! The way I coped with this was to watch for guidance from my toddler. It seems to me that there isn’t a right way to help a toddler adjust to a sibling because all toddlers and babies are different. By reading stories and chatting about the forthcoming event you can get an idea how he will react.

You know your own child best and you can decide what he will find fascinating about his new baby brother or sister. You will also be aware of what worries him, for instance, will he feel unloved because of the attention you need to give the baby? By watching your toddler's reactions you will pick up on his concerns.

You and your partner can work together in problem solving but also bear in mind that there may be no problems at all!

If your toddler expresses a desire to nurse it is great that you are able to satisfy that need. If he doesn't, he will need your attention in other ways, and that is fine too. If you notice any challenging behavior you can give lots of cuddles and chat until you find out his concerns, then address them.

Be prepared for an emotional time as you adjust to the needs of two children. It can seem a bit daunting at first with so much to think about, but if you take things gently then as life takes on a pattern, it gets gradually easier.

Enjoy this precious time!

Jill Unwin
Berkshire, GB

Response

I also was nursing when I became pregnant with my second child, and really worried about how to help her adjust to being a big sister. I wondered if nursing both of them would make things easier or just complicate everything. I tried to talk to her about the new baby, but she was still so young herself that it was hard to know if she understood. I was told over and over that she would probably self-wean during the pregnancy, but she never did. Honestly, I didn't want her to. Nursing was a language that we could both understand, and I hoped that if I nursed her after the baby came, she would know that she was still my baby too. I felt that I needed that connection to continue.

When my second daughter arrived, I was very thoughtful about the way I introduced them. I had a special present for my older daughter from the baby, and the first time I nursed the baby in front of her, I invited her to join in. She did!

Tandem nursing has turned out to be a very positive experience for us all. Allowing my toddler to continue nursing has helped smooth the transition and made her less jealous. It helps her to still feel connected to me in the same way that the baby is. Often now she requests that the baby nurse along with her. It is so precious when they nurse together. They look at each other, grab hands, and smile. It is helping to foster a great relationship between them.

Breastfeeding is one of the best parts about being a mother. I love this special time with my girls! I understand your concerns about your firstborn -- they are very natural. Just remember that you are giving him a sibling, which is a wonderful gift. It will be an emotional roller coaster at first, but you will settle into a nice routine and realize that there is plenty of love to go around! Congratulations!

Robin Hayter
Alameda, CA, USA

Response

Motherhood is such an adventure! You have a win-win situation here -- whether you decide to tandem nurse or to wean your toddler. There are benefits to each.

When I got pregnant with my second, I decided to wean rather than tandem nurse. She was three, only nursing a few times per week and seemed only to ask to nurse when she was really bored. It wasn't difficult to wean her, so I did over the course of a month or so.

A few weeks after my son was born, my daughter asked to taste my milk. I first gave her expressed milk in a cup and she turned her nose up. She didn't ask again until she was four, by then she'd been weaned for so long I didn't bat an eye at telling her she was a big girl now. I offered her another taste in a cup. She wasn't interested.

Good luck with your decision!

Lori Jaubert
Brandon, Mississippi, USA

Response

My son was nearly two when my daughter was born and, I think it was easier for him to adjust to having a new sibling because he was still nursing. I wasn't doing many things for the baby that I wasn't doing with him so he was less likely to think the baby was getting more of me than he was.

It may help to involve your toddler in caring for the baby. Getting the wipes or a burp cloth, for instance, can help the toddler find his place with the new addition to the family.

There are challenges to tandem nursing. My son nursed like a newborn and stopped eating solids for a while, even to the point that his poop turned green about the same time as my newborn's! Keep in mind the colostrum is a laxative so be ready for the extra poop from your toddler. I learned to nurse them both together (at least when we were home) and that turned out to be a relaxing time because I didn't have to wonder what my toddler was getting into while I was nursing the baby. I did work with my toddler on sharing and learning to wait his turn. Having special toys he could play with at this time was helpful.

I also learned that I needed to make a special effort to do "big" things with my big boy so he didn't feel like he had to nurse to get my attention. This is easier when the baby is sleeping in the sling or with daddy.

There are times I feel "touched out" and stretched thin and I wonder if it would have been easier if he had weaned before his sister came along, but I know he isn't ready yet. I am very happy to meet his needs still, along with my baby's, and I trust them both to wean when they're ready.

Whether you end up tandem nursing or not, I think it's great that you are considering their needs and I'm sure you will have a rewarding experience as a mother of two.

Sharon Bliss
Holly Springs, North Carolina, USA

Response

One small tip I heard many years ago at a La Leche League meeting was to talk to my newborn about his big brother. For example, while changing the baby I might say, "Adam, did you see what your big brother did this morning? He rode his tricycle all by himself!" or "Josh has his new overalls and his cowboy hat on today; he's ready to jump on his rocking horse and ride into the sunset!"

