Much advise exists about how mothers and fathers can prepare for home birth, but what about siblings? Many parents resonate with the idea of having their child or children present to witness the birth of their sibling. Even if they aren’t there for the “crowning moment,” siblings often experience some part of labor or fresh newborn moments. With so much attention put on the new baby, it can be reassuring to siblings that they are welcome to be a part of the family birth experience in some way. When children are prepared for both the normalcy and the intensity of natural birth, their presence can be a sweet gift for the whole family.
Just like birth itself, sibling attendance at home births can’t exactly be planned in detail, but preparation for a range of possibilities is beneficial. The better prepared and accommodated siblings are, the less distracted birthing moms are with worry about their older child or children. Here are some ideas to help you prepare your toddler or young child if you are desiring family birth experience:
Watch animal birth videos!
Start talking about birth on a level kids are interested in and may be less intimidated by. There’s something so normal about animals being “biological,” even little kids can get it. It’s an easy way to start some great conversations! You-tube is full of animal birth videos, but preview them first to make sure they aren’t too intense. I have included a few that I like at the bottom of this blog.
My favorite children’s book about home birth is called Welcome With Love by Jenni Overend and Julie Vivas. There are others out there, but this one steals the show.(And/or watch Birth Day with them, a 10-minute DVD of the kid-friendly home birth of Naolí Vinaver Lopez in Mexico with siblings in attendance.)
Tell them their birth story.
Show them their own birth photographs or newborn pictures. Sharing stories about their birth and babyhood sets the perfect personal stage for kids to learn and ask questions. And, it can remind them of how treasured their own welcoming was!
Sing the labor song.
Demonstrate to kids what it might sound like to hear their mom in labor. Let them hear moaning or pushing sounds and sing out the rhythm of labor in a playful way.Tell them how important vocalizing can be to a woman giving birth, so the sounds don’t come across as scary during the labor.
Tell them about blood.
Don’t shy away from telling kids that blood is a normal part of childbirth. It could be a lot worse for them to see it at the time and be alarmed.
Let them explore ideas about childbirth with markers or puppet shows. This picture was drawn by a 6 year old after she saw her sister being born.
Give them a special job at the birth.
Depending on their age, special jobs might be to help cut the cord, put the first hat on the baby, pick out the first blanket to bundle the baby in, be the one to call grandma after the baby is born, discover the baby’s gender, or be the first to tell the baby his or her name.
Offer choice and flexibility.
Be sure to give your child age-appropriate choices about what they want to witness. Don’t be attached to them having a role or presence beyond what their own sense of comfort dictates. Some children are more comfortable being present for the early part of labor, some kids just want to meet the new baby very soon after birth. Some kids sleep through labor entirely. And others want to say sweet somethings to their laboring mama, be present when the baby comes out, or even examine the placenta! And don’t forget the birthing mother’s needs! She might prefer her other children are not present for some, most, or all of the labor.
Find a sibling doula!
It can be really helpful to include a person your child trusts whose job it is to take care of the older sibling/s during the birth. This person should not be attached to being at the birth at all times, because if the right thing for the child is to leave and come back (or not) then that’s what the caretaker does. Labor can take a long time, and you want a caretaker for your child who is willing to take them to the park, feed them, keep to sleep schedules, and even provide another place to be besides the home where the birth is happening. Also, for the time when the child is present for the labor and birth, the caretaker is someone who can answer the child’s questions and reassure them. If complications arise, this person is the one trusted to shield, remove, or comfort the child. A very important job!
Enjoy a few animal births! An orangutan, a dolphin, and a lynx cat.