Siblings At Birth – Should Children Be Present During Childbirth?

Siblings At Birth - Should Children Be Present During Childbirth?

Siblings At Birth was written By Jo Hunter Mother, Midwife, Childbirth Educator, Doula and former Pre-school Teacher

Before I became a mother I worked in early childhood development.

Much of my time was spent observing and recording children’s developmental capabilities and needs.

I used those recordings to write programs for individual children in early childhood settings.

I worked with many highly university trained early childhood experts, all of whom could rattle off the theories of Erickson and Piaget.

But when it came to actually connecting physically and emotionally with children many of them didn’t have a clue.

I personally birthed four children in five and a half years (all naturally into water with the last three births taking place in my home) and subsequently had my own pre-school at home!

This is when I became passionate about issues around childbirth, a self confessed ‘birth junkie’.

I studied, attended courses and workshops and became a childbirth educator and doula before becoming a midwife.

All of my children were involved in the births of their siblings and their involvement was one of the many reasons I chose to birth at home with the last 3 babies.

I could wax on for ages about the social, emotional, cognitive and physical developmental benefits for children who witness the birth of their siblings, all of which are valid and factual points to make.

However I consider it to be more beneficial to try a little exercise at getting you into the mind of a small child.


Try to cast your mind back to childhood, just try to remember some of the feelings of being in a small body and being a small child.

Now remember some important family events from childhood, it may be Christmas, a family wedding, a birthday, an engagement party.

Remember how it made you feel when you were involved in a family event and remember how it made you feel when you were excluded?

For the moment I want you to imagine being a small child – let’s say a 4 year old.

Your mummy has told you there’s a baby growing in her tummy. As time goes by, you witness Mummy’s tummy move and jump and she tells you it’s the baby kicking.

You’re aware of lots of changes occurring. Lots of baby gear is being brought into the house, tiny little clothes are being washed and hung out to dry and Mum tells you it won’t be long before the baby arrives. There’s heaps of talk about the new baby from mum and dad and other relatives and friends.

One night Daddy tells you soon Mummy will be going to hospital and the doctor is going to get the baby out of mMummy’s tummy. Your imagination runs wild! You have no idea how the doctor will get the baby out. Ahhhh, maybe THAT’S what the belly button is for, you think to yourself.

You’re told any day now you’re going to be a big sister or brother – chances are you’re not feeling very big at all. Then one day Mum tells you she has some pains in her tummy and she thinks the baby is on its way. Every now and then Mum stops what she doing and rocks her hips.

You go to bed that night and Daddy tells you that ‘it’ might be tonight. When you wake up in the morning Grandma is at your house. She tells you Mummy and Daddy have gone to the hospital to have the baby and when Daddy calls you’ll be able to go to the hospital to meet the baby.

You have a nice day with Grandma but you’re wondering where Mummy is and when and how the baby will show up. Eventually in the evening Daddy calls to tell you that you have a baby brother.

Grandma is very excited – it’s time to go to the hospital to meet the baby and you feel nervous and excited.

When you arrive at the hospital Mum is lying in a bed with a big bundle of blankets on her lap. She smiles at you and you go and give her a big kiss. ‘Look’, she says pointing at the blankets and you see a little face looking out. It’s the baby.

Mummy asks you if you want to hold him, you sit up on the bed and have him on your lap. You’re a bit distracted by strangers come in and out of the room, some of them smile and talk to you, others don’t even look at you.

After a while its time for Grandma to take you home. Daddy says he’ll be back a bit later and he’ll see you in the morning. Grandma takes you home and tucks you into bed for your good night story. So now you’re a big brother or sister!


Now just imagine you’re the same 4 year old, you know there is a baby growing in Mummy’s tummy. You know when it is time for the baby to be born Mummy will have pains in her tummy and she might make a lot of noise. But mum said that’s ok because it helps the baby to be born.

You’ve been to visit the midwife lots of times with Mum. Your favourite part is helping her listen to the baby’s heart beat – she lets you press the buttons on her machine, the baby’s heart beat sounds like a horse galloping.

