Supporting Siblings During Birth

There are few things more exciting than welcoming a new sibling into your family. At any age, the birth of a new baby can be filled with wonder and joy. Witnessing the birth of that new baby can be a life changing event for your older children. If you’re interested in incorporating your children into the birth of your new baby, check out these tips to help make it a positive experience for everyone!

Meet Your Child Where They Are

For some children, being included in the birth of their sibling is one of the highlights of their life, showing them how beautiful birth can be. For other children, it can be traumatizing, clouding their idea of birth into adulthood. Before you decide to incorporate your child into their sibling’s birth, ask yourself the following questions to see if it would be the right place for them:

  • Are they able to understand what birth is?
  • Are they able to distinguish that you (the birthing person) are safe and thriving even though you seem to be in pain?
  • Are they able to manage well when you can’t give them your undivided attention?
  • Will it be stressful for them to see you in pain?
  • Are they exceptionally squeamish around bodily fluids?

If you ask yourself these questions and determine that they would likely do well in a birth space, find a video that shows a birth with similar birth preferences to you (home birth, hospital birth, birth centre, water birth, etc) and see how they respond. Use videos that are realistic and not edited for dramatic effect (so, please, do not use MTV’s 16 & Pregnant!). If they respond positively, ask them if they would like to be involved in your birth. If they say yes, start planning how they want to be involved. If they say no, you can give them alternative ways to be included, like drawing birth affirmations for you to hang in your birth space or making “Welcome to the Family” cards for baby.

Give Them Appropriate Tasks

Now that your child wants to be included in your birth, plan out tasks for them to do that will keep them occupied and help them feel useful. Some tasks that kids of almost any age can do are holding a cool face cloth on your forehead or bringing you snacks or beverages. Older kids can help with comfort measures, like gentle touch or some rebozo techniques. Younger kids can provide cuddles and distraction between contractions. I would suggest do a “dress rehearsal” for labour where you act out what you think you might look and sound like during contractions and in between contractions and your child works with the birth support team to know when to perform their useful tasks and when to give you some space. That way, everyone enters the birth experience with confidence!

Talk to Your Care Providers

If you want your children in your birth space, talk to your care providers first. If you’re planning to birth at home, your midwives may have some helpful advice for including older children and I’m sure would appreciate knowing who will  be at your birth. If you’re planning on birthing outside of your home, there may be policies in place at your birth centre or hospital that limit how involved children can be, or they may specify the age of siblings that can involved. Work with your care providers to create a plan that can work for you and your family while complimenting the policies of the birth space. Some policies will allow children in the space up to a certain point in labour.

If you are planning a c-section birth, your child will not be allowed in the operating room, as that would not be safe. There are ways that they can be included, however. You can have them record words of encouragement and have your support person play them during the c-section (talk to your care provider about what devices are allowed in the room). They could write a letter to their new sibling that you or your support person can read when they are born. They could use fabric markers to decorate a t-shirt that your support person wears for you to look at during your c-section. With a little creativity, your older children can be involved in their sibling’s birth even when they can’t be physically in the room.

Take Off Your “Parenting Hat”

During your labour and birth, it is important to be able to focus on the task at hand. Both you and your personal support person (your partner, parent, sibling, friend, doula, etc) should be able to focus solely on the new baby’s birth without having to worry about supervising your older child, feeding them, or entertaining them. Have someone their that is able to do those things for you. Whether that is a grandparent, aunt or uncle, family friend or sibling doula, have someone with your child so that you can take of your “Parenting Hat” and put on your “Birthing Person” hat.

Did you know that I now offer Sibling Birth Support Services? Before I became a doula, I worked in childcare and have taken courses in Child Development. I use that knowledge to help your child prepare for being at the birth of their sibling and I stay with them throughout labour. I help them perform their useful tasks and make sure that they are well taken care of, so that you don’t have to worry about them. Find out more about Sibling Birth Support Services here.

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