There was a quiet moment during my pregnancy with my first daughter when I suddenly had the sense that I knew her. Not that I had her completely figured out, but that I felt a clear and deep attachment to the tiny person I had yet to meet.
Three years later and expecting a second daughter, I waited for a similar moment of recognition, the beginnings of a connection to the baby who would soon join our family. But in the bustle of work and life with a preschooler, that moment didn’t come. When my second baby was finally born, it seemed we had a lot of catching up to do.
It’s common for second-time moms to worry—irrationally, we know—that we won’t feel as closely connected to our younger children as we do with their older siblings. “Our love for our first child is so all-consuming that we can’t imagine having room for more,” explains Laura Markham, PhD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. “But, indeed, it is possible. You will absolutely love your second child as much as your first.”
Baby-bonding is different the second time around, when you find yourself getting to know your little one while simultaneously chasing after her big brother or sister. But be assured, the connection you build, starting from birth, can be just as strong and just as lasting.
Calm and confident
As in the beginnings of a romance, the raw newness of parenting your first child can stoke intense emotions and feelings of attachment. By the time a second child arrives, however, you’re a parenting veteran. You can’t necessarily depend on the novelty of the situation to help you and your baby fall in love with each other, says Markham. But what you might lose in awe and wonder, you make up for in experience and understanding, which Markham says is the winning combination—so relish your hard-won confidence.
“First children get the full brunt of the parents’ anxiety,” she says. “By the time you have that second child, you’re a pro. You don’t disintegrate emotionally every time there’s a crisis.” And that’s better for baby, adds Susan Bartell, PysD, a New York City psychologist and founder of the website HavingAnotherBaby.com. “Kids absorb your emotion,” Bartell says. “A lot of parents find their second child is more placid.”
Tiffany Precissi is a mom of two in Northern California. Her daughter Adriana was 3 when her baby Virginia was born a few months ago. “I’m definitely more relaxed this time around,” she says. “I know the crying will pass. I don’t have as much anxiety. I can focus more on enjoying her little coos.”
Bonding with Virginia isn’t always as quiet and intimate as it was with Adriana. Admits Precissi: “There’s not as much hanging around and staring at each other.” But, she goes on to say, she enjoys seeing her baby thrive as part of a busy family. “It’s fun to watch her look around and really take things in.”
Room for two
At the same time you’re worrying about bonding with your new baby, you might also be mourning a lost closeness with your first. Don’t let a double helping of guilt get the best of you. Instead, look for opportunities to strengthen your connection with both children at once.
Babies love the sound of human voices, and one of the most powerful things parents can do to nurture a bond—and even support language development—is talk to them. When it comes to infants, though, your words don’t matter so much as your loving tone.
When you speak to your newborn, consider saying things your older child wants or needs to hear, Markham suggests. Try something like, “Sarah, your big brother Michael is going to show you so many things. You won’t believe all the cool things Michael can do.” Markham explains: “Sarah is in your arms. She feels that closeness and hears your voice. Meanwhile, Michael is soaking in your words.”
According to Bartell, wearing your baby in a sling or carrier also provides a way to bond with two children at once. Your newborn thrives when she’s held close to your body, and at the same time, your arms are free to play a game, hold hands or even hug your older child.
Although it might not be as easy as it was when you had only one child to care for, you’ll want to find times when you and your newborn can be alone together.
In our house, the baby tends to wake up earlier than her big sister, giving me a chance to sing and play baby games with her for an hour or two. For Precissi, nursing is an opportunity for quiet and cozy moments with Virginia. “Those late night and early morning feedings can be really special times,” notes Bartell.
Bonding also happens in unexpected places, Markham adds. Consider the diaper change. “You can approach a diaper change as a sacred act,” she says. “Don’t rush. Soothe your baby. Talk her through it. … We often see our lives as a series of tasks that need to get done. Realize that every task is a chance to make a connection.”