She listens to your heartbeat and she lets you help with the blood pressure machine. Sometimes you even get to wee on a stick – just like Mummy.

You have some special jobs for when Mummy is in labour. You have your own camera to take photos, you will help Daddy or the midwife fill Mummy’s glass with water and put cold washers on her face. This will help her to get the baby out.

Mummy has told you the baby will come out of her vagina and that it can sometimes take a long time but that it is ok; the baby will come when it is ready.

You’ve watched videos of other mummies having babies and other children helping their babies be born.

You ask Mummy why the dad and mum are crying on the videos. ‘Grown ups sometimes cry happy tears’, she says. You think that’s a bit strange because when you cry it’s because you’re sad, angry or hurt.

Mum reads you books about babies being born and she has even bought you your own special baby doll – but you’re excited about the real baby coming.

One day Mummy starts to have some pains in her tummy and she tells you she thinks the baby might be on its way. Every now and then she stops what she is doing and rocks her hips. That evening addy comes home from work and you all have dinner together but Mum keeps getting up and rocking.

Daddy says its bedtime and promises you if the baby decides to be born tonight he will wake you up so you don’t miss out. ‘Promise?’ you ask. ‘Pinky promise’, he says, as you shake your pinkies together.

The next thing you know Daddy is waking you up to tell you the baby is coming. You go into the lounge room and Mummy is in the big pool you helped daddy blow up a few days earlier.

The midwife is there too and she smiles and says hello.

Mummy is making some big loud noises and she has her eyes closed. At first you feel a bit worried, and then she stops making the noise, opens her eyes, looks up at you and smiles. “The baby’s going to be here soon”, and she squeezes your hand. You help Dad with cold washers for Mum’s face and offer her water to drink.

After a while the midwife says she can see the baby’s head and she shines a torch through the water so that you and Dad can see too.

Then Mum makes some really really loud noises and a baby’s head comes out of her vagina, soon after the baby’s body arrives and the midwife passes him up to Mum.

Mum and Dad cry happy tears as you look on in amazement.

Mummy turns around and kisses you. You reach out to touch the baby. You stroke his head and his hands and he squeezes his hand around your little finger.

After a while the placenta is born and um gets out of the pool because it’s getting cold. She goes for a shower and Daddy helps you cuddle the baby.

When the midwife goes home you all jump into Mum and Dad’s big bed to sleep – Dad, then you, then the baby, then Mum! So now, you’re a big sister or brother!

Why Does It Matter?

Almost every aspect of early childhood development is affected by environment and experiences and ultimately shapes who we are, how we view the world and ourselves within it.

Children are incredibly robust and have the ability to deal with the majority of situations as long as they are told the truth and the facts of the situation.

We can help them through by giving them words to express how they feel.

However, when they are excluded from life’s experiences and left to imagine situations, we’re unable to help and protect them from their imagination and nightmares.

Perhaps by not sharing our life experiences with our children we think we are protecting them. But are we really or are we actually doing them a grave disservice?

Children in our society learn about birth from TV soaps and hospital sitcoms where birth is depicted as an emergency, with overtones of impending catastrophe and final salvation by the obstetrician.

They learn that birth means fear, a frantic rush to the hospital and life saving surgery.

We condition children to think of birth like a road accident or a heart attack, as these are the first images children see related to birth.

What message is this giving our children?

How will they use this when it is their turn to have children, should they indeed want to even try after being bombarded by these images? 

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  1. With the homebirth of my fifth baby, in addition to my support team, I had a support person whose whole job was to help my other kids while I birthed their brother. She was fantastic. She helped the ones who wanted to be involved to be involved in a helpful way. She comforted my younger ones who woke from mommy’s sounds and were worried. Basically, she parented them while my husband and I focused on the birth. So grateful they each got to be as much a part of the birth as they were comfortable, and so grateful for my friend for doing the mommy job I totally couldn’t do while birthing a baby. 🙂

  2. My experience with the older siblings being present at the birth of the younger ones was pretty much like the second scenario. It was dreamy! I loved being able to talk about the birth with the older kids and hear their perspectives. They felt very excited and helpful during the labour, birth, and for the time afterward. I also had some extra doula friends around who are very close to our family that our kids call “auntie” and felt comfortable with them. They were helping the older siblings (who were 4 years old and 21 months) be helpful, cuddling/watching/explaining to them if they needed it, reading books, or just drawing and making welcome cards for the baby. I still look at the photos with them and tear up a little. It was a perfect day! It was a good decision for us to have the siblings there.

