Of course, the truth is that as a second-time parent, while I do not have all the answers (or most answers), I do have a better sense of what to except the second time around, and therefore the months ahead seem almost more scary than they did as I anticipated my first child. My eyes are fully opened, so I know about the physical recovery from childbirth, the sleep deprivation ahead, the serious commitment breastfeeding requires, the reality of being covered in spit up, and the fears over whether or not the baby is gaining enough weight and developing normally. On the flip side, I recognize with hindsight that these challenges and worries will hopefully last for an exceptionally small portion of our son's early life, and I have at least a few more coping mechanisms and previous experiences this time around to inform my parenting.
Still, I'm a firm believer in preparation through reading. This time, instead of feeling the need to read about pregnancy or breastfeeding or newborns, I have sought out books specifically focused on having a second child. In trying to gather books on this topic, I found that there are few books to choose from, and nearly all these books have mixed online reviews. I selected the four books I could easily acquire through my local library. Having completed reading four books on this topic, I will just be adding to the mixed reviews of these books, but here goes.
Here's what I found these books to say (so you don't have to read them)...
The universal point all these books emphasize is that preparing yourself, your relationship with your spouse, your firstborn, and your house before the arrival of baby #2 is the best way to make the transition as smooth as possible. My rational brain that loves to be organized said, "True," and I worked hard to find specific advice within each book that went beyond basic organizational strategies such as babyproofing in advance, learning to manage a weekly grocery and meal list, having a division of household tasks between spouses, maintaining routines with your older child, keeping a firm place in your life for time by yourself, with your spouse, and with your friends.
In terms of sibling preparation, every book recommends, as my doctor and plenty of friends have recommended as well, making any changes in the older child's life well in advance of the arrival of the baby so that the older child has time to adjust and doesn't associate the newborn with all things upheaval. This for us means moving Natalie into her new room as quickly as we can put it together, hopefully sometime in the next few weeks.
Overall, my main criticism of these books, as I observed in many online customer reviews, is that they mostly provide common sense advice that you've probably heard before. Perhaps because so many people have such wildly different circumstances, there's no good way to present super specific advice in a published format.
I also feel like the picture these authors paint on the whole regarding welcoming a second baby to the family is one of doom and gloom, and I feel like I've heard enough doom and gloom from friends and acquaintances and TV and movies that I don't really need more extremely negative reminders about the realities of life with two small children. I want honesty, but I also want some balance of optimism and pessimism, especially since I have made such major strides in the past few years in living my life in a more optimistic way.
Either way, I've tried to compile what I found to be some of the most specific information from these four books below.
Welcoming Your Second Baby
by Vicki Dansky
3rd edition, 2005
This book is focused on the most immediate aspects of preparation for a second child and life with two children, including, for example, a whole chapter about having the firstborn present at the birth of the second child. (For the record, Natalie will not be witnessing her brother's birth.) Much of this book is written in bulleted-list format, which I can appreciate because it makes it even easier to pick and choose what to read. In any of these books, you'll find lots of ideas that no doubt do not apply to your circumstances.
Here's what I found most helpful from this book:
- Hospital advice -- Your first child may not be able to visit you at the hospital for any number of reasons, so the book recommends not building up a potential hospital visit in case it doesn't work out. Additionally, if your child does visit you, ideally you will not be the one holding the baby so that you can give your older child attention when she visits (26).
- Dealing with jealousy, when the baby is a newborn -- If possible, find ways to give your older child special time with you by staggering when you feed the baby and put the baby down for a nap (70). Of course, following this advice would mean you would likely never get a break yourself, but I guess that is an idea.
- Regression -- I'd heard and read plenty before about regression in toddlers after the baby arrives, but I was surprised to read that regression is most common seven months after the baby's arrival (73). The author does not elaborate on this claim, though, so I don't know about this statement's accuracy or helpfulness. We're not planning to touch potty training for the time being because we figure Natalie would just regress, anyway.
- Encouraging positive sibling interaction -- The author recommends specifically praising positive play between the firstborn and baby by saying something like, "'Look how happy your brother becomes when you sing to him'" (81). I like this because it offers the older sibling specific praise and may therefore encourage more positive interactions.
And Baby Makes Four: Welcoming a Second Child Into the Family
by Hilory Wagner
Maybe it's just me, but this book felt like the most negative of the four books I've read on this topic. For that reason, it would be on the bottom of my recommended titles list, but I'm reviewing these in the order in which I read them so I can remember how I saw ideas building or conflicting among the books.
