Your older children at the birth of your new baby? Something to think about.
There are many reasons why people think it’s not a great idea.
They will list them, expressing horror and dread. And, as you listen to them, note the fear-based words they use.
Scary. Blood. Noisy. Traumatising.
But, when you think about it, in our not too distant history, children were often present at the birth of their siblings.
It can be a joyous and memorable occasion for the whole family. And it sets your older child up for accepting birth as a normal part of life.
Children At The Birth – 10 Things You Need To Consider
Of course, the most important thing to consider is whether your older child wants to be at the birth.
Perhaps your situation means you have limited options in terms of having your children looked after while you’re in labour. Or perhaps you simply want to give them the choice of being present at the birth of their new sibling.
Whatever the reason behind your decision, here are 10 things to consider:
#1: The Age Of Your Child
Children over the age of three tend to be able to understand more of what’s going on around them.
That’s not to say older children won’t be worried or anxious about what is happening, but it’s often easier to explain the situation to them, so they can release their fears.
Younger children are more demanding of having their needs and wants met immediately, and might be upset if you’re distracted or can’t be available to care for them.
Older children are often quite keen to be involved, but teenagers might feel squeamish and even embarrassed. It’s a good opportunity to talk to them about natural birth, and to educate them with positive birth stories.
#2: Your Child’s Temperament
This is a big consideration which is further influenced by the age of your child. Young toddlers and children tend to be more clingy and sensitive to mama’s moods. You’re the best judge of how your child will react to seeing you in labour and everything it entails.
You should also consider the birth setting. Are your children likely to sleep and play quietly or are they high energy, needing freedom to move and make a noise?
#3: Will Your Children Be A Distraction?
This is probably quite difficult to predict. You mightn’t know until the moment you are mid-contraction and you want everyone to get away from you!
Some children can easily get on with their own activities and come to check on you periodically. Other children want to be there for every moment. Figure out how you will deal with the normal noisy distractions of children so you can focus on having your baby.
#4: Prepare Your Children
This is such important groundwork for you and your older children. You’ve been through birth before, so you know what to expect. Your children need age appropriate preparation so they aren’t frightened by what they see and hear.
Regularly involve them in some birth preparation. Try some ‘birth’ role play, using a doll, with you in the starring role.
You can talk about the noise mamas make when they are birthing; you might even practise making these sounds together.
Be realistic about the details of what happens when a baby is born. This includes talking about blood, what happens to your body during labour, the placenta, and what the baby will look like.
Depending on the child’s age, you might want to keep it simple and easy to understand. Remember, the more matter of fact and calm you are, the more a child will accept birth as normal.
Watch videos of women birthing, so your children understand there is an ‘after’ and a reason for all of the very hard work. It can be great to watch videos and read books every day so your children become aware of and used to the sights and sounds of birth. Encourage them to ask questions.
#5: Give Them An Out
Explain to your children they can change their minds and decide to not be present, if that’s what they want. And they can decide to leave at any time during labour if they choose.
Children should never feel forced to watch a birth. If they’re struggling with the experience, they can still be nearby, and come and meet the baby as soon as it is born.
#6: Organise A Support Person
If possible, have someone who’s prepared to be on hand to support your child. It’s a great idea to ask a known and trusted family member, friend or doula. Make a plan for what to do if your child becomes upset or wants to leave. You might decide, for example, the support person should take your child to the park or out for a play.
Older children can also benefit from having a support person, so they can talk about what is happening, and how they might be feeling about it.
If it’s not possible to have someone present, then consider leaving your children with a relative or neighbour while you are in labour, and have them brought back to you when you are close to giving birth.
#7: Prepare An Entertainment Kit
Young children have no concept of time. It can be useful to explain labour can take a long time – maybe as long as four movies! Talk about what they can do in the ‘boring’ parts of labour so you aren’t constantly distracted by their pleas for attention.
Set up a special box with toys, games, movies and entertaining activities they haven’t seen before. As far as possible, try to choose games and activities they can manage independently.
If your children are very young, it might be worth considering having them present just for the birth rather than the whole labour, to avoid the long wait for something exciting to happen!
#8: Organise Plenty Of Snacks
Kids are always hungry! Have plenty of prepared snacks and a couple of easy meals stashed away in the freezer or cupboard for when your little one needs refuelling.
Children tend to eat when they are bored, so cut up some fruit and include other healthy options, to give them something to munch on without wiring them on sugar. Pack a lunchbox of non-perishable items, or foods your child can’t live without, so you don’t have to rely on the vending machines at the hospital.
#9: Explain The Rules (To Everyone)
It’s important to have a set of expectations about what you want – you are the person giving birth after all.
Discuss your plans with your care provider and check there aren’t any potential difficulties. Some hospitals have guidelines about children being present in maternity wards, so it’s useful to know this in advance to avoid any surprises.
Birth at home has obvious advantages. Your child will be in a familiar place and less likely to be disturbed by new places and people. Your child is more likely to have been involved in the prenatal care appointments with your midwife, and will feel more comfortable when labour is under way.
Make sure all your support people know what is expected of them, and are willing to follow through, regardless of what’s going on with you. There’s no point asking your mother to be your child’s support person if she’s not willing to leave with your child, if needed, because she doesn’t want to miss seeing the birth.
Make sure your children understand what they need to do. They will want to feel included, and also to be kept busy, so it can be really helpful to give kids special ‘jobs’ during labour (boredom busters). They could be responsible for checking the pool temperature, or giving you sips of water. Explain it’s very hard work giving birth. Tell them you need their help, and for them to stay calm, use quiet voices and co operate with others.
#10: Talk About ‘What Ifs’
What if your children fall asleep and you decide not to wake them when the baby is born? What if labour is so quick there’s no time to get to the hospital? What if your labour doesn’t go as planned and you opt for interventions? What if there is an emergency?
While you don’t want to frighten your children before the day, it can be useful to talk to them about having a code word you will use if you need them to deal with a change of plans.
This can be particularly useful for older children, who can see and hear what is happening but might not have the facts they need to understand it. Impress on your children they will have someone to care for them at all times.
Remember, although you might want your children to be present, think about how they will respond to the experience. Consider it from their point of view.
If they’re likely to be frightened by watching you give birth, there is a chance they might be traumatised, and this can be distressing for everyone. If your children are likely to react in this way, it might be better to have the birth filmed so they can watch it later, at a time when they are able to process the information better.