When Should a Child Attend a Sibling’s Birth?

When Should a Child Attend a Sibling’s Birth?
By Penny Simkin, P.T. 

Penny has had the pleasure of teaching sibling preparation classes for children since 1978. Many of these children were present at their siblings’ births. She has also attended numerous births where older siblings were present. In every case the children were a positive addition, and by being themselves, contributed to the atmosphere of normalcy and family closeness. However, there are situations when a child probably should not attend a birth. To help parents decide, Penny prepared the following list of prerequisites for a positive birth experience for a child who is in attendance. If they cannot be met, perhaps the child would be better off not attending the birth.

1. Preparation of the parents. They need to feel comfortable about birth and know how to relax.

2. A desire by parents and child (if old enough to make such a decision) for the child to be there. If the child is hesitant or reluctant to attend the birth, parents should respect