Feelings of Guilt Before the Arrival of a Second Child

The arrival of a second child can trigger emotions of fear, insecurity, and, above all, guilt in the mother. Understanding why they arise can help in managing them.
Feelings of Guilt Before the Arrival of a Second Child
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 06 October, 2022

They say that when a woman gives birth, there are three deliveries: the baby, the placenta, and the guilt. Indeed, unfortunately, it’s a feeling that accompanies many women during motherhood. There are certain situations that trigger or aggravate this emotion, such as the return of the mother to work or the start of the child’s schooling. However, guilt before the arrival of the second child is also a frequent reality.

This doesn’t imply that the mother doesn’t love their baby or that they don’t feel great happiness and excitement over the birth. In fact, it’s quite possible that they’re excited about the idea that their first child will have another sibling to count on in later life, and vice versa. That said, due to the dedication involved in caring for a baby, the feeling that the firstborn is being failed in some way can sometimes appear.

Where does this guilt come from?

It’s common for motherhood to be accompanied by fears, insecurities, and mixed feelings. However, the birth of a second baby brings with it some specific circumstances that can increase feelings of guilt. Here are some of the reasons for this guilt to appear:

Pressure and expectations around motherhood

There’s great social pressure on mothers. In many settings, they’re expected to fulfill the stereotype of a dedicated, self-sacrificing, and present mother. Unfortunately, many of these beliefs and expectations are internalized by the women themselves, which leads them to experience anxiety, feeling like they’re continually running yet getting nowhere.

The pain of transition

Grief doesn’t just happen when facing the death of a loved one, it’s a natural reaction to any significant loss. Therefore, the arrival of a second baby represents the symbolic death of motherhood as experienced with the first child. The role, the family structure, the dynamics and routines… everything changes, and for some women it can be hard to adapt to this new reality.

However, if they don’t allow themselves to feel, if they’re not compassionate with themselves and don’t receive compassion from those around them, they may experience guilt for having these kinds of feelings of longing and loss.

Fear of not feeling the same love

Their firstborn was the one who made them a mother. They had so many new experiences with them that were full of so much emotional intensity that it seems impossible that this could be repeated. Thus, they may be afraid of not being able to feel the same love for their second child and that the experience with them won’t be as magical. Or, that they won’t be able to offer them the same feelings as before.

The fear of not having enough time

Similarly, one of the main reasons for guilt before the arrival of a second child is the lack of time. On the one hand, it pains many mothers to know that they’ll no longer have the same amount of time to attend to their eldest child and that they’ll have to give up some of their time and attention, even though the firstborn is still small.

On the other hand, it hurts to know that the second baby will never get the undivided attention the first did, and that time will always be shared between the two siblings. Looking at it from either angle, the guilt builds.

Beliefs about the role of the eldest child

Finally, as we mentioned earlier, it’s really common to feel that, by having another baby the eldest child is being failed. This is due to a series of beliefs that revolve around the situation. It’s assumed that the firstborn suffers before the birth of a sibling, that they feel displaced and neglected, that they’re jealous, and that they have a really bad time. Obviously, for a mother to think about this is heartbreaking.

How to avoid the feeling of guilt before the arrival of a second child

In reality, this kind of guilt stems not so much from reality, but from the mother’s beliefs, interpretations, and anticipatory anxiety. Therefore, it’s important to identify those ideas, question them, and restructure them.

If you’re in this situation, first of all, you need to get rid of external pressures and define your own values, priorities, and ways of contemplating and experiencing motherhood. Next, allow yourself to feel that fear, insecurity, and even guilt creeping up on you. Don’t try to suppress these feelings or fight them. On the contrary, allow yourself to express them and even discuss them with someone you trust and who you know won’t judge you. Allowing yourself to feel will help you move through those emotions without getting hooked on them.

Lastly, understand that the experience with your second child will be different, but no less beautiful or intense for that. In fact, it’ll make you understand the infinity of love, which multiplies and doesn’t divide when a new child arrives. Furthermore, you’ll see that, although your time will be distributed between them, neither child will feel deprived or neglected because of this fact.

Finally, if you’re still having a hard time dealing with guilt, and this emotion is starting to affect you, either personally or as a parent, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

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  • Cree, M. (2010). Compassion focused therapy with perinatal and mother-infant distress. International Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 3, 159–171. doi:10.1521/ijct.2010.3.2.159.
  • Rodrigues, J., & Rebelo-Botelho, M. A. (2021). Ser madre de un segundo hijo: la experiencia de lo mucho y del límite. Acta Paulista de Enfermagem34.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.