Having my child at the birth.
Is it for us? And if so how can I prepare?
by Sophie Fletcher
I get asked this question a lot, “what are my views on having siblings at a birth”. An answer to that question is almost impossible for anyone apart from a mother to answer, as only a mother knows her own child and how they may respond to the experience. Equally important, how she will feel about having her son or daughter there? Will it relax her or will she be anxious about how they are processing the experience?
There is little research, but of the research that exists the majority show that children respond positively to birth and even that there is a sensitive bonding period for sibling and newborn at this stage. This bonding period may be very important for longer term relationships as there is some indication that the initial reaction of older siblings to their baby sibling is a good indicator of what will transpire a year on or may even set the course of a life-long relationship.
I know many women who have had siblings at a birth and the reports are largely positive. Women say that the contractions eased and some of the most intense emotional experiences where when they were holding hands and smiling at their child.
Having your child at the birth can really help releases oxytocin. I love this quote from Danica Donnelly.
I didn’t know you could have a “favorite” contraction but my favorite one was when my 3 year old son climbed up on the bed and held my hand during the contraction and looked into my eyes and smiled at me. I can’t remember if he said anything to me but just looking at his sweet face and knowing that he was loving and supporting me and that he wasn’t scared, but rather excited for baby brother, it made that contraction so easy to get through it almost dissapeared when I looked upon that sweet face.” Danica Donnelly
You can read more about her experience here, but I love the photo above!
I also hear women say that they had planned for their child to be involved but in fact their child slept through and woke up in the morning to climb into bed with them and the new baby, or were woken up just after, or before, baby was born. What seems to be very consistent is that the child is in the house, with a dedicated carer, grandmother/friend, and carries on with their day in a very normal way, perhaps wandering in for short periods of time, but nearly always being there at the last moments or just after baby is born.
This makes a lot of sense to me. From a psychological perspective having a sole carer for a sibling takes any what if anxiety away from the mother, but it also maintains a consistent routine for a child during a very transitional moment for them, a time of great upheaval and change. It also ensures that the child is still close to their mother and conveys the message “there is space for all of us”. Imagine as a young child being an integral part of the preparation and day that your brother and sister is born, rather than your mother being taken away and then suddenly she’s in hospital with a tiny baby which everybody is cooing over.
If you are having a homebirth you can of course have as many partners as you wish, however children attending in a hospital or birth centre setting is much less common and varies significantly from country to country, hospital to hospital.
Presence at a siblings birth can normalise birth for children, something that lasts a lifetime. I hear lots of women say that being present at their sister or brothers birth created a powerful bond with their sibling, but also helped them see birth as something very normal; a powerful gift for any woman.
Here are some suggestions for preparing, but if you have any suggestions or something that you want to share please do, I’d love to hear your stories!
Talk to your child and other women who have had a child at the birth
Do your research and make sure you are making the right decision for you and your child
Find a trusted friend or relative who is a dedicated carer for your child during the birth
There are several things that you can do to prepare a sibling for birth
- Read books about the arrival of a baby brother or sister
- Talk about birth being hard work and effort
- Find some videos you can watch together
- Prepare them for sounds etc
Things that they can do before the birth
- Listen to baby’s heartbeat during midwife visits
- Help blow the pool up and fill it up on trial run
- Help get snacks together for the mum, maybe baking granola bars
- Design an affirmation board (hypnobirthing mums)
- Do yoga positions with mum (if they are doing yoga)
- Spend time shortly before the birth making a birthday card for the baby
- Involve them in a blessingway (dependent on age)
- Help decorate the baby’s room
On the day (these are dependent on age)
- Go for a walk in early labour
- In early labour make a birthday cake with them
- They can help fill your drink bottle
- Perhaps be a photographer
- Help get cold cloths
- Hold your hand
- Cut the cord
- Help weigh baby
- Snuggle up with parents and baby afterwards