Go for the gap
13:44 (GMT+2), Tue, 23 August 2011
Text: Sister Lilian
There is no one correct age gap between children – there are advantages and disadvantages to any of them, says Sister Lilian.
At the end of the day, deciding when to have a second or third child is a very personal decision and probably one that costs parents far more wasted time than necessary. Somehow parents find practical ways and the emotional energy to cope with whatever choice they have made (or get given – after all, babies can't always be made to order).
However, there is some merit in knowing a few 'facts'. A gap of more than four years is almost like raising two single children and when you're done with all the small-baby work, you have to start all over again. Closer together than two years however is quite hard work (not only for Mom), but with a supportive partner and structure at home, it can be managed. Obviously, individual circumstances affect the equation as well. If either baby has any problems (health or behavioural), the strain of children close in age could be greater.
Will there be enough?
It's very common to worry about whether you will find enough love for a second child or not, when one loves that first one so deeply. Love for children multiplies, believe it or not, so one need not be concerned about that! It is indeed true that one has less time to lavish exclusive energy on a second or third baby and moms in particular feel guilty about it. Think of it like this – for the second baby it is simply part of life and they get a separate 'package deal' from a first baby – dad, mom and a sibling! Your second baby doesn't know anything else and the added input from an inquisitive sibling imparts a special dollop of love too, albeit different from moms or dads.
The other million-dollar question is whether you'll have the energy to care for a second baby. There is no belittling the physical input required – the sheer hard work – but most women the world over manage well. Think positively, take this stage a day at a time, accept help readily and of course, be sure to take the occasional 'me-moments'; a soak in a bubble bath or read a book while dad, grandma or the nanny cares for the little ones. Women really are resilient and a few quality moments of rest generally ensure another surge of energy.
It is generally also easier to raise two than it is to focus on one, as they entertain each other and can share at a level that you would otherwise be put under pressure to fulfill. In the long run there is also less loneliness. More than one child in a family also means they learn about sharing, conflict resolution and the need to respect others. The first six months are busy with a new second baby, but after that the going gets easier. Unfortunately, one of the side effects felt most often is a little regression in the older child and a bit of sibling rivalry. However, if you handle this with patience and involve the older child without putting pressure on the older sibling to be 'big', things will be smoother. You also have to realise that things will be a bit different to that first time when you could give your new baby your undivided attention, all of which helps you through this phase.
Did you know?
In days gone by, exclusive breastfeeding provided a natural form of sibling spacing. Babies are designed to nurse for two to three years and the contraceptive value often ensured that this was the natural age gap between siblings. And so, if there is an answer to the pressing question of just what the ideal gap should be, maybe this is the vital clue we modern Westerners seek!
Weaning the first baby from the breast
Of course, many a mom has questions about a second pregnancy, particularly if they're still breastfeeding a first baby. Physiologically, babies are designed to breastfeed for two to three years, which in part explains why babies love nursing so much, often longer than a mom has planned to nurse. The closeness and comfort provided by breastfeeding often makes it quite difficult to wean them between 1 and 2 years of age. However, you have done your child a lifelong favour by breastfeeding for an extended period and you should think in terms of what the impact might be on falling pregnant again, on the pregnancy itself and on the possible difficulty of weaning baby number one from the breast.
If still feeding a first child when you fall pregnant again, you will find that your milk supply will decrease and taste different too, which often makes babies and toddlers more amenable to being weaned. Should you want to stop breastfeeding completely before falling pregnant, you're more likely to succeed if you go cold turkey and refuse all feeds. But you must give a lot of extra love and attention and distract your baby or toddler when you see that he wants the breast. You can of course breastfeed right through pregnancy unless there is a threat of miscarriage or a genuine health risk to the pregnancy – very rare indeed. Many women end up 'tandem' feeding a baby and a toddler!
Special weaning tip
Radiate confidence and a relaxed attitude if you decide to wean your first baby, as babies reflect their moms' frame of mind!
Preparing your toddler for the arrival of a new baby
It's a good idea to prepare a toddler for the arrival of a new baby as soon as the pregnancy becomes obvious. It might not be a concept he can fully grasp and nine months is a long time for them to wait for the 'playmate' they have been promised, so early on they're more likely to have a sense that something is just 'different'. Look at pictures of babies, point out animals and their young, and page through books that show pictures of moms and babies together.
Let your toddler feel your tummy when your baby starts kicking; show him your tummy and tell your first child that your baby is getting bigger and bigger and in a while will be big enough to come out. Repeat this over the next few months. A toddler takes a while to grasp this complicated event. Towards the end of your pregnancy, tell him that you'll be in the hospital for a few days and explain who will look after him. If it's going to be dad, now is a good time to let them have time alone together so that your toddler gets used to the idea. If you have friends with a baby, take your toddler there to visit or to 'baby-sit' the baby for an hour. Talk about what will happen when your baby comes home. Parents often tell a toddler that they're getting a brother or sister to play with and there is great disappointment when all the newcomer does is sleep, cry or just lie there.
Bringing a new sibling home is one of the biggest stressors in the life of a child. Try to make sure there are no other big adjustments at this time. When your second baby is born, make sure that the baby 'gives' your toddler a gift. When you arrive home, let someone else take your baby for a while and concentrate on your toddler. Your toddler may be a little subdued and annoyed that you have not been at home, but be patient. Try to involve your older child with caring for the new baby if the desire is there. Your toddler may ask to hold the baby or touch the baby and encourage this with close supervision. On the other hand, there may be a lack of interest for a while. If so, don't push it. Time is needed to take this all in.
To make home life as harmonious as possible, set aside some uninterrupted special time alone with your toddler when your baby is sleeping or when someone else is looking after the new baby. This helps to reassure your 'big baby' that he's still as important as ever to you. Be prepared for possible regression or jealousy towards the new baby. This is a time when the whole family has to make adjustments to the new baby's arrival, but if this time is handled with plenty of patience and reassurance, you will all do well.