  3. What if you have a c-section? I really want to include my two year old and I am not really sure I want to leave him with someone else at home to spend the night etc….I have never been away from him at night and I don’t want him to feel left out and thinking we are not wanting him included. Everyone tells me that he will do better at home etc…and that I need bonding time with the new baby (which I totally agree with that…)BUT I think the new baby will be entering the world into OUR family not just my husband and I (like we did with our first). I am just not sure how to include him into the c-section part. It will be scheduled for a 7am one and he will just be getting up then etc…so my sister (his favorite aunt!)…will come over have a special breakfast then head up the the hospital….I just really don’t want to leave him out! We have been talking the baby up and how he will help feed it and change diapers etc…and he really seems excited! I don’t want to change that attitude!

    any suggestions would be great!

    1. Pam, usually hospitals only let one person in theatre, and I don’t know anyone who has been able to have a child in the room. Can your two year old have his own “doula”? Someone who can be there with him, explain, and get him involved in helping mummy and daddy organise things for baby? Maybe you could ask if he could come into recovery to meet the baby, but you may not be allowed. Good luck!

  4. I love your article! I’ll be giving birth within the next 4 weeks and have been on the fence about having my daughter with me. My question is, would age affect how a child perceives mom being in pain, etc? My daughter is 2 1/2 years old and I worry she’ll be upset seeing me in discomfort, and may have anxiety rather than excitement. I feel like a 4 year old would understand and grasp the situation better than a 2 year old. Thoughts? Or any experiences you’ve had or heard about involving 2 year olds at a birth?

    1. Good question and one only you can answer as you know your child the best. (Also, your own anxiety having her there.) She may wipe your brow and kiss you and it will be great! You should have someone there that is just for her–who can bring her in or take her out as they watch her reactions and yours! As for noises, I tell kids that moans make us feel better (true–endorphins released!) As for pushing, I don’t know if she would “get” this, but in classes I’ve taught, I have the kids try pushing the wall to make it move! I do this with them and start adding in some grunting or pushing sounds. Then we talk about those sounds meaning we’re working REALLY hard!!

  5. I would love to know more about the social, emotional, cognitive and physical developmental benefits of siblings being present for birth. I am currently in a situation where someone is trying to prevent my child being present and I would love to have some more facts to back up my fight.

    1. If you are the mother, it’s your choice and no-one elses. My children have all been at their siblings births, where possible. They don’t even remember the earlier births, just the most recent one. They are not traumatised and talk about it with excitement, not fear.

  6. What about an older child? And what about a hospital birth? My son is 12 years old. The hospital will allow 3 people in with me. I’ve reserved those slots for my partner, mother and son. I’ve offered that he can be there if he likes but doesn’t have to. Some people think it’s weird. Is it?

  7. Where can I find video of children helping mom during labor? I would love to show my daughter some 🙂 she’s 8 and I’ve decided to leave it up to her if she wants to stay with me or go out into the waiting room at the hospital…

  8. This sounds lovely but what about if the child is only young? My little girl is only 17 months so I don’t think she will understand what’s happening or be able to help. It sounds lovely for older ones though xx

  9. I don’t know where I was when my sister was born I was only 2 and not in the room, I know that much.I was 4 when my mom had my brother. I was there when my brother was born. I was very scared (understandably) I wanted to leave the room but my mom insisted I stay, I was only four and very scared/confused. At first I thought she wanted me to stay because there was no one to watch me outside the room but my mom said there would have been people that could have helped if I needed to leave. We still have a video of me after the birth saying that it was scary and that I had wanted to leave the room. #parentingfailure. I think kids should be allowed to be in the room if the mom wants them and they’re comfortable being in the room. If they want to leave they should be allowed to leave.

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