Musings About Life... After Birth



Posted by Chelsea on January 14, 2010

If you’re preparing to welcome child number two, you’ll soon be faced with the task of introducing child number one to the subject of his soon-to-arrive sibling—not to mention your changing shape. Unsure of how to do so in a way that will foster sibling love as opposed to loathing? Our on-call child psychiatrist, Dr. Michael D. Kaplan, gave me these helpful tips a while back when I wrote this piece for The Family Groove. I think it bears repeating for anyone who needs help facilitate a child’s transition into siblinghood.

At what time are kids truly able to grasp the concept of pregnancy or that a new baby is about to enter the scene?
DR. MICHAEL KAPLAN: Parents typically assume that young children have a more fully developed sense of pregnancy and the impending arrival of a new child than young children are actually capable of. Parents are usually excited for themselves and anxious for their current children, and often respond to this anxiety by giving their under-5s more information than they need or can process. Children under 5, and especially those under 3, respond much more to parents’ emotional states than to the information. They are observers and will notice how the parents talk to them more than what they actually hear.

There is a difference between how kids understand pregnancy and the arrival of a new baby. Children have a very limited understanding of pregnancy and a limited ability to plan for the sibling rivalry that is on the way. This is due to the fact that kids don’t start to grasp a firm understanding of the concept of the future until they are about 5 years old. While kids under 5 can talk about these things—especially precocious children—it is only around age 5 that it truly hits them.

What a child can connect with, however, is the reality of his or her mother’s growing belly and her potential preoccupation with the changes in her body and life. Children under 5, as we all know, are very needy of their parents’ physical attention. When the pregnancy proceeds into the final trimester and mom can’t lift as much or as frequently, is tired more, and is moving very slowly, kids pick up on that. In their egocentric worlds, they may experience pregnancy in its later stages (and even more so if mom is on bed rest) as a withdrawal from them. Try as best as you can not to be overly concerned about this stage; it is a completely normal developmental phenomenon. In fact, it actually helps to prepare your child psychologically for the decrease in attention he or she will need to manage when the baby comes.

In what kinds of ways can parents help their child feel like a part of welcoming a new family member and not an outsider to the process?
MK: Parents can do a lot of things to help their child through this period. I recommend parents invite the child to help set up the nursery and pick out new toys and stuffed animals (as long as they get a new one each time, too). I also advise making sure that the child gets extra time with parents prior to the birth. As mom gets tired, dad and other family members need to pick up the slack. In fact, dads can do a lot at this time in terms of expanding their role with the first child. I encourage parents to take a child under 5 on a hospital tour for siblings, if the hospital where you’re giving birth offers one. Today’s hospitals are much more welcoming of siblings than in the past, and it will help your child feel secure once he or she visits mom and the new baby there after its arrival.

A key bit of advice: Have extra presents for the first child in the closet. Many friends and family members will know the protocol of bringing two gifts—one for baby and one for your first child. In case anyone forgets, mom or dad can run to the closet and choose a pre-wrapped gift. Additionally, allowing the child to open all the gifts for the baby will make him or her feel like an important part of the process.

Parents should carefully plan for arrangements for when mom goes to the hospital, taking care to make everything as similar for your existing child as they generally are. For example, the child should go to school or day care on that day. Keep his or her routines as familiar as possible.

What should parents avoid doing or saying to their existing child about the new baby before a baby arrives?
MK: Again, the biggest risk is in going overboard. Many parents tell kids under 5 that a baby is on the way the moment they know—all in the service of “being open” with their child. I would advise waiting until mom is fully out of the first trimester and the pregnancy is a sure thing. My feeling is that for young kids, they should be told when they have something concrete like a big belly to help them. Once mom’s belly is big enough to notice, it’s probably a good time to introduce the concept to a child under 5. Until then, keep it quiet, being especially careful of loud conversations on cell phones to friends, etc., because the kids will always be listening.

