Breastfeeding and Sibling Rivalry
Introducing a newborn brother or sister into a family can be an extremely exciting time for everyone involved. But it can also cause feelings of loss for younger children and they can react destructively. Understandably, younger children may feel put out and threatened by the new addition. And family life can become fraught.
So, how can you make the new arrival less of a threat to siblings?
Firstly, acknowledge to yourself, and to your other children, that they may feel a bit displaced when the new baby is introduced into the fold.
If you intend to breastfeed your new baby, then explain to your children that you may not have as much time to spend with them as usual but reassure them that a routine will eventually become established and things will return to normal.
Try to involve other siblings as much as possible in the day to day care of the baby. You could nominate one to fetch baby wipes and nappies whilst another may be allocated the job of getting the night-time baby-gro. Or perhaps let them help with bathing the new baby. This will allow your other children to feel involved and important.
When you are breastfeeding the baby explain to your children what you are doing. If they are very young perhaps show them pictures of babies being fed by their mothers, including baby animals. Remind them that they were once breastfed by you too, if that is the case.
Some children will mimic what they see their parents doing - so try not to show surprise if you witness a child breastfeeding her favourite teddy bear. Instead encourage her to tell you all about her baby
Don't go into a different room to breastfeed your new baby as this implies that there is something wrong with what you are doing. Instead, as you breastfeed the baby, encourage your children to watch how the baby is drinking your milk and explain that it will make the baby healthy and strong. In so doing you will allow them to accept breastfeeding as normal.
Whilst breastfeeding you may find that very young toddlers crave your attention and may literally be hanging off you! Prepare for this by getting a few books or jigsaws ready in advance. When it is time to breastfeed the baby, read a story to your other children or encourage them to draw you a picture or do a jigsaw. This makes them feel valued and involved.
If siblings are bickering a lot with one another and you find yourself losing your temper with them, try to take some time out. And when you have calmed down explain to them why you are tired. Ask them to understand that you are not really angry but that you need a rest.
Some toddlers vent their frustration on the new baby by nipping him or pulling his hair. You must explain in terms your children can understand why this is unfair and encourage them to do nice things instead, such as helping to dress or bathe him or fetching some little toys instead.
If you are aware of how your children may react to a new sibling you can ensure that things progress smoothly by preparing them well in advance of the birth. Encourage your children to see the new baby as a family member who is looking forward to coming to live with you. Show them pictures of new babies and babies breastfeeding. If possible, bring them to visit someone who has a new baby and better still someone who is also breastfeeding.
Be careful to make time for other children in the family once the baby arrives.
Siblings can be hard work and sibling rivalry a nightmare but you can make life easier for yourself and for them with careful advance preparations.
Article by Sinead Hoben.
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Even as a teenager, I used to think that if ever I had children I would breastfeed them, although I didn't have any particular reasons why. When I was 13, my sister had her first baby and she breastfed him for 18 months, but all other mothers I knew were giving bottles. After I left school I did several health related courses and became a holistic therapist. Because of my training, I became even more interested in breastfeeding, as I learnt more about the benefits of it. By this time, most of my friends had children and hardly any of them had breastfed at all. The ones who had tried it said they couldn't do it, either because the baby wouldn't latch on, or it was painful or both. They couldn't understand why anyone would want to breastfeed. However, I was adamant that if ever I was lucky enough to have children, I would breastfeed for at least 12 months.
I finally became pregnant and was really excited and looking forward to the birth. I had a long wait though, as Chelsea was over 3 weeks late. (There was no pressure on me to be induced as I was booked for a home birth with an independent midwife). When Chelsea finally decided it was time to be born, she was in a hurry and I was only in labour for an hour, so the midwife didn't make it in time! Although most women envied me for having such a quick, easy birth, I had not only found it terrifying and was disappointed that the midwife I'd become so close to had missed it, but it also affected my bonding with Chelsea. I kept thinking births that quick only happened on TV, that sort of thing doesn't happen to me; I felt as if someone else had given birth to her, she didn't feel like mine. I was so disappointed that I'd now got a baby after years of wanting one and yet I couldn't bond with her. Although I'd wanted to breastfeed primarily because of the nutritional benefits, I also knew that it could help bonding so it became even more important to me.
I did a few problems though; on the third day, a piece of nipple was hanging off and bleeding every time I fed and I also had very painful engorgement. Although I would often say "I can't do this anymore", especially during night feeds when tiredness made it harder to cope with the pain, I had no intention of giving up. I got support from my midwife and got through it.
Despite exclusive breastfeeding, I became pregnant again very quickly. Breastfeeding became really painful; at first I just put it down to hormonal changes making my nipples sensitive. After months of pain, I told my midwife (the same midwife I'd had before) and she said it sounded like thrush. After trying to clear it up naturally, I resorted to conventional medication but even that didn't work. I just put up with it as I knew Chelsea was benefiting from it. The symptoms disappeared like magic as soon as the baby was born.
I had a lovely birth this time, with the midwife there, and I bonded with Kalonice immediately. Kalonice had been diagnosed antenatally with a kidney problem. Although the paediatricians weren't very concerned as her one kidney was fine, it felt even more important to breastfeed her. I had thought that it would be a piece of cake this time so I had a shock when I found it difficult to latch her on. I think I was so used to Chelsea latching herself on, I forgot that Kalonice needed some help with it. Also, I was trying to feed her every time she cried, assuming she was crying because she wanted a feed. My midwife suggested she may be just tired, but Chelsea had always fed for comfort and I was assuming Kalonice would be the same. When she was a few weeks old she started sucking her thumb and things got easier then. I realised that once she spat my nipple out and started sucking her thumb, that she was ready to go to sleep and no longer wanted to feed.
Chelsea is 2 years old now and Kalonice is 10 1/2 months and they are both still breastfeeding. Sometimes I feed them both together, although I find it a bit awkward and I think it's nice to feed them separately so they each get individual attention. Several months ago, Chelsea started lifting my top up and helping herself to feeds. Now she still does that a lot but, if Kalonice is feeding, Chelsea just sits next to me and strokes her head and waits for her to finish, then latches herself on to the same side. I can't believe I had so many people telling me I was mad to want to breastfeed, I can't understand why anyone would not want to.
Jo-Anne Berry, Oxford