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Shaping the conversation

Depending on how old your child is, their understanding of your pregnancy, the timeline and what it means for them will be very different.

Younger toddlers aren’t going to understand as much as older children and are going to have a harder time understanding that changes are on the way but will take weeks or months to happen.

Younger children understand more about what they can see and feel around them than conceptual ideas. The idea that a small bump is going to become a baby in the coming weeks and months, and what that means for them, isn’t going to be easy for a young child to understand. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t share the journey with them and help them be part of the pregnancy and discussions about how their family is growing.

Whatever age our children are, we want to be open, honest and reassuring with them about what is happening and help them feel safe and loved.

For younger toddlers, you might start the conversation by simply talking about there being a baby in your tummy, even if your bump may not be very visible yet.

Older children will understand more about what being pregnant means and have spent time around other babies. All children will process information differently. They may have lots of questions or, they may not seem as interested as you expect. We want to be prepared for how to answer any questions they have about pregnancy and babies so that we can respond in a reassuring calm way.

There are lots of books, tailored to different ages, that you can buy or borrow from the library to help you explain to your child about the new baby. Reading these books together can help guide you through the conversation and your little one will enjoy sharing the books with you. Sitting down together to read the books also creates an opportunity for your child to ask any questions they may have.

For early conversations about the baby, choose a time when you don’t need to rush around and avoid close to bedtime, so that you can have some calm quiet time together to talk.

Once your child knows there is a baby on the way, we want to help them adapt to the idea that the baby is already part of their family. You may want to talk about the baby by name or simple refer to them as  ‘our baby’ when talking about them with your older child. When you get them up in the morning you might say things like ‘Would you like to say good morning to our baby too?’, or when you’re getting meals ready say ‘What do you think our baby would like to eat for lunch?’.

We want to balance talking about the baby regularly and as part of our daily chats with still letting our little ones know that they are our focus and that not everything is changing straight away.

Some role play with toys and making up stories together about the baby can be a great way to help your little one feel prepared for your new arrival, and can also bring out any questions or concerns they may be having. If they don’t want to talk about it then don’t push them, let them steer play and conversations.

We want to talk about the baby in a way that helps our children see their arrival as a positive change.

You might be feeling tired or sick which might stop you being as active with your older children as you would like. You might not feel like going to the playground, running around in the garden or getting involved in crafts/baking. If you are low on energy, or feeling unwell, try to avoid saying that it is because of the baby.  

If your little one feels they are missing out on time with you or activities they enjoy because of the baby then it can create some frustration or feelings of resentment towards the baby.

As you get closer to the baby arriving, help your child understand more about what to expect when the baby arrives. The new baby will cry, they will want to be held a lot and they will feed and sleep a lot. Gently explaining this to your older child before the baby arrives can help them prepare for the new noises and routines that are going to arrive in their home soon. This can be as simple as saying things like ‘Did you know that babies need to drink a lot of milk when they are little?’ and ‘Babies can be quite noisy, they let us know that they need our help by crying’.

Look at photos together of when they were a baby and talk to them about what they were like, how you cuddled them lots, how they drank milk, how you changed their nappies and bathed them. It can help them understand what it will be like having a baby in the house, and they will love hearing all your memories of special times with them when they were small.

If you have friends or families with young babies, then try to spend some time with them with your child. They may not have spent much time with babies before, or may not have taken much notice of them in the past.

Try not to be upset or worried if your child isn’t interested in talking about the baby, or if they say that they don’t want a baby brother or sister. It is very normal for them to feel anxious about change, or be disinterested until they can actually meet the baby when they are born. Give them some space from talking about it and create some 1:1 time with them to help them feel comfortable and reassured.

Let them be involved in the preparations for the baby. Talk to them about some of the things the baby will need and what they are for. You can also take them shopping to let them choose clothes for the baby or a special toy that they want to give to the baby.

There may be new things arriving in the house as you prepare for the baby which can seem very exciting to young children. Playmats, Moses baskets, changing mats and bouncy chairs are going to be very tempting new play things. If you have the space and the time, it can be helpful to have these set up around the house before baby arrives. This gives them a chance to explore these new interesting things and get over the initial excitement before your newborn arrives. It also gives you the chance to explain to them how to be safe around these new items without them feeling like they are off limits or you feeling worried about them being over excited or unsafe when your newborn is around.