When childbirth at home was commonplace, what to do with the older siblings wasn’t considered the ‘problem’ it can be thought of these days. So will your older children be present at their baby sibling’s birth or not? Read on to find out what you should consider and what other mums think.
Prepare and communicate
World renowned social anthropologist of birth and a leading authority on pregnancy and motherhood, Sheila Kitzinger believes only you can decide whether or not your children should be with you during labour and birth.
“Whether or not you have your children with you when you give birth is a very personal decision,” she says, “one that can only be made based on your understanding of their personalities, as well as how you feel about their presence and its effect on you. There are no rules, no formulas for success.”
Author Marjie Hathaway says the most important preparation for your children is good communication between you and your partner so that each of you agree how much your older children should see. Some things to discuss together include;
- Modesty. You may be happy for your children to see you totally naked or you may be more modest in which case it might be better for you if your children were in the house but in a different room for example.
- Noise. Many women make some level of noise during labour and you need to be sure both your partner and you will feel comfortable with your children hearing those noises.
- Fluids. How do you and your partner feel about your children seeing some of the natural bodily fluids such as your waters breaking, blood or an involuntary poo.
- Nature. If your children are to witness the whole birth then you will need to explain where the baby will come from and some basic information about the whole process. Remember to keep it age appropriate and honest.
As with most things, there are advantages and disadvantages to weigh up when deciding if you want your children present at your home birth. Research by NAPSAC (the InterNational Association of Parents & Professionals for Safe Alternatives in Childbirth) found some very positive advantages including;
- Bonding – the family is together for an incredibly special event
- Positive sex education
- Reduced sibling rivalry and often closer bonds
- Encourages children to be helpful
- Helps children to appreciate fear and pain
The same NAPSAC study also found some disadvantages to children witnessing birth.
- Fear – young children especially may be frightened by the noises you might make or seeing you in pain
- Modesty – they may be embarrassed or shocked by your loss of modesty
- Nightmares – some children have had nightmares after witnessing birth, and these may install future fears about labour and birth
Some useful hints
If you do decide to have your older children present at the birth, there are some things that you should remember.
- Preparation. Before the birth help you children to understand what will happen and why. Help them become involved from the start by attending antenatal appointments and scans if possible and help them get to know your midwife
- Involvement. Give your children simple jobs they can do during labour and birth such as gentle massages or fetching you a drink
- Reassurance. Let your children know you are alright, or have your partner reassure them that you’re ok.
- Space. Let your children leave if they want to.
- Someone else. Babyworld midwife Hannah Hulme Hunter believes the single most important thing you can do is to make sure there’s another responsible person around to look after your children. “It is important to arrange for somebody to look after your other children – in addition to your partner – whilst you are actually in labour,” she says. “Although you may wish your children to be with you at this time, it is crucial that you have an alternative plan. Worrying about the welfare of children can actually slow down the progress of labour.”
Did yours attend?
For many women home birth is the wonderful birthing experience they hoped for and babyworld mums are no exception. However, you don’t necessarily agree when it comes to having other children present. Here’s what some babyworlders had to say.
“My children, who were 3 and 23 months, were present on and off during my home birth. They came up and down the stairs while I was in the water to see what was going on, and they didn’t have a clue and weren’t worried or upset at all. I was very calm and kept whistling out during contractions.”
“With my first home birth I wanted my son to be around, until I was in labour and then I changed my mind very fast! He was just over 3 years at the time and my mind couldn’t relax – I slipped into ‘mum’ mode and labour is one of those times when you have to be able to relax into your own little world.”
“I was convinced that I wanted my children at my home birth but as the contractions got worse my kids were only too happy – as was I – to go to my friends house and stay the night!”
“I have to say this will be my first home birth and I really do not want my other children in the room when I am in labour. I don’t want myself or my husband to be distracted or worried about them and I know I won’t be able to relax as I’ll be thinking of their needs.”