What you should know about siblings

by Kaiser Permanente |
Boy listens in surprise to the belly of his pregnant mother, and another brother is jumping in the background.

When you find out you’re going to have another baby, you might worry about how your other children will react. It’s natural for older siblings to feel a bit jealous of a new baby’s arrival.

Sibling rivalry stems from the need to share a parent’s love and attention. Siblings must also share space and possessions. An older sibling may worry about their place in the family. They might worry about being treated differently when you bring your new baby home.

There are many ways you can help an older sibling adapt to a new baby. When you’re pregnant, try:

  • Telling the older sibling first. They shouldn’t hear you’re pregnant from anyone else.
  • Helping them feel included. Encourage your older child to participate in any video appointments with your clinician. Some places also allow them to accompany you to your in-person appointments. When your baby kicks, let your child feel it. Ask their opinion about baby names.
  • Setting aside time each day to spend with your older child. Let them know that this is their “special time.” Even if it’s just 10 minutes, it’s time your child can depend on. After your baby is born, continue having special time each day. It may be easiest to do this when your baby is asleep or with another caretaker.
  • Getting them excited. Talk about the great things about being a big brother or sister. Let them know the new baby is lucky to have them.
  • Teaching them to be gentle. Let older siblings know that new babies are very delicate. When you see your older children making an effort to be gentle with the new baby, be sure to praise them.
  • Reading age-appropriate books about having a new baby in the family. Books about becoming a big sibling can help illustrate what’s happening and open up a conversation. Some of these products tend to focus on the negative — that the older child will have to share the parents, or that the new baby will take up a lot of time. It’s best to screen sibling books and other media to make sure the content is conflict-free.

It’s normal for older children to regress a little when they find out you’re pregnant with another baby. It’s just a way of making sure you still love them and are paying attention. It can help to set some special time aside for the two of you. Try talking, playing, reading, or listening to music — anything that helps them feel loved.

After your new baby gets home, you can continue to help your older child feel included. Try the following:

  • Allow your oldest to help you in an age-appropriate manner. Maybe they can fetch the new baby’s bottle for you. Perhaps they can help you bathe or dress the baby. This helps older kids feel important and included.
  • Boost your child’s ego. You can say things like, “The baby only smiles like that when she sees you!” or “You’re doing such a good job holding the bottle.” Your oldest may also enjoy showing the baby how they do things, such as putting on their socks.
  • Encourage friendships with other kids. Your first child will likely have a better relationship with their new sibling if they have at least one close friend before the birth.
  • Give your older child a new toy to love. It can be beneficial if an older sibling also has a “baby” to care for. This helps develop their nurturing skills.

Helping older children prepare for a new baby’s arrival can be key in developing a good sibling relationship. If you notice your child acting out when the new baby comes home, be sure to give them love and attention. Praise them when they behave well, and talk to your child regarding their feelings about the new baby. This can help them react more positively to such a big life change.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.