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Should Teens be Present at their Siblings Birth?

QUESTION: I have a 15-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. We were surprised by my third pregnancy, but we're very happy and looking forward to the upcoming birth. Do you think it is a good idea for my two teens to be present as I labor and give birth to their sibling?

ANSWER: Children who are realistically prepared for the natural intensity of labor and birth can gain from being present at the birth of a sibling. But factors that must be considered are your teenagers' desire to be present during the labor/birth process, as well as your partner's and your comfort level with their involvement.

First, consider your own needs. Visualize having your children present during labor. Does this create any tension or intimidation for you? Naturally, some tensions may be reduced during preparation and discussion of childbirth, but your own energies toward dealing with the contractions must also be anticipated. It is important that you are not preoccupied with anxiety caused by your son and daughter's presence.

Secondly, ask your husband what his feelings are about being with you during labor, as well as what his emotional availability might be to your children. Does he see himself focused exclusively on you during labor, or will you also have a doula (childbirth assistant) or other birth attendant you will rely on for emotional and physical support?

Thirdly, honor your children's desires. Respect their need not to be included in certain parts of the process, and maintain an "open door" policy that allows them to change their minds, if they find they do not want to stay with you during labor or view the birth. After all, nature is unpredictable, and flexibility in your planning will allow your teenagers to participate in ways that will not overwhelm them.

Some teens are very ready for this experience and gain maturity and joy from the process. Others are not ready for this kind of intensity, and shy away from being present at their mother's labor and birth, but enjoy doing other projects (cooking, cleaning) to prepare the home for their new sibling.

Whether your children attend the labor and childbirth, just the birth and not the entire labor, or greet this new sibling soon afterwards, your family can use this opportunity for greater bonding and growth.

I believe that including your son and daughter at the birth of their sibling can be a tremendously powerful and rewarding family event. My opinion on having children present at birth is in general a resounding yes, IF the process of including your children at birth is a positive (and flexible) one that can adjust to meet the needs of all involved.

Also, if your teenagers do opt to attend the birth, keep in mind that they are particularly vulnerable to life's intensities and will need education, support and an available person who can answer their questions as they arise.

But remember to put your own needs first. Take care that you do not lose yourself in mothering others while in labor. Giving birth is a time when all of your energy should be focused on you!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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