This book is divided into three parts (1: Planning for Two; 2: Pregnancy and Preparation; 3: Your New Family) with multiple chapters within each section. My review of this book is incomplete because, as in the case of the previous book, several chapters do not apply to me (most notably, I don't need to read chapters about deciding when to have another kid or about being pregnant a second time). I focused most of my attention on the chapters about sibling preparation and managing life with two children. Thankfully, the whole book uses helpful subheadings and bulleted lists so readers can easily pick and choose what to read.
Here's what I found most helpful from this book:
- Baby doll care -- Teach your firstborn how to properly care for a baby by giving the toddler a baby doll to pretend play with (77). The book specifically recommends showing the toddler how to support the baby's head. Natalie loves to sing "Hush-a-Bye Baby" to her stuffed bunny, but I'm planning to get one of my two old Cabbage Patch dolls out from the back of the crawl space (when I finally blaze a trail through there) and let her have it as her baby doll.
- "Our" baby -- Refer to the baby as "ours" (89). It turns out we've been unwittingly following this advice because one of Natalie current favorite books, I'm a Big Sister, refers to the new baby as "our" baby, and so that language has stuck in our house as well.
- Keeping a toddler occupied while mom nurses -- Read books or watch videos with your toddler while you nurse your newborn (130). At this moment, Natalie has a shockingly long attention span when it comes to books, and I think I could realistically manage feeding a newborn while Natalie reads beside me. Who knows how long that will last, but I will milk it (ha!) for all that it's worth come January. Also, who knows how nursing will go with baby #2. I'm not setting myself up for disappointment with that one.
- With toys, sharing is not always caring -- Teach your first born to understand that many of her toys are not suitable for the baby, and while it's nice to share, there are times where sharing is not good (146). We sort of went through this when trying before Natalie was born to teach the dogs the differences between baby toys and dog toys. I've already put all the baby's toys into a special red bin that Natalie can easily and safely access, and we'll work on teaching her that it's OK to hand her brother toys from that bin only. (Stay tuned.)
- Outings with the firs born -- Try to arrange as many special outings for the firstborn as possible once the baby arrives (149). The book recommends a special weekly outing for the toddler. That sounds awesome, but likely unfeasible. I could see myself trying to ensure that between Matt, me and babysitters, family and otherwise, someone gives Natalie a special outing whenever we can.
- Don't overplay the concept of "mommy's little helper" (150) -- I thought this was a great point. Nearly every book or article I read emphasizes making the firstborn feel important in the life of the baby, but realistically, there's only so much my two-year old will be able to do. Once the baby can see and focus more, Natalie can play a bigger role, as the book points out, in keeping her brother smiling and entertained.
After reading the relatively Negative Nancy of a book above, I found Twice Blessed refreshing. Of course, it's not surprising that a book with the word "blessed" in its title might take a more positive approach. Still, I salute you, Joan Leonard, for not scaring me like everyone else.
This book is structured in a remarkably similar way to Wagner's book above, making it easy to select the most relevant parts of the book for reading or scanning.
Here's what I found most helpful from this book:
- Siblings are good for helping kids mature! (57) -- Yes, thank you! Not exactly advice, but at least affirmation that my family's life as we know it will not be forever destroyed. Specifically, the author highlights how: "Even if the oldest temporarily regresses back to thumb sucking or wetting the bed after the arrival of the baby -- which is very common -- in the end the child may mature more quickly. Studies reveal that kids show signs of more grown-up behavior...after the birth of a new baby, even if signs of regression are also there" (57-58).
- Brush off your firstborn's baby album (63) -- Natalie is loving looking at her baby book these days. Of course, she's mostly enamored with pictures of herself and her family and friends, but it gives us a nice way to talk about the hospital, and how small babies are, and what babies need, and how babies grow.
- Don't move your firstborn out of the crib if she's not ready (68) -- We have been planning this all along, but it was affirming to read we're not crazy for not wanting to transition Natalie to a regular bed yet. Natalie has loved her crib since she was about four months old, and now she is especially attached to it, contentedly babbling in there for about an hour each morning before she's ready to get out. When I get her up for the day or from a nap, she often asks to stay in her crib. So, I leave the door open, do a few things upstairs, and then in about 15 minutes she's ready to get out. Rather than force her out of her comfort zone, we're going to move Natalie's crib to her new room, and we'll use the Pack N Play as the baby's crib until either Natalie's ready to give up her crib or we decide to force her to give it up (or we decide sound sleep is what matters most of all and we suck it up and buy/borrow a second crib for a while).