Babies love to make eye contact with mom and hear the sound of her voice, and such talk makes the toddler feel included in the day-to-day interactions between mom and the new babe.

Linda Hussey
Danvers, Massachusetts, USA

Response

My daughter participated in prenatal appointments. I appreciated that my midwife spoke directly to her about how the baby was doing and encouraged her to listen with the stethoscope. She showed her models of babies at various stages of development and even let her play with her knitted womb and doll. This really helped my daughter feel this was "our" baby.

I was prepared to let my older child decide whether or not she wanted to tandem nurse. I told her my milk might seem different. I made sure she understood that while the baby would always get the first turn, she would get to nurse as well if she wanted. I helped her realize that the baby wasn't as big and strong as she was and would need "milky" first.

Before the birth, my daughter chose special jobs she could do to take care of the baby. We decided she would bring me a drink of water when I sat down to nurse and choose which diaper the baby would wear and bring it to me.

My sling enabled me to hold and nurse the baby while having hands free to care for my older daughter at the same time.

My best tip came from my mother, who raised my seven siblings and me. She said that whenever she was feeding the baby, it was story time for the other children. That way everyone was getting special attention.

Sue Stuever Battel
Cass City, Michigan, USA

Response

Before our son was born, we talked with our daughter about what the baby would be like. We received lots of advice to warn her about how much the baby would cry and how much of mama's attention would be devoted to him. The more we approached it this way, however, the more anxious we noticed our daughter becoming, so we switched tactics.

We made sure she understood some of the changes that were going to take place, but we also emphasized how delightful and exciting tiny babies are, and how much fun she was going to have helping mama and spending special time with daddy. When our son arrived, we included her in his care as much as possible, whether it was cuddling him while I ran to get a drink, or bringing me diapers and wipes when it was time to change him. We also made it a priority to allow time each day for my husband to hold the new baby while I spent some one-on-one time with our daughter. We would snuggle and read books, or nurse, or take a warm bath. This special time with her really helped her adjustment to the new baby, and she was so thrilled to be able to help out.

Hannah Poole
Garland, TX, USA

Response

One book that helped me immensely when I was pregnant with my second child was Mothering Your Nursing Toddler. * Specifically, I recommend the chapter "Pregnancy and Tandem Nursing," which helped me consider different aspects of what life with a newborn and toddler would be like. I did tandem nurse for a while and I felt as if it was the right thing for all of us.

By the time my third child was born, my second child, then age three, had weaned. There are some things that I did after the birth of both my second and third children that I think helped make mothering easier and gave me more time to enjoy my children. I made sure that the older children were given lots of lap time. It is so easy to make room in your lap for the older child when you are breastfeeding your baby.

I used my baby sling most of the day so that I would have two hands to be available for the older children. There were many things we could do together such as building things together on the floor, reading books, lying down together while the baby nursed to sleep, taking walks outdoors, playing at the park, and playing at the local indoor playground. We went to the children's zoo and the children's museum. Having the baby in a sling gave me the freedom to follow my toddler around and keep a watchful eye out to keep him safe.

You may find that it is helpful to let your partner take a more active role in parenting the older child so that you can enjoy some one-on-one time with your baby. Your family life will change when the new baby arrives but you will all find your place and welcome the new baby with love.

Sara Dodder Furr
Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

* Bumgarner, N. J. Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, La Leche League International, 2000. http://store.llli.org/public/product/85

Response

It's hard to know how an older child will react to a new sibling, especially if that child is still breastfeeding. I think one of the main concerns for an older sibling is worry about being displaced by the new baby. Anything you can do to address this fear will help.

When I was pregnant with her brother, my daughter still nursed briefly from time to time -- more for connection than nutrition. She asked me if she could still nurse after the baby was born. I told her, "Of course you can, if you still want to, and if you remember how. The baby will usually get a turn first, though, because mommy milk is his only food, and you are big and can eat lots of different things."

My daughter had nearly weaned herself by the time her brother was born. She asked to nurse twice in the month after he arrived, and then she was done. I think she just wanted to test that she would be allowed to nurse. Satisfied that she could, she went on to other things.

Dawn Burke
Suwanee, GA, USA

Response

Have you thought about whether your toddler would like to be present at his sibling's birth? For many mothers this is not something they'd ever countenance but for some it can be a very special experience. Only you know whether being present at the birth might be beneficial for your child and whether he'd be fascinated or troubled by watching you in labor. Of course, you would need an adult caregiver who is prepared to look after him and to take him in and out as he'd be unlikely to want to stay through your entire labor.

Seeing his baby brother making his arrival had a big impact on my son and I am convinced this helped him to accept the baby as a member of our family more easily than if I'd brought him home like a new purchase. This is such a very individual decision but I wanted to mention it in case no one else did!

Betty Mather
Grand Valley, Ontario, Canada

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