When preparing for your first birth, the unknown can be consuming. What will it feel like? What will you need, and how will your caregivers respond? You check and re-check to make sure your bag is ready for the hospital or your birth supplies are there for your midwife. But now that you have been through it already, you feel more mentally prepared for yourself, but there is a new unknown: what should big brother or sister do during birth?
Having siblings in the room during birth can create an incredible bond for kids of any age. Younger children benefit from being witness to the transition from mommy’s growing belly to a baby in arms. Older children can benefit from the emotional intensity of birth and what it takes to bring a baby into the world. Today, we will talk about how you can prepare yourself, your family, and your environment for the process of birth.
Birthing with Kids in the Room
Once you have decided that you’d like your child to witness and be a part of the birth of their sibling, thinking through the process of birth can help you to prepare yourself for this new dynamic.
Do you thrive in a quiet, calm birthing environment or do you need the distraction of interaction? Do you want to be up and around and moving or in a “nest” space? Do you like to be touched and comforted physically or would you rather move around independently? These answers don’t necessarily say you cannot have your children present, but they will affect your own mental and physical preparation for birth.
- Have them come to your prenatal visits with you and meet your care providers
- Practice yoga with them in the room
- Deep breathe with them, vocalize together
- Read birth books and watch birth videos together
- Take a bath or a shower or a nap while your partner keeps them occupied but near - envision that kind of relaxation during labor with those noises and disruptions
Each birth is different, and the changes in your mind and body compensate for minor distractions in day to day life. Still, doing some of these exercises and mental preparation can help you to find the mental space you need to birth with kids in the room.
Preparing Kids for Birth
Just as you need to prepare your mind and heart to move through the process of labor with children in the room, your kids need to be as prepared as possible, too. They’ve watched your belly grow, but they’ve never seen you working as hard as you will during birth.
Small children can benefit from picture books like Welcome with Love, helping to normalize the pace and eventual intensity of labor and birth. Older siblings might like to read more about the process of birth from the books you are enjoying.
Once they have become a bit more familiar with the idea that the baby is coming after a lot of hard work, you might introduce birth videos on Youtube. Show them videos with kids at birth. I think you should watch the videos first to screen them for your children. Having said that, I encourage you to show them a woman coping quietly, and another woman being very vocal and loud. If you are having a water birth you should watch lots of those videos too.
Finally, talk with them - a lot! What questions do they have? Do they know what birth is like? Have they heard weight lifters or tennis players make noise as they exert energy? Can they practice making BIG and LOUD noises with you? Can they practice being calm while you focus? Do they know there might be blood or messes, and that’s okay?
Most of the work involved in bringing kids in the room during birth comes beforehand. Talking with your kids and setting their expectations is an important part of the process.
Birth Prep for Siblings
Don’t forget to prepare the logistics, as well. The support and things you gather need to include preparations for your kids to have all that they need so that you don’t have to worry about them while laboring.
Someone will need to be available to help occupy smaller children as your partner supports you. That persons sole job is child care and to answer all their questions about the birth. There is always the potential that your child may need to leave the birth room and their point person understands that they might not actually witness the birth because of the needs of the children come first. Sometimes doulas will provide that service, but not always. This will need to be a person you and your children are comfortable and familiar with so that dynamic doesn’t interrupt your laboring process.
The place you plan to birth in will need to be considered as well. Will it be a single hospital room with little for your kids to do? Are kids allowed at all during birth? Which part of your home do you plan to labor and birth in, and are there things for your kids to do nearby?
If you decide to have your children present during your home birth you can plan several fun activities for them to do while you are in labor. One of my clients decided that the sibling doula was going to help the young girls plan a birthday party for their new sister. They gathered art supplies to make birthday cards, they decorated the dining room with balloons, and they even made a delicious birthday cake. You can plan trips to the park, pick out quite movies, games and art supplies. Don't forget to have plenty of healthy snacks for them to eat.
If It Isn’t for You
If you think through these scenarios and find that you are hesitant toward bringing the kids to the birth, it’s okay to explore that further. Are you concerned about how they will respond? Are you cringing at the thought of your attention being diverted away from the birth?
If having the sibling present for the birth is not right for you, you can find other alternatives to help the new siblings bond. Coming into the room just as baby is born, bringing a gift for baby and coming once everything has settled a bit, or having the freedom to move in and out of the room as they are comfortable and interested in it might be good alternatives.