For older siblings the birth of a new sibling can be a very exciting time! As your belly swells and the due month draws near, you may start to wonder how you can include your older child(ren) in the birth without overwhelming them. Below are a few tips to prepare the whole family for the big day:
1) Prepare kids to not have their parents readily available. It’s important to help kids understand that both of their parents will be very busy during the labor. You will be dealing with contractions and their other parent will be busy supporting you. Have another person present (who you feel comfortable having around your birth space) whose sole purpose is to care for your older child(ren). Let your little one(s) know that grandma/auntie/friend will be looking after them during the birth, so that’s the person they should go to for any help they need.
2) Help kids understand the sights and sounds of labor. Normalizing the alternate reality of labor can help kids better prepare to witness birth. You can let them know that you might “roar like a dinosaur” because it helps you feel better. You can tell kids that they may see blood and that it’s “extra blood” that you don’t need. You can also help them understand that babies look floppy and blueish when they first come out, and may have blood or “cheesey” vernix on their skin. Some families find it helpful to show their kids birth videos during the pregnancy. Be sure to preview them in advance and maybe start with the sound off so that kids can adjust to one sensation at a time.
3) Have snacks and entertainment cued up. Since birth tends to take many hours, it can get a little boring…even for adults. Expect older siblings to need snacks and maybe videos or games they can play independently or with their dedicated caregiver during the labor. You might bring out a new toy that’s “a gift from the baby” during labor to help keep little hands and minds busy.
4) Introduce your child(ren) to your birth team. If you’re planning on having the big sibling present for the birth, let them meet your doctor or midwife, your doula, and any other support people you plan to have present. It will be good for your child to see familiar faces they know to be “helpers” during an unfamiliar situation.
5) Investigate hospital/birth center policies on having children present at the birth. Take a tour of the hospital or birth center before labor and bring your child along, if possible. Ask about their policies regarding bringing children to the birth and what they can do to accommodate older siblings.
6) It’s ok for attendance plans to change. Sometimes when kids say they want to be at the birth, what they really mean is that they want to be close to their parents. If children who previously showed interest in attending the birth suddenly seem overwhelmed or scared, it’s ok for them to go to the park or to their caregiver’s house. Let them know ahead of time that it’s ok to change their mind. Also, know that it’s ok for you to change to change your mind during labor. Sometimes kids wind up distracting laboring parents and cause them to hold back out of fear of scaring their child. It’s ok to decide that you’d rather have your child leave for some of, or all of the birth.
7) Give kids time to process the birth. It takes years for parents to integrate their birth experience – don’t expect your child to do it overnight. Refrain from making assumptions about your child’s thoughts on the birth and instead follow their cues and validate their feelings. You may see the birth reflected in their play or drawings for some time after baby’s arrival. This is simply your kids making sense of a new experience.
What did you do to help your older child(ren) prepare to witness birth? What worked well for your family?
Nikki Shaheed CCE(BFW) CD(DONA) is a Birthing from Within Mentor and mom of 3. In her doula work and even in her own family Nikki has seen many variations over the years on how much or little parents choose to incorporate older siblings in their birth. She loves watching the way each family’s unique culture unfolds during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.