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SIBLINGS IN BIRTH

This is a topic I have felt called to talk about for some time as it is so often raised when supporting families preparing to birth subsequent babies at home. 

For some people it is a no brainer deciding to have their older child/ren present for the birth of a sibling. For others it can be a little more difficult to imagine logistically. Like birth, it is all in the prep and it’s important to customise the family experience based on your needs and your children’s ages and personalities. 

Just like us, our children are also transitioning to a new role within the family; on the cusp of becoming an older brother or sister. With each birth comes a transformation of identity and a period of adaption. What better way to adjust than to witness, first-hand, the process of the arrival of the new family member. 

THINGS TO CONSIDER

What does birth preparation look like for you? 

How can you involve your child in this in a way that they will understand? 

Children are hardwired to care for us as mothers. Preparing them to witness you as you experience the sensations of labour, by exposing them to positive birth videos and stories, is a great way to normalise birth. 

Give them choice. They can decide at what capacity they’d like to be involved in the birth. Questions like: “Would you like to watch the baby be born?” or “If I go into labour during the night, would you like me to wake you?” or “If you need to take a break at any time, where can we create you a safe and comfy space to rest?”. Consider the emotions they might be feeling beforehand so they can come and go as they please. 

Give them a job. Ask them if there is something they would like to bring to the birth space or how they could help you. For some children, they may want to comfort you by rubbing your back or bringing a cold flannel for your head. By giving them a role you give them a sense of purpose and responsibility. 

TALK ABOUT BIRTH

The key here is to normalise. Children aren’t born with a fear of birth. We are conditioned to fear birth through dramatic scenes in television and film and the sharing of traumatic stories. By learning alongside our children about the nature of birth and how women’s bodies are perfectly designed, we can build a better outlook towards birth for future generations. 

Answer their questions, set expectations of possible scenarios, look up child appropriate home birth videos on youtube, learn about the gestational stages of pregnancy and prepare them for the sensations you’ll experience through labour. Through understanding comes normalisation, confidence and trust rather than fear and doubt. Imagine how many lives that could change. 

Children are incredibly robust and have the ability to deal with the majority of situations as long as they are told the truth and the facts of the situation.

Jo Hunter, babybelly.com

SUPPORT FOR YOUNGER SIBLINGS

It is a good idea to have someone familiar to your toddler on-call or included in your birth team. If at any point they feel a little overwhelmed (or bored – birth is a waiting game after all!) and are in need some extra attention, having someone there to take them into a different room to play or read them a story can be all they need to regulate before entering the birth space again.

The emotions and needs of younger children need to be considered. During a big event such as this they would usually look to you, as their mother, for comfort. You may not always have the capacity to respond to them during labour preparing to have that additional person with you can benefit you all. A doula can also take on this role, but be sure to set roles and boundaries. Ensure your child can form a relationship with your doula beforehand so they are comfortable to seek comfort in them during your birth. 

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS 

Children learn so much through reading. Below is a list of useful books to prepare your children for your birth.

OLDER CHILDREN

Everyone is different. Some children or teens may not feel comfortable to be present for the entire birth so have conversations around what their boundaries or apprehensions are. Perhaps there is parts of birth they would like to be present for, but not others. Alternatively they may prefer to enter the space just after your new baby has arrived. This is also a sacred time to witness. 

SONS WITNESSING BIRTH

This question comes up a lot, perhaps because within our society we have sexualised women’s bodies and the thought of our sons being exposed to our nakedness make some people feel uncomfortable. Everyone is different. I believe that it is a wonderful opportunity for a boy to witness a woman’s body doing what it was made to do. Witnessing his mother in her power normalises natural birth and imprints the belief that women’s bodies are capable. If/when his time comes to father a child, he trusts in his partners ability to birth his child. 

THEIR PRESENCE SUPPORTS BIRTH PHYSIOLOGY

Mini physiology lesson: Oxytocin, the love hormone is what initiates those powerful uterine surges. The hormones of intimacy and affection. When we love and cuddle our closest ones we release a surge of oxytocin. During birth when oxytocin is released in abundance it provides longer, stronger and more effective contractions. So, having your children around you could enable your birth to unfold smoothly; supporting you, rubbing your back, kissing your head for example, could all play a huge role in your birth. 

The most important thing to remember is that children are intuitive. They are often a loving and caring addition to the birth space. By having them in attendance we could heal birth for generations to come.

Did you have your older child/ren present at your birth? I’d love to hear of your experience in the comments.

Thank you to this beautiful family I had the honour of supporting last year, for allowing me to share these images of their family-centred birth.