Siblings At Birth
Guidelines for Preparation and Sibling Bonding

By Gayle Peterson, Ph.D.

Excerpt from An Easier Childbirth

Available for purchase online at

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 labor.

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 this time.
  • 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 or her.
  • 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 Before Delivery

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.




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.

An Easier Childbirth: Book Information

Excerpt: From the Introduction: Becoming a Mother

Excerpt: Making the Most of the Prenatal Journey

Excerpt: Postpartum Blues and Support

Excerpt: Your Partner's Role During Labor

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,, 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, 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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