Many parents wonder what the implications
are of having older children present at the birth of a younger
sibling. Many factors should be considered to determine what is
right for you and your family. Because of the popularity of this
question, I have included the following excerpt from my book An
Easier Childbirth: A Mother's Guide for Birthing Normally
in this week's column. This selection discusses what to consider
when making the decision of whether to have your child(ren) present
at a birth, and specific guidelines based on clinical research
for including children at the birth of a sibling.
Should I Have My Older Child Present
at the Birth?
Siblings can benefit from being present
at the birth of a baby if they are prepared for the process, and
if quality care is provided during the labor so that your child's
questions or needs are answered. General preparation for what
to expect at the birth will contribute to your child's security
and ability to bond with his or her sibling-to-be.
The first feelings to address are
your own. As a mother you must feel comfortable with your child's
presence at your labor. It is important that you are not distracted
with concern about one child while you are laboring with another.
If you feel a need to take care of the child while you are dealing
with contractions, you will find it difficult to focus on your
If both parents feel comfortable
with your child's presence, the next concern is that the child
be prepared for birth through pictures, stories and talking about
the process. Special classes for siblings are available in some
cities and can be particularly valuable for family bonding, whether
or not the child actually attends the delivery.
Children need to be able to understand
words in order to take preparation classes. Three years is the
usual minimum age for including a child at birth, however there
is no indication that younger children do not benefit from being
present. Some authorities believe it to be potentially positive
for children of any age to attend the birth of a sibling . However,
it is also true that a negative experience could result if the
child is improperly prepared or neglected during the event. A
study by the Institute for Childbirth and Family Research in Madison,
Wisconsin has identified the following guidelines for the presence
of siblings at birth. They can be applied to young children and
teenagers alike. It is important that:
- The child is adequately prepared.
- The child wants to be present (for children
who are old enough to express a desire).
- The child is cared for by an adult whose
prime responsibility is to the child during the entire labor,
and who enjoys a positive relationship with the child. The
definition of "cared for must match the child's
needs. The needs of a teenager are different than those of
a two-year-old, but both children need primary attention at
- The child knows that he or she can have a
change of heart at any time during labor or delivery and leave
with the support of the special adult who is caring for him
- The mother is comfortable with the child's
presence during labor.
- The child is encouraged to interact with
the baby in an appropriate manner soon after birth.
Each child is different, and there
is no formula for family bonding. Talk with your partner and research
the resources in your area to decide whether having your child
present for part or all of the birth is right for you and your
family. Whether your child is present or not, it is important
to include an older sibling in the preparations for the new baby.
Choosing a name, helping to set up the bassinet or nursery, or
helping to pick out toys encourages sibling bonding. Talk with
your partner about ways that the two of you can support your child.
Exercise: Addressing Sibling Bonding
In the following space, write activities
that you want to do before birth with your older child(ren) which
will contribute to healthy sibling attachment. Write your plans
for caring for your child during labor.
HOW WILL YOU HELP YOUR CHILD
HOW WILL YOU INCLUDE YOUR CHILD(REN)
IN THE PROCESS OF MAKING ROOM FOR A NEW BABY?
WHO WILL BE RESPONSIBLE FOR
YOUR CHILD(REN) DURING LABOR?
Arrangements to have your child(ren)
well cared for and prepared for birth will help you to relax in
the last month of pregnancy. It will also allow you to turn your
attention to your own needs in preparing for your upcoming labor,
including dealing with the normal pain of childbirth.
Copyright 1993 by Shadow and Light Publications.
Reprinted with permission from the author and publisher. This
excerpt may not be reproduced in any manner, including electronic,
without prior written consent from the publisher.