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I’m expecting, and my 3-year-old is regressing
Q: I am 30 weeks pregnant and, due to some complications, have been home for the entire pregnancy. I continue to send my daughter to "school" three to four times a week but spend extra time with her preparing her for the upcoming delivery and just having our time together before the new arrival. I realise children regress when new siblings arrive. I’m curious to know how long this regression lasts, and if I am supposed to respond to the new behaviour.

Example: My daughter is 3½ and has had to return to pull-ups at nighttime since she found out about the new baby coming; she also has resorted to baby talk. I told her I would not answer her if she spoke in baby talk. Is this too harsh? She has had a difficult adjustment weaning from the breast as well and frequently tries to nurse again. (For health reasons I had to stop cold turkey six weeks ago.) Any guidance would be appreciated.
Sandra New Orleans
A: Sandra, it sounds to me as though you’re doing a lot to prepare your daughter for the new baby. At the same time, I wonder if you aren’t almost writing a bad case of sibling rivalry into your daughter’s life history. That is, she has apparently possessed you so completely that it would be strange if she didn’t appear jealous and resentful of the anticipated arrival. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you -- as your family and friends have probably been saying for a year or more -- that it’s unusual to allow breastfeeding to continue as long as you have. If this is any indication of the extent to which you have indulged your little girl in other areas, you will probably have a hard time getting her used to the existence and continuing presence of the baby.

If you have read other answers I have given parents you know that I am always stressing individual differences in children. I know of no aspect of development that illustrates this better than sibling rivalry. Some children are thrown completely off balance by the birth of a new baby and may regress; others take it calmly—sort of like getting a new car or moving—and show little disturbance. Your daughter may show less of a reaction than you expect, in that she is already regressing and may not continue to do so after the birth of the baby. She may be trying to work it all out in her mind before the baby actually arrives. Incidentally, much of the research on this topic suggests that a two-year interval between births is associated with the most intense rivalry; your interval is much longer and will hopefully lead to more serenity.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the baby talk. Stress the advantages of being “a big girl”—more privileges, more choices, more adventures, new furniture. Also keep reminding her that, after the baby comes, you will feel better and will be more able to do things with her. From your letter I am confident that your daughter knows you love and cherish her. Once she finds that your feelings won’t disappear when the new baby comes, she will probably be fine.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education