Introducing a new baby to a blended family

It's important to include older children in the excitement surrounding the arrival of their half-sibling.
It's important to include older children in the excitement surrounding the arrival of their half-sibling. Photo: Getty Images

When Rose Farfalla fell pregnant with her second child to her new husband, both her daughter, aged 11, and stepdaughter, age 7, were over the moon.

"We told them when I was just over three months and before the rest of the family, hoping this would make them feel extra special," she says.

Throughout the pregnancy both girls remained excited and Farfalla ensured that they felt included at all times.

"We all went to the 20-week ultrasound where there was lots of laughter as we saw the baby move around and all got to hear the heartbeat," she says.

The girls also went shopping with Farfalla to purchase items for the baby, took lots of photos along the pregnancy journey, and joined in with guessing the names that their parents had picked.

"The girls watched my stomach grow and enjoyed feeling it and noticing that the punches and kicks were getting stronger. They kept trying to guess if we were going to have a soccer player or a ballerina."

When it came time for the birth, both girls met their baby brother soon after he arrived.

"Josephine was in the waiting room of the labour ward with her grandparents and got to meet her little brother, Noah, a few hours after he was born. My husband's super excited daughter met our little bundle of joy Noah the next day."

When Noah came home, both girls helped by each having a special job to do, and Farfalla also ensured that both girls were included on all 'events'.

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"For example, I waited until both girls were home on a given day before I would bath Noah, so that they both got to experience bath time and both together got to be actively involved."

Regardless of the sibling relationship between the children, Farfalla says that ultimately what is important is that there is love, and you're all one big family who've chosen to be together and enjoy life.

Unfortunately though it's not always as clear cut or successful as Farfalla's story. 

In 2014, divorces involving children represented 47 per cent of all divorces granted, with the number of children involved in divorces totaling 40,152.

From such family separations comes the formation of many blended families and, for some, the introduction of a new baby. And it's not always smooth sailing.

Associate Professor Julie Green, Executive Director at raisingchildren.net.au, says that children in blended families need preparation and lots of communication to help them feel positive about a new baby coming into the family.

"Preparing children for a new baby depends on the family, but, initially, it's good to introduce the idea of a new baby fairly early in the pregnancy, or at least three to four months before they arrive," she says.

Green says that the approach to take will vary dependent on the children's ages.

"For example, toddlers don't really understand time, so when explaining to a young child that a new baby is coming try relating it to a familiar event. You could say that the new baby will arrive soon after Mum's birthday," she suggests.

Green notes the importance of talking to your children at this time about any concerns they have and offering reassurance.

"It's important to show other children in the family that they are also loved and cherished with plenty of loving hugs," she says.

During the pregnancy, Green advises involving children in a way that interests them.

"Ask their opinions on things or get them to help choose some clothes or books or toys." 

"Showing children photos of themselves when they were babies can help prepare them, and they might like to be involved in experiencing the baby as it grows by looking at ultrasound images or feeling the baby kick."

When the baby arrives Green recommends introducing siblings or step-siblings as soon as possible to help them connect and establish their new relationship.

She adds that involving them when the baby comes home is also important.

"Involving children in discussions about family routine or how children will still get time with their parent or parents helps children feel included," she says.

"Children respond really well to routines so keeping the contact with children and their routines consistent, especially in the early months is a good idea.  If families need to make changes to family routines, try to do it gradually."

Despite all this, Green advises that there will be hurdles to overcome as everyone adjusts to a having a baby in the house.

In these instances, she offers the following advice:

  • Firstly, try not to feel guilty! 
  • A few kind words and regular hugs each day will keep you and your stepchildren connected.
  • Look for ways to make all children feel special at different times. 
  • When children help out with the baby, congratulate them on being such a great big brother or sister.
  • Asking grandparents to give the other children extra attention and support if they're finding it difficult can be a help.