Postpartum the second time around has all the excitement of the first time without the new parent uncertainty. I was way more relaxed and confident the second time, but beyond the essential work of healing after birth, my biggest concern was making sure that my 3 year old, Phoenix, felt included and secure with the arrival of his new sibling. Here is our story:
To get ready for the big change, we read books and had conversations that introduced the concept of a new baby in the family. If you are planning a homebirth, I highly recommend “Hello Baby” by Jenni Overend and Julie Vivas. It is a lovely and honest story about homebirth through the eyes of a child.
In my last week of pregnancy, a dear artist friend led Phoenix and me in a belly painting activity. We talked with Phoenix about his special role as a big brother, and then he drew pictures on my belly for the baby with face paint and body glitter. As he was drawing, the baby began to visibly kick, creating a lovely moment of connection between brother and sister.
I was planning a homebirth, and I had arranged for Phoenix to be with friends when I went into labour, but I also wanted to include him in a way that would be meaningful and comfortable for him.
One day, he asked me if the baby would have a birthday party, and it hit me that this would be a nice way to get him involved in the birth excitement. So while I was in early labour we baked a chocolate birthday cake to have when the baby was born. We then created a space of celebration, decorating the house with wildflowers, candles, and welcome cards.
As my labour progressed and it got close to Phoenix’s bedtime I sang him to sleep between contractions. After that my labour progressed so quickly that we never called the friends to come pick him up, and he ended up sleeping through the birth in the next room. He woke up in the early morning, hours after the baby was born. We had a cuddle and then, by candle-light, he met his new sister, Sky, followed by breakfast with a slice of birthday cake.
That day while I rested with baby Sky, Phoenix went with his Dad to pick out a new “big brother” gift, a bike, to mark his passage into his new role.
The following days were slow and simple as possible. I had found my first postpartum experience overwhelming. We had many family visitors right away. This combined with trouble getting breastfeeding started had left me feeling anxious and withdrawn. So the second time around, I wanted to do it differently. I planned to have only one short visit per day. I followed the principle to only have visitors who would be comfortable seeing me topless with engorged breasts and a newborn attached to my chest. This meant mama friends, and people who “get it”. This time around I thoroughly enjoyed the visits, as I could be my authentic self and the quiet days left plenty of time to concentrate on nurturing the bond with Sky and Phoenix.
I was lucky to have my partner home on paternity leave for 3 weeks. When he went back to work there were hard days as I adjusted to being a mother of two. The most stressful moments were when I was breastfeeding baby and Phoenix wanted my attention, and when baby needed to sleep. I created a postpartum activity basket (see list at the end of this post for specifics) that I would bring out during these times. I had special snacks and drinks for Phoenix, that got us through when the baby was cluster feeding, and art activities that kept him engaged while I rocked or nursed her to sleep. Audiobooks are also a great quiet activity if you want to limit screen time. Our favourite is the classic, “Winnie the Pooh”, by A.A Milne.
Now Sky is turning 1, we are out of newborn land, and with that comes new challenges and joys, but the intentions that we set with these strategies continue to help our days to run smoothly.
Here are the strategies that worked for us:
To get prepared
- Normalize the big change: Read books and have conversations with your toddler that introduce the concept of a new baby in the family. If you are planning a homebirth, I highly recommend “Hello Baby” by Jenni Overend and Julie Vivas.
- Belly art: With face paints and body glitter have a family art jam. Ask your toddler to draw messages and pictures for the baby on your pregnant belly. Talk about the baby and your toddler’s special role as big brother or sister.
- “Big Brother or Sister gift” make or buy a special gift to give your toddler when they baby arrives. Gifts create positive associations 🙂
Postpartum Activity Basket. The purpose of the basket is to have organized and thoughtful activities that will help get your toddler through sensitive or stressful times. Phoenix’s basket included:
• Easy clean up, art supplies like playdough, a water pen colouring book, stickers and Kinetic Sand. I would suggest an activity when I could see that Phoenix needed a change of energy or if I needed a few minutes to accomplish something for the baby.
• Favourite snacks and drinks that are for eating when the baby is breastfeeding.
• An essential oil blend roller that is made with calming and kid friendly essential oils of lavender and chamomile. Phoenix used this whenever he wanted to create a soothing moment.
“Winnie-The-Pooh” by A.A. Milne, read by Alan Bennett. (3 years+)
“Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, read by Cherry Jones
“On the Banks of Plum Creek” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, read by Cherry Jones (4 years +)
Notes about the author
Raewyn Bates is a dear friend of MAMA, who is a preschool teacher by trade, homebirther, breastfeeding activist and mother of two.