Young children attending the birth of siblings
Could having your older child at the birth of your next baby be a wondrous event or a seriously bad idea?
Dare mentioning to friends and family that you are considering having your older child at the birth of your next baby and you could find yourself faced with all sorts of criticism or jokes about saving for your child's therapy bills. But often this feedback is coming from those who assume this would be the case, rather than those who have experienced it first-hand because, in general, siblings are kept out of the labour ward only to meet their baby brother or sister after the event. But could there be positives to your child seeing the actual birth of the newest member of the family?
Will she cope?
No doubt your older child has played a role in your pregnancy so far. She may have kissed your belly, chatted to the baby and helped you come up with names (most likely Elmo or Jeff!) So, for some parents, it's a natural last step in the nine-month journey to have the child present at the birth. Rather than being looked after by Granny or an aunt during the labour she is there for the first moment of her new sibling's life without any 'mystery' as to how this baby has entered her life.
But how will the child cope? You may be surprised to learn that many midwives and birth support people report that children who attend the birth of their siblings generally handle the situation incredibly well. Gabrielle Targett, author of A Labour of Love, has witnessed this first-hand on many occasions. "I have never met a child yet who has been disturbed by the experience of birth," she says.
"Of all the children I have observed at birth they have usually demonstrated a calm quiet disposition and have not interfered at all with the labouring process. This is probably due to the fact that when a child is present and a mother is making a bit of noise or finding the intensity of labour hard to cope with a toddler or child will be the first to leave that environment on the mother's request."
While this may sound like a lovely idea for you it's necessary that you determine your child's willingness to attend. If she hasn't brought up the topic with you, mention the idea to her and see how she reacts to it. She should feel comfortable and excited about the birth. If she seems reluctant or anxious, then don't pressure her to attend.
Think about it
While many critics of the idea may not be speaking from personal experience, it's worth keeping in mind that they could have some valid points. While you may be encouraged or comforted by the presence of your child in the delivery room, there's also a chance that it could distract you and affect your ability to have a positive birth experience. This could be particularly true if you had a hard labour last time or are expecting difficulty this time. Your child being there may only cause you unnecessary pressure.
While Gabrielle doesn't suggest a recommended age for the child, she says it's also important to consider the maturity of your child. "Each sibling may vary in maturity and whether or not they will be able to cope being present at birth at all," says the mother of three whose four-year-old daughter was a great support during the labour of her third child unlike her two-year-old who had to leave the room. Your child's temperament is also highly important. If she seems anxious, has bad dreams or is very sensitive, it may not be a good idea.
It's also a good idea to find a support person for your child. Don't rely on your partner, as you will need his attention during the labour. If the child starts to feel uncomfortable or even if she just gets bored, this birth partner can take her out of the room.
Whether your hospital or birth centre will allow a sibling to be present is another factor to consider. "Every hospital and birth centre have their own rules, so you will need to ask them if it is a possibility," says Gabrielle, who recommends a home birth as the ideal environment. "Then the sibling can come and go… and move about the house with no restrictions at all."
Finally, you need to be prepared to change your mind at the last minute if you feel uncomfortable or distracted by your child. "A labouring woman really has to gauge at the time of labour whether or not it is suitable to keep a toddler or children present during labour and birth," suggests Gabrielle. Your partner or your child's support partner can explain to her that you need to really focus on the birth so that it she can meet her baby brother or sister sooner.