The age gap between siblings has grown since 2009 — parents now leave an average of three years and eight months between children, according to a 2015 Bounty study. But that two-year age gap is tough, since a toddler is at his most egocentric, so the arrival of a new baby can be deeply frustrating.
“Every mother expecting #2 has, at some stage, wondered ‘how am I going to cope?’,” says Louisa Van den Bergh, founder of UK’s Lulubaby, which runs antenatal classes for mums during second (or subsequent) pregnancies. “But look at the number of women who have more than one child. They all manage it — you will, too. Your hormones will return to normal after the birth and you’ll feel much more in control.”
Rhonda Teo, 34, whose son Noel is 26 months, worries: “I’m eight months pregnant and I literally can’t remember anything about having a newborn baby. So, how am I going to go through that massive learning curve again and still have time to give Noel attention? I feel I haven’t bonded properly with my bump as I’m getting stressed about the practicalities.”
“You’ll probably face a whole new set of struggles, but this time you’ ll have the benefit of experience.”
If you’re currently pregnant with your second child, the main thing is to try to relax. Clinical psychologist Linda Blair advises, “Remind yourself that you’ve already cut your parenting teeth, so the basics — feeding, nappy changes — will be automatic, leaving you more time to enjoy your baby and your toddler.”
And remember that your second experience won’t necessarily be the same as your first. “If you had a fantastic sleeper and eater, you’ll probably be less worried the second time round,” says Eilish Saba, founder of a babycare coaching company. “But if you had a difficult time, remember every baby is different. Just because your first baby didn’t feed well, doesn’t mean your second will be the same. And yes, you’ll probably face a whole new set of struggles, but this time you’ll have the benefit of experience.”
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That’s something Shannon Lee, 31, mum to Charlene, 8 months, and Eliza, 3, can relate to. “During my second pregnancy, I was stressed about breastfeeding as I’d struggled the first time. But my second daughter was fine and picked it up easily. We’ve now developed a routine of putting Peppa Pig on for my toddler while I’m feeding. Everyone is happy.”
Van den Bergh suggests: “Consider the structure of your day and form an action plan — it’s good to think about any flashpoints in advance, so you can feel prepared. For example, things often come to a head at bathtime because everyone is tired.”
If your baby is cluster feeding during the early evening, your toddler will be fractious. “Think about breaking up feeds by feeding baby at 5pm and then do baths at 6pm,” suggests Van den Bergh. “Or keep a special box of toys for your toddler that’s only for feeding times.”
And if you’re still wondering whether you should have thrown this curveball into your first child’s world, remember this, “When you give birth to a second child, you give both your children a secure future,” Blair points out. “A relationship with a sibling is the most enduring of our lives. What you are giving is the greatest gift possible, to both your children. You should feel incredibly proud of that.”
Top coping tips from fellow mums:
“I just get them to do everything together, from playtime to bathtime. They even eat together. When the younger one needs attention, I’ll keep my eldest child busy with simple chores like putting laundry into the washing machine or wiping the tables.”
— Jolin, mother of two sons.
“I’ll get my son to take out his favourite Lego sets to play with. Or he’ll watch some educational TV shows while I tend to my daughter. And when I’m really busy, he’s allowed to play with the iPad or iPhone, but I’ll make sure to keep it under an hour.”
— Pooi Kuan, mother of two.
“My son loves to colour, so I’ll keep him busy with some colouring activities, which frees me to bathe or feed my baby.” — Paulyn, mum to two sons.