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Explaining your pregnancy to your other children

There's no 'right way' to explain your pregnancy to your children, but there are a few things to think about first

Posted: 6 September 2007
by Maria Muennich

Whether you're pregnant with your second baby, third or more, at some point you'll need to explain your pregnancy to your other child or children. There's no one right time or way to do this, as much will depend on how the age and maturity of the siblings. But if you're feeling at a loss with how to go about it, then hopefully these ideas will help a little.

When should I tell them?
When you choose to tell your child that you're pregnant again is a very personal issue, but it is a good idea to give your child plenty of time to get used to the idea before baby comes along. With toddlers you might want to wait until your belly becomes obvious, though she might surprise you by putting two and two together herself, pointing to your expanding tummy and saying 'baby'. If so, this doesn't get you off the hook of explaining your pregnancy to her: She may have made some connection between bulging tummies and babies, but this will be very abstract. However, this is a good starting point for explaining the pregnancy and what it will mean for her.

With older children you might want to wait until after your first scan, or as soon as you start to show, or be keen to share the excitement with them as soon as you find out you're pregnant - there are positives and negatives to both. If you do tell older children early then you have to face the possibility that you may have to tell them of a pregnancy loss. On the other hand, if that should happen then you may be relieved that your children can have at least some understanding of why you are so upset.

When you tell your children early then remember it's probably asking too much of most youngsters to keep it quiet for a while. Bear in mind also that with older children it's probably better for you to tell them yourself, rather than for them to pick up confusing snippets here and there before you get round to it.

What's happening in mummy's tummy?
Sharing explanations about the physical changes that your pregnant body is undergoing can be a great way to spark interest and enthusiasm for the baby, however old the siblings are. Early on you can let your child touch your belly and talk to his expected brother or sister, later on she should be able to share in the excitement of seeing and feeling the baby move. If you have a doppler then you can let her listen to baby's heartbeat, or if you think she''ll be interested, take her along to an antenatal appointment or two to see a scan or hear the heartbeat there.

Relating what is happening now back to your older child is also a good way of sparking interest. If you've got scan pictures of her or pictures of you when you were pregnant with her then get them out and look at them together, telling her that these are from when she was in your tummy.

When will baby get here?
Remember how the six-week summer holiday used to stretch out when you were in junior school? Seven months can seem like half a lifetime to a six-year-old and may not have much meaning at all for a younger child. You can help by explaining the time in ways they can more easily understand, using holidays, seasons or whatever else is most understandable to them.

Why can't I do that anymore?
At some point your pregnancy is likely to have an impact on the way you behave with your older child. You might be anxious that she doesn't kick or hit your bump, you might be struggling with morning sickness and feel unable to play as you usually would, or your growing bump might later mean it's no longer comfortable to pick up and carry your child as much as you used to. It's a good idea not to use the baby to explain these changes, to avoid creating or worsening resentment of the bump.

How much should I tell them about where babies come from?
When it comes to babymaking, you might have quite a strong personal opinion on how much detail your child should or shouldn't be exposed to: some parents may hold on to the idea of the stork bringing a baby along in the interest of protecting innocence, and others will be keen to give even very young children the facts in the interest of openness. If you don't lean strongly one way or the other, the kinds of questions your child poses about the baby can be a very good guide to how much they need to know. A toddler is quite unlikely to express any interest at all in how the baby got into your tummy, it's enough for her to cope with the concept of baby being inside you. A three or four-year-old may ask where babies come from and be quite happy being told that the baby comes from mummy's tummy, or a special place in mummy's tummy called the womb. If your child asks for more information then you can explain a little about what the womb is like and how it protects baby, but there's no need to go into the details of how baby actually got into the womb unless your child asks.

There will probably come a point with older children where they have heard whispers at school about where babies come from and it's very hard to know when this will be. Depending on what they hear, and on their temperament, your child might come home demanding 'proper' answers, in which case you can answer their questions. What can be more difficult however, is if your child is embarrassed and doesn't ask you any questions.

The reality of baby
Explaining that a baby is growing in mummy's tummy is one thing, but an important part of explaining your pregnancy to your child is preparing her for the reality of baby's arrival and what it will mean for her.

You can't prepare her fully for the reality of a new sibling, any more than you can fully prepare yourself, but you can at least encourage her to be interested and enthusiastic.

  • Focus on your child(ren) - A good start is to get out pictures of your child as a baby, explain that that is what she used to look like and do, and talk about how you cared for her. Tell her how wonderful it will be for her to have a brother or sister, and how much fun they will have together. You can use examples of brothers and sisters from friends' families, or use your own family to help get the concept across.

  • Visit other newborns - If you have chance to visit friends or family with very young babies it can be very useful preparation for your child, particularly if she can watch baby being fed, changed and so on.

  • Sibling prep classes - If you're having a hospital birth your maternity unit may run sibling preparation classes and/or a 'Toddlers' Tour' to show her where her where baby will be born.

  • Discuss baby names - You can both have fun thinking about a name for the new baby if you're happy having her input. Just make sure she understands that you need to agree on a name together, she can't pick it herself.

  • Practise with a doll - Your older child is likely to want to hold the new baby quite soon after birth, after all, she'll see you doing it. You can prepare her by letting her practice with a doll, showing how she needs to support the head, be very gentle etc.

  • Read age-appropriate books - There are plenty of books designed to help prepare your older child for the arrival of a new baby and you may be able to borrow a couple from the local library or from a friend.

Remember with all of these ideas that the aim is to stimulate your child's interest and involvement. Don't be alarmed if she appears disinterested and don't push the subject or the approach if that's the case. It is a good idea though, to remind her casually about the coming baby at frequent intervals and give her the opportunity to express interest and find out more.

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