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Birthing Bonds: Including Siblings in the Miracle of Birth

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

When I was preparing for my first home birth (fifth child), I often wondered how my children would react to the birth of their sibling. I questioned why children should be at their siblings' birth? Would it distract me during labor? Would I worry or become stressed? Would seeing me in such a primal state be traumatic for them? So many questions that I needed answers to. So, I read the book Children at Birth by Marjie Hathaway and Jay Hathaway. This book was originally published in 1978, so I am dating myself here but at that time, the book was 20 years old when I read it. It gave me insight to including siblings in the miracle of birth.


What I took away from this book was that it was ok to have children present at birth. I wouldn't scar them, in fact I would allow them to see what birth is truly like vs. how television and our culture portray birth. Of course today, experts are torn on whether or not children should be at birth. Some say it’s too traumatic and frightening, others say that being truthful with the child, showing what birth is, how it is normal, and what to expect, will give a positive impression on birth.


Nonetheless, I made the decision to have my children present for their siblings' birth, if they wanted to be there. I had planned for my sisters to come over and care for the kids, but when it came time, the birth happened fast and my partner ended up caring for the kids, and my sisters missed the birth. As I look back, I do remember my older children wandering in and out of the room where I was laboring and once the baby was born they came in to greet him. They were quite enthralled with him.


So while it’s not unusual for children to be present at their siblings' birth, it is a highly personal decision. I had prepared my children by reading birth books, watching birth videos, and how I might make loud noises when I was in labor and pushing the baby out. Since that first homebirth, I went on to birth 4 more babies at home and my children were present for each.

Children at birth, Fort Collins Birth Doula
My children at their sibling's birth

Preparation


When considering siblings’ at birth, preparation is a must. Just like you prepare for birth, your child must be prepared for what to expect at the birth. Each child reacts differently to birth, some do not like the birth noises, some may be all involved, and others could care less. You know your child’s personality and what they can tolerate.


Having children attend the birth of a sibling can be a positive experience for the entire family. It can help the older child feel involved and connected to the new baby, and can also foster a sense of responsibility and caring. However, it is important to prepare the child beforehand and ensure that they feel comfortable and safe during the birth process.


In preparation, you will want to read books about birth, look at pictures of birth, explain the mechanics of birth on their level, watch birth videos together, and even role play on what you might act like during labor and birth. The biggest suggestion I can offer you is to make sure you reassure your child that you will be working hard to have the baby, and that you are ok. Even in your most primal, vulnerable state, you are ok.


Additionally, it’s important that your child or children have their own support system/person (can be family, friend, or sibling doula) while at the birth. This person is solely responsible for the child and will provide reassurance, answer questions, and provide a safe space for your child. If the child changes their mind about being present, or becomes overwhelmed, the support person will be able to take them elsewhere.


Other considerations


When considering having your child attend their siblings' birth, you’ll want to consider the birth location, whether home, hospital, or birth center. At home, it is easier since you’ll already be in the child’s comfort zone. If you decide to have your child attend at the birth center or hospital, find out the policies for children at birth. You’ll also want to make preparations should labor and birth last for a long time, you will need snacks, a sleeping area, etc. In this case, the support person may need to take the child home and come back later. Another thought is the age of the child, younger children might just attend the end of labor or immediately after the baby is born, while older children tend to handle a longer time being present during labor and birth.


All in all, there is really no magical age of a child to attend birth. You know your child best, so if you feel that they might do well while you're in labor, then by all means, have them attend the birth. At the end of the day, the choice to be at the birth is your child’s decision. Always reassure your child that if they change their mind and decide to not be present, that it’s ok to say “no” and go do something else instead.


Would you want your children present for their sibling's birth? Why or why not? Share below.

Children at birth, Fort Collins Birth Doula
Baby #7, a waterbirth with her 10 yr old sister helping out

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