Will Your Older Children Attend Your Birth?

The Pregnancy Podcast – Q&A: Siblings at the Birth of a New Baby

Why this podcast?
I know, I know, The Pregnancy Podcast is making quite a few appearances on this blog but I just couldn’t resist this episode and, it’s a Q&A episode, which I haven’t featured before so I just kind of, well, went for it.

If you have read my other posts featuring The Pregnancy Podcast (epidurals, creating your birth cave, bustin’ some myths and when birth doesn’t go as planned) then you will know why I love it so much.

The host, Vanessa Merten, takes the subject, or in the case of a Q&A episode, the listener’s question, researches it thoroughly and then gives you an easy to listen to, entertaining overview of the pro’s, cons and things to consider with enough detail to enable you to make an informed decision but not so much as to overwhelm.

She never pushes you towards one decision or another and always links to the research in the show notes so that you can delve more deeply if you wish.

How does it look?
With regular episodes being very accessible at only thirty minutes, Q&A episodes are even shorter at just five minutes. This one is a bit of an exception and lasts a whopping ten minutes but I’m sure you can squeeze it in.

Q&A episodes have covered areas such as pooping during labour, a one-page birth plan, breast size and milk production, being scared about giving birth, perineal massage, protein during pregnancy and ultrasound accuracy.

Why this episode?
Older children attending the birth of younger siblings seems to be becoming more common. Home births are the most obvious setting for this but it happens at hospitals and birth centres too.

Some people find this a beautiful idea and others find it hard to imagine having their children present during such an intense time.

If you are considering having your other children present there are definitely a few things to think about to ensure that it is a smooth and pleasant experience for everyone.

I have to say that the incredibly beautiful and emotional photos that I saw a few weeks ago of a twelve-year-old girl helping to catch her baby brother did add a little inspiration for this post.

Who should listen to this episode?
Anyone who is considering having their older children present at the birth of their baby.

The episode
The listener, in this case, Amy, wrote to Vanessa saying that her daughter is really interested in attending the birth of her baby brother or sister. Amy had heard that children who attend the birth of their younger siblings accept the new member of the family more easily.

Amy’s doula however, has experienced that mothers often have trouble letting go enough for their bodies to labour well and birth their babies until their older child is out of the room (asleep in bed or at a grandparents house for example).

Amy goes on to bring up other questions such as whether she should have a designated person there to look after her daughter and whether her daughter might find the hospital or the sights and sounds of labour frightening.

What does the research say?
Well, there isn’t a whole heap, so not a lot. Overall, it seems, children who attended the birth of a sibling reflected on that experience in either a positive or a neutral way.

So, it’s very much a personal choice and sometimes that just makes the decision harder.

Luckily, Vanessa has some useful points for you to consider to help you make that choice.

Be selfish
Yep, you read that right. As mothers, that’s not something we feel we can be very often but actually, in this case, selfish is exactly what you need to be.

What does that mean?

It means that the choice that you make has to be the one that suits you best.

Not your partner.

Not even your older child.


”Your birth is going to be the smoothest in an environment where you are comfortable”

I could not agree more with Vanessa on this one and, if you think about it, a smooth birth is also what’s best for your baby.

A smooth birth is also more likely to mean that your partner and older kids get a healthy you back more quickly.

So actually, by doing what’s best for you, maybe you are not being selfish after all.

This is such an individual choice.

Some women, Vanessa points out, cannot imagine giving birth without their older children there and some women would run a mile from the whole idea.

Things to consider

#You know what you are like during labour
Ok, so this birth will not be the same as your previous birth but at least you have a good idea of what works for you during labour and what doesn’t.

#Use your imagination
Try to cast your mind back to your previous labour and birth.
Imagine having an older child there with you during the experience. How do you think you would have felt? Would it have been relaxing? A distraction?

#How old is your child?
A toddler attending your birth will be totally different than a teenager being there.

#Location, location, location
A child attending a home birth will be, well, at home.
They will feel comfortable there. Things will be familiar and, if they need to, they can go to another room either for a break or to stay there if they decide they want out of the whole experience.

A birth centre or hospital birth is trickier.

Your child will most likely be in an unfamiliar environment with medical staff coming in and out of the room.
The sights and sounds of a labour ward could be difficult for a child to process and going to another room would probably mean the canteen, waiting area or hallway.

If you are labouring at night your child will most likely need somewhere to sleep and a hospital environment may not be so conducive to this.

Vanessa suggests going through some different scenarios with your partner to see where potential problems lie and what some solutions could be.

#Who else will be there?
Will you have someone there who is one hundred percent dedicated to your child?
Or, will you have someone who can leave you, when necessary, to look after them?

If that’s a yes to the second option, will that person be your partner? If so, then it will be almost impossible for them to focus fully on you and your needs.

Having someone at your birth who can be responsible solely for your child so that you and your partner can focus on the birth might be the best solution.

If, after considering all of these things you decide that you do want to have your older child at your birth, Vanessa has some great tips for helping to make that a positive experience for everyone.

Tip #1 – Take your child to prenatals
Making sure that your child is comfortable with your care provider and vice versa is really important as is keeping an open discussion about the idea of your older child attending the birth.

Tip #2 – Take your child to your birthing location
If you are not planning a home birth then it could be good to take your child to the hospital or birth centre that you plan to birth in. That way, it will be a more familiar environment when the time comes.

Tip #3 – Watch birth videos
And read birth books with your child. Vanessa even suggests watching videos of animals giving birth to help your child have an idea of how birth can look and sound.

Tip #4 – Set rules
Let your child know up front what expectations you have of them. Again, this will depend on their age but they should probably know that they cannot run up and down the hospital halls or jump on the furniture.

Tip #5 – Give them an out
Let your child know that they can leave at any time if they change their mind about being there.
And put a plan in place in case they do.

Tip #6 – Give yourself an out
You should be able to change your mind about having your older child attend your birth and you should be able to change it at any point.
Again, plan, plan, plan.
You do not want to be calling around, trying to find someone who can pick up your child in the middle of transition.

To wrap up
I did not have my older children present at the birth of their younger siblings. For me, I could not imagine being able to have the focus I needed to deal with such intense feelings or the space to relax and go inwards if my children were around.

On the other hand, I absolutely love the idea and I can imagine it could create a very special and unique bond between the older child and the new baby.

The fact that the baby did not simply ‘appear’ could also, I imagine, make the transition from only child to big brother or sister easier.

Something else to consider is involving a sibling doula.
A sibling doula will be focused one hundred percent on your child. They are not only there to address their needs but, as someone experienced with birth, they can reassure your child that the sounds and sights they may encounter are normal and that you are ok.

A friend or relative could take a similar role but they may also be concerned about what they are seeing and hearing and part of their attention will invariably be on you.

A sibling doula can focus, totally, on your child, and, if you or they decide that them being there is no longer for the best, the doula can take them somewhere else and look after them so that you are free to focus solely on giving birth.

I would absolutely love to hear from you if you had your older child or children present at the birth of their sibling.
What brought you to this decision?
What kind of plans did you have in place?
How was the experience, both for you and your child?

Other episodes on this subject
The Birth Hour – Sibling’s Perspective on Birth

Doing It At Home Podcast – How to Prepare your Children for your Home Birth

Razorcast – Birth and Siblings (from about 4 minutes in)

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By emilywills

Emily Wills is a doula based in Stockholm. She believes that birth can be a beautiful and empowering experience and started this blog as a way of sharing some really great podcasts. She is also a mother of three and an enthusiastic runner.

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