Parents should avoid going overboard with guilt-reducing comments, such as “We will still love you just as much.” As with everything else, you don’t want to put those ideas into your child’s head if they are not already there. Once you tell your child about the pregnancy, tune into what they ask about, and avoid putting adult ideas into their heads. Remember: The ways in which we handle these big events set the stage for how we handle informing our kids of other big changes down the road.


Posted by Chelsea on January 11, 2010

So, after the piece we ran on picking a good name for your baby, we got tons of requests for baby name book recommendations. Here are our favorites:

The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby, by Laura Wattenberg

This book, our absolute favorite for baby name ideas, offers narrative and humorous commentary on each name, with the name’s popularity history, potential nicknames, variants and correlative sister’s and brother’s names. Check out the groovy computerized baby name popularity tracker inspired by the book at

100,000+ Baby Names, by Bruce Lansky

Out of ideas? With Lansky’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink name compilation, including monikers from nearly every ethnic background, including Hawaiian, African, Latvian, Spanish and Chinese, you’re sure to find at least one you like.

Cool Names: for Babies by Pamela Redmond Satran, Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Satran

If you’re looking for name meanings and ethnic origins, this isn’t your book, but if you’re seeking a guide to unique, au courant names—plus a little entertainment—you’ll adore it. The only caveat: Trends come and go quickly, so check the copyright date before you consider the timeliness of the trends.

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Posted by Chelsea on January 06, 2010

Choosing your baby’s name is quite a responsibility; not only will your selection be judged by nearly everyone who hears it, but you’re also making a choice that will literally define your child. Between the pressures of pleasing family, honoring relatives and finding a name on which you and your spouse agree, picking baby’s name is often the stuff arguments between moms and dads are made of. If the name game has you stressed, consider these helpful tips I put together a while back for a piece I did for The Family Groove —they may point you in the right direction, not to mention help your marriage.

1. Beware of the quirky name
You may be tempted to pull a Gwyneth and choose an original name for your baby, but such a move is worth reconsidering. Some names are simply too hard to live with, especially for kids who may not yet have the independent spirit you do or have grown to develop. Plus, “It’s faintly ridiculous being called India, Atlanta or Summer and holding down a steady job as an accountant in Bognor Regis,” says Laura Wattenberg, the author of The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby.

2. Size Matters
If the baby’s last name is long and multi-syllabic, consider a short first name with one or two syllables. Tom Cinnamonson or Matthew Cinnamonson rolls off the tongue much better than Jonathan Cinnamonson. At the same time, long multi-syllabic baby names will often strike a balance with a short last name. If you have a two-syllable last name, you’re in luck—they sound good with virtually any length first name.

3. Consider tease-worthy nicknames or embarrassing rhymes
When choosing a name for your child, remember that all of its connotations—lewd or otherwise—will be unearthed by his or her friends on the playground. Rhea may sound beautiful to you, but be prepared to console a crying little girl who was called “Diar-Rhea” at school. Also pay attention to the first and last name combination. For example, if your last name is Johnson, naming your son Harry, while a perfectly adorable name, isn’t the wisest choice.

4. Consider how it all ends
If your baby’s last name begins with a hard consonant, you may want to choose a baby name that ends with a vowel sound. For example, the name Melissa Karp is much more pleasant than Meg Karp.

5. Don’t be a celeb name-stalker
You may love Oprah, but resist naming your daughter after her. By awarding your offspring with a celebrity’s name, it will not only date the child later on, but you’ll come off looking like a bit of a fanatic. This rule also goes for naming your baby after a celebrity’s offspring, says Wattenberg: “If you name your offspring Rocco, at best it will look like you’re severely lacking in imagination, at worst you will come across like a quasi-stalker.”

6. Classic vs. common
Traditional names that stand the test of time are popular for a reason: they’re timeless, sound good with practically any last name, and are virtually stigma-free (and that’s why there’s so popular). However, classic baby names have their pitfalls, too. If you go with naming your son the proverbially-popular, unquestionably adorable Jake, it’s almost certain that there will be at least one more Jake in his class, which means he may be known as Jake P. for quite some time.

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