Are you considering including your older child or children in the birth of their sibling? While not for everyone, having your other children present at the birth can be a great experience for all of you. Still, there are a number of factors to consider when making this decision – your child’s age and temperament, the time of day you wind up going into labor, and where you are planning to give birth, to name a few.
If you and your children have mutually decided that they will be present at the birth, consider the following to make the birth a safe, happy, and memorable experience for all.
Follow the child’s lead at the birth. One of the many benefits of birth centers is the comfortable, home-like environment. During labor, allow your older child to call the shots on where they would like to be. They may wander in and out of the labor room, have a snack in the kitchen, or play games in the living room. Honor their feelings and allow them the freedom to choose where they are most comfortable, which may or may not be in the birthing room itself.
ALWAYS bring someone aside from your birth partner to be the primary caregiver during labor and birth. For a number of reasons, it’s best if you bring someone who can be completely focused on your other children. As the laboring person, you should be relaxed and focused on labor, and your birth partner should be focused on you. It can be a difficult balance for the non-laboring parent to care for a child (who may be experiencing some big emotions) but also be fully present and able to support the person in labor. Additionally, if labor takes an extended amount of time or there is an emergency or hospital transfer, it may be necessary for someone to take your other children home.
Talk about birth ahead of time. In terms that are appropriate for your child’s age, explain what may happen during labor and the basics of birth (where the baby comes out, what an umbilical cord is).
- “Mommy may not seem very happy. She may seem sad and angry, or she may be very quiet.”
- “Mommy might make some loud noises like this (insert grunts, groans, etc.). It may sound strange or silly, but those sounds help mommy get the baby out!”
- “If mommy is in the bath tub, it may turn a different color like pink or red when the baby is born.”
- “When the baby is born, it may not look very clean! He may be slippery or be covered with white stuff or have blood on him, and that’s OK!”
Consider bringing your children to the birth center ahead of time and also to an appointment with the midwife so they feel included in the process and can ask questions of the midwife
Pack a bag for your child. In addition to basics like comfortable clothes, snacks, etc., pack some activities for your child and their designated caregiver. For younger children especially, provide some new toys or art supplies they have never seen before.
Assign roles. For older children who have chosen to be present at the birth, talk ahead of time about what their role may be at the birth. Do they wish to be in another room but present for the actual birth? Or the opposite? Some older children will happily and instinctively jump into a doula role, bringing you water, fanning you to keep you cool, holding your hand, and staying by your side. If this is your child, talk ahead of time about how they can be helpful. If this is not your child, have a conversation about what they are comfortable with and assure them whatever they decide is fine with you.
Did your older children attend your birth? What advice would you give other families? Tell us in the comments!
Diana Petersen M.Ed., LCCE
Director of Education, Babymoon Inn
Diana Petersen received her journalism degree at the University of Arizona and her Master’s degree in education at Northern Arizona University.