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The Informed Parent

When The New Baby Comes Home

by Louis P. Theriot, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Nov. 10, 2008

The Brown family was ecstatic about the highly anticipated arrival of their new baby boy. Finally the time had arrived. With the nursery prepared and decorated, and two and one/half-year-old big sister off to the grandparent's house, Mr. and Mrs. Brown headed to the hospital in a rush.

All went well with the delivery. Mrs. Brown had a healthy, strapping seven pound two ounce baby boy. With no complications both mom and baby were allowed to go home in two days. Breastfeeding was the plan of choice as had been done for the first baby. They couldn't wait for little Amy to see her new baby brother.

Now Amy was quite advanced developmentally for her age. She was very verbal, speaking in short sentences and using an exceptional vocabulary. She was even fully potty trained. Her personality was upbeat and pleasant, and she was very excited about her new brother—for about two days. Then this little princess turned into a child that seemed to be possessed.

Every time Mrs. Brown tried to breastfeed the baby Amy would act out or do something destructive. She might dump the contents of the diaper bag all over the floor or draw on the walls with her crayons. Her favorite act of defiance was to throw baby's bedding on the floor and walk away.

Amy was constantly in trouble. She now informed her parents that she needed a pacifier—something she had not used even when she was an infant. But the coup de grace was the issue of potty training--something that had been so easily accomplished. Suddenly she was having accidents and asking for a pull-up. The house was in utter chaos! And it was all driven by little Amy, who's speech had now regressed to baby talk. The Browns were at their wits end.

If the opportunity had presented itself to talk to the parents before the baby arrived, I would have instructed them to do a few things differently. First of all, they moved Amy's crib into the nursery just before the baby arrived. This had been Amy's crib for all of her life. Now it was relinquished to the new baby. As far as Amy was concerned that was HER crib and she had been displaced to a strange new bed. I would have advised them to take down the crib and put it away while they transitioned Amy to a big girl bed. Once she was comfortably sleeping in her new bed they could set up the crib in the nursery. That could easily explain why Amy was not sleeping well in her bed and constantly trying to climb in with her parents, multiple times a night.

When they arrived home from the hospital there were many gifts for the new baby. This was to be expected. As such, I would have told them to also have a special gift for Amy--something from them as well as from the grandparents, since she was now the big sister. It would mean a great deal for her to open a few gifts that were just for her. Instead, she sat while the parents opened a number of finely wrapped presents, ALL for the baby. This is when the resentment began to set in. And it could have been easily averted.

In talking with Mrs. Brown it appeared obvious when Amy was about to act out and do something nefarious. I suggested that mom pre-emptively act by asking Amy to help. She could get a clean diaper for the baby, or sing to him while he was being changed. Admittedly, mom recognized that most of her day was spent telling Amy "don't do that", or scolding her. It was agreed that anticipating when Amy might act out could be intervened by asking her to help. And then follow this by giving her praise for what she had done. Better to anticipate rather than react. It was amazing how quickly this helped the situation. All Amy was doing was trying to get mom's attention.

We also discussed the importance of setting aside special time just for Amy. Dad could watch the baby while mom and Amy could have a few hours together. Maybe it would be a trip to the park or a shopping day. This became a cherished time together as it was Amy's special time.

The pacifier and pull-up issues were common ones, and not really a big deal in the scheme of things. In fact, I told mom to approach this with a laissez-faire attitude—very non-chalant. They had over-reacted and were scolding her constantly for stealing the pacifier, then pitching a fit when it was taken away. The more they pressed, the harder she resisted. Reluctantly they agreed to no longer mention the pacifier or pull-ups. Within two weeks the pacifier had become a non-issue.

At a family gathering one of the four-year-old cousins was teasing Amy for wearing a diaper, like a baby. The Browns were dreading what effect this might have. But they decided to say not a word and to see how it would play out. That night, after her bath, Amy boldly announced, no longer in baby talk, that she was a big girl and was going to wear her big girl panties again. Whew! The crisis had passed.

Bringing home a second child from the hospital is a special, magical moment for families. With a little planning and forethought it can be a smooth and successful transition for all parties involved.

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