Scientifically speaking, no, toddlers cannot sense when labor is approaching or beginning.
They are very observant, however, and may be keenly aware of changes in their environment, such as the mom’s nervousness or final nursery preparations, that could hint to them that a big change is coming.
It’s important to adequately prepare your toddler for the coming changes.
According to the Child Mind Institute:
“The key thing here is that parents need to indicate that this is a positive thing for a family. It’s a change, and change … is something that takes time to get used to.
The language you use to explain these changes to your child should be developmentally and age appropriate.”
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Toddler Sensing Labor Coming
Your toddler may become increasingly aware that their world is about to change, even if they don’t know exactly how.
As they sense this change approaching, you might notice changes in their behavior.
Adding a new baby to their world requires a big adjustment on their part that might take some time as they adapt to having to share mama and daddy’s attention.
While it is cute to think that children are so in tune with their mothers that they can predict labor, there are no scientific studies or evidence to show that babies or toddlers can sense when women are pregnant or will give birth.
How Toddlers Know Change Is Coming
It’s truly amazing how intuitive toddlers can be and how sensitive they are to the environment around them.
There are cues that we unintentionally send our toddlers that give them a clue that their little toddler world is about to be turned upside down.
1. Parents’ Stress Levels
Pregnancy and preparing for a new baby can be a stressful time of life.
There is a lot to do to prepare for the little one’s arrival, and just the anticipation alone of a new baby and everything that entails can be stressful enough, not to mention that you’re likely exhausted.
Toddlers pick up the stress cues that we send, whether we are aware of them or not.
They can sense when our stress levels are rising, and that notifies them that something is going on and that something must be big if it is causing Mama and Dada such stress.
2. Differences in Routine/Bonding Time
Pregnancy may result in differences in your routine, thus affecting your little one’s routine and the time they have with you.
In the beginning, you may need more naps throughout the day, and therefore, there is less play or adventure time with your toddler.
As you grow and get more uncomfortable, it may become harder to take your toddler out and about to do fun things.
Also, during the last few months of your pregnancy, you may be spending your extra time making sure everything is prepped and ready to go for the baby’s arrival.
Your toddler will notice these changes in routine and the decrease in the amount of time/attention they get from you and will start to wonder what is happening.
3. New Baby Items in the House
Instead of seeing only their toys and usual things around the house, your toddler will notice as you bring home or bring out all of the “baby things” that you will need for your newborn.
They will recognize that it isn’t their stuff and might begin to sense that someone else is about to enter their little world.
4. Parents Talking About Delivery Plans
Children are sponges, and they hear and understand more than we realize!
It is possible that your toddler has overheard you and your partner making delivery plans or talking about the new baby’s arrival.
They may even notice your hospital bag waiting patiently by the door.
Fun Fact: Scientists and animal behaviorists claim that dogs may be able to sense labor due to a combination of human behavior changes and scent changes from hormones as labor approaches.
Toddler Behavior Before New Baby Arrives – What To Expect
As your toddler begins to realize that change is near and they sense their undivided attention and alone time with their parents coming to an end, you might notice a few changes in their behavior.
Many moms report that their toddlers become extra clingy and begin to demand more attention while they are pregnant, especially toward the end.
This extra neediness is unusual for them and comes after months of independence.
Your toddler might also seem more fussy than usual. You may experience more tantrums or unusual behavior as they sense the changes going on around them.
In the weeks before my nephew was born, my little niece would not let her mom out of sight. She never threw tantrums, but she was super clingy and just wanted to snuggle.
Once her new brother arrived, she quickly became “mommy’s little helper” and became more independent with each passing day.
How To Help a Toddler Prepare for New Baby
It isn’t your job as a parent to make feelings go away, but you can help your little one learn how to manage their feeling and ease the transition for them just a little bit.
Here are a few tips for those last few weeks before the baby’s arrival as you try to prepare your toddler for having a sibling:
- Try to be as patient and understanding as possible.
- Be honest with them about what the baby will be like so that they have realistic expectations.
- Encourage them to get excited about having a sibling.
- Spend extra quality time with your toddler doing things he/she likes before the arrival of the baby, and continue special time even after the baby arrives.
- Reassure your child that you will always be there and that your love is as strong as ever.
- Consider giving them a gift from their new sibling.
- Have your toddler “help” with preparing for the baby to give them a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
- Spend time around other babies so they can get accustomed to what a baby is like.
Making Arrangements for Your Toddler Before Labor Begins
Have a plan in place ahead of time about where your toddler will go during labor, delivery, and the hospital stay.
Include your little one in these plans, and get them excited about the time they will have with their grandparents or friends.
It could be a good idea to have their bag ready to go, just like your hospital bag.
They might be thrilled about having a bag just like Mama and get excited for the time they get to use it.
How To Introduce Toddler to a New Baby
Your toddler and new baby will only have one first introduction, so do everything you can to ensure it goes well.
Do It at the Right Time
Consider your toddler’s schedule, and choose the best time of day to do the introduction.
Aim for a time of day when your toddler is usually in a good mood and not cranky, sleepy, or hungry.
Keep Your Arms Free
It might be a good idea to do the first introduction with the baby in the car seat, bassinet, or lying on the floor rather than you holding the baby.
Because your toddler likely does not understand who the baby is, if they see you holding him or her, they may wrongfully assume that they’ve been replaced by the baby.
A more neutral introduction, where your arms are still free to cuddle them, would be a way to keep your toddler more comfortable.
Make Your Toddler Feel Loved and Special
Rather than rushing straight to the introduction when you get home from the hospital, make sure you give your toddler a warm and loving hello since you likely haven’t seen them in a few days.
Give them a hug and a kiss, and show excitement about seeing them. Perhaps have a small gift to offer.
Ensure your toddler feels loved, cherished, and special before turning your attention to the new baby and the introduction.
Will a Toddler Resent a New Baby?
The arrival of a new sibling can be unsettling for a toddler, especially if it is their first sibling and they are used to having your undivided attention.
If you think about it, their whole world and all the routines they’ve known are changing. That’s huge!
It is common for a toddler to not be as excited about the new baby as you would expect or hope.
It might take time for your toddler to adjust to sharing your attention with their new sibling.
This doesn’t mean that they do not love their new sibling; they just need to get used to the idea of a younger sibling and learn what it means to love them.
For other toddlers, the adjustment process is pretty quick and painless. It really is different for every child and every family dynamic.
Regardless of your toddler’s initial response to their younger sibling, rest assured that a positive sibling relationship will eventually develop.
It will just take a little bit of time, patience, and cultivation with love and help from you.
Toddler Regression After New Baby
Bringing a new baby home creates a lot of change and stress in your toddler’s environment as what was once comfortable is now totally different.
They are too young to understand these changes or their new role as an older sibling. This often results in behavior changes or regressions.
Regressions in things like sleep routines and potty training are also common during those first few weeks after bringing your baby home.
It is important to try and stay as consistent as you can with your toddler’s “pre-baby” routine and to maintain the boundaries that you had already set in place.
Charlynn is an educator and mom to fraternal boy/girl twins. She loves learning through the experiences she has with her littles and using her knowledge to help other moms as they embark on the journey of motherhood.