If you are expecting another baby, I’m sure you would have imagined introducing your newborn to your other children in the hospital. Perhaps you thought of your toddler cuddling your newborn in your hospital bed with dad operating the camera, ready to capture the perfect moment for eternity, or anticipated them peeping into the clear hospital bassinet with a big grin.
Current visitor restrictions in many hospitals in Sydney right now impact the way older siblings meet a new baby for the first time. So many parents I work with can be really sad and worried about this, and this grief is valid. However, there are some benefits to making this introduction at home.
I certainly anticipated the perfect introduction of a new sibling when I had each of my four boys, but the reality was not nearly as idyllic.
Despite my high hopes, this is what really happened. While I lay with my new baby in the ward, I could hear my toddlers the minute they got out of the lift, tearing through the hospital, their loud feet thudding and their voices yelling with excitement and nerves.
Photo of my two eldest boys meeting their new baby brother. (Note: it doesn't quite capture the level of chaos in the room!!!)
My boys, who looked like babies when I left to go into the hospital now looked really big. My toddler had a snotty nose, sticky hands, didn’t understand I was sore, and still wanted to be carried and held like he used to, and once the photo was taken, didn’t have much interest in the sleeping bundle in the bassinet.
Once my husband caught on as to how I was feeling, he left and I breathed a sigh of relief, enjoying the quiet, blissful time getting to know my newborn, wondering how I would be able to navigate them when I got home.
Another thing to remember is that a two or three year old doesn’t process time the same way we do. If you have your child in a private hospital, while the four or five days apart are so hard for an adult. For a toddler or young child they live very much in the present moment, meaning they move beautifully in and out of missing mum or dad and then go back to play in a way that keeps them grounded and not too sad. The time apart is always much harder on the mum than it is on the child.
The key to an ideal introduction from the perspective of a toddler or younger child, is all about the connection they have with the primary caregiver. The people they need to feel reconnected with is their parents, and it doesn’t matter whether this happens immediately after birth or in a few days time.
When you think about the hospital environment it’s not an easy place for a young child to be. There is equipment, staff, and strangers to navigate that can cause a toddler to feel overstimulated and out of sorts. It is usually easier for our child to process the reconnection with mum and meeting of the baby in a more familiar space.
An introduction at home on the other hand while not what we might pick for us, can be ideal for our little kids; as we can take the time we need to really tune into a child and look at how they are processing this introduction and are more able to navigate their needs to make special memories.
It was only a few decades ago when toddlers didn’t visit at all in hospital because of infection control. My grandmother had four babies and not one of them was able to meet their sibling or visit the hospital. My grandmother also stayed in hospital for much longer – often up to 2 weeks. My mother did not have any memories of this time apart, but does certainly remember meeting their new sibling at home.
Finally, when toddlers do visit hospital they need to leave again. Seeing mum and then having to leave again can cause more emotional turmoil than not visiting at all, because they experience a second separation from their mother.
If you are sad or worried about an introduction that can’t happen the way you planned, that grief you feel is valid. Be kind to yourself and work towards an alternative narrative where the introduction happens at home and know while hard for you there are some great upsides for your older child.
For more on having a second baby check out my latest article on connection with your older child in the lead up to a second baby.
Obstetric Social Worker and Parent Educator at the Mater hospital in Sydney, Circle of Security International facilitator for numerous organisations, and also a mother to four beautiful boys Genevieve is passionate about helping families in Sydney and beyond adapt to the modern parenting world and all its challenges and not only survive but thrive.
Genevieve also works privately with clients worldwide, and has just launched an online course ‘And Then There Were Two’ – Helping parents navigate the transition from one child to two.
These comprehensive, learn at your own pace courses give you access at any time to videos, audios and documents that covers the core areas of development when reaching these milestone moments as a parent or grandparent.
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