- More good news: Sibling fights are good -- Specifically, these fights over such topics as toys and parental attention teach coping and negotiation skills (182). Again, not something I didn't know, having grown up as the middle child in a family with relatively strong personalities, but still a great reminder that, again, both of my children are going to be fine and perhaps better because they have each other.
This book's horribly outdated cover threw me off at first, but this wound up being the book with what I felt was the most specific advice for making the adjustment to two children. As with all the previous books, there are chapters readers can easily skip based on individual circumstances. I valued, though, the way that this book considers the adjustment to a growing family in stages: the first few weeks (chapter 5), the first year (chapter 6), and the rest of the time the siblings will spend under the same roof (chapters 7-10). The tone of this book is somewhere between the optimism of Twice Blessed and the general pessimism of And Baby Makes Four.
Here's what I found most helpful from this book:
- Two does not have to mean twice as difficult -- Instead, this author claims the workload is more like one and a half (17). Having kids closer together in age can actually make the adjustment easier because parents aren't too far removed from the baby routine. Even though I haven't given birth yet, I can relate to this sentiment because I really do feel like Natalie was just a baby yesterda.
- Savor these pre-baby moments with your firstborn -- I'll just quote this one directly: "Rather than fuss over preparation, enjoy your child now, and think about his current interests and the things you like doing together" (49).
- The firstborn can get a gift when the baby is born, but don't say it's from the baby (59) -- I really, really appreciated this point. Every book (and nearly everybody I've spoken with) recommends having a special gift for the firstborn, but the other books say parents should say it's from the baby. Although this book does not state it so bluntly, saying the present is from the baby is a lie, and an unnecessary and confusing one at that. Natalie will be thrilled that her brother's arrival also means she gets a few special treats of her own; she won't care (nor will she likely understand) where they're from.
- Be prepared for a child's response to the baby to be ambivalent -- I was happy to see the author point out that your firstborn's attitude toward the baby will likely be more nuanced than we often are willing to admit. Dunn writes that the response could involve, "a combination of anger, distress, increasingly mature behavior, and genuine interest in and affection for the baby" (69).
- The beginning will be rough, but then it's over (72) -- Right, I need to keep telling myself this. Specifically, the first month will be bad, but that's why my husband will be off from work, splitting all baby and toddler duties with me.
- Babies as young as six weeks might be adaptable to changes in feeding and napping schedules (89) -- I like the idea of raising flexible children. Likely through luck, Natalie turned out pretty flexible, and I hope baby boy can be somewhat as obliging. Of course, the book points out that more difficult babies might take two to three months to become more adaptable.
- Firstborn jealousy will likely be apparent when the baby is three to four months (93) -- This makes sense, as this is around the time babies start showing more personality, doing tricks, and generally exit the solely-a-blob stage into something a little more entertaining.
- An increase in fearfulness in the firstborn is normal -- Specifically, the book points out that about one-third of firstborns show an increase in pointed fears during the baby's first year of life (95). This could include, for example, a new fear of water, which may require parents to temporary minimize or even suspend baths and revert to sponge baths before re-acclimating the firstborn to the fear-inducing stimuli.
- Handling baths for two kids -- One solution: bathe on alternate days (109). We already bathe Natalie every other day, so we could easily bathe baby boy on the opposite nights. Or bathe them together with the newborn in a tub anchored with suction cups to the floor of the tub (109). Because we do not have such a contraption, we'll probably see how the alternating bath days works first.
As if to solidify this sentiment, I find myself a lot more emotional these days as I anticipate the joys of a newborn. When I was pregnant with Natalie, our friends gave me the book Oh, Baby, the Places You'll Go! (A Book to be Read in Utero) by Dr. Seuss. I felt a little silly when pregnant with Natalie to read it out loud more than once. Now, though, totally by her own volition, Natalie has been gravitating toward this book on her bookcase. So, we've read it at least 20 times to baby boy. And I really can't get through the last page without choking up:
So now, as my voice
burble-urps in your ear --
with a bump-thumpy sound
that is not very clear --
the words I am saying
you hear in your heart,
and know that I wish you
the very best start.
It's a scrumptulous world
and it's ready to greet you,
And as for myself...
I can't wait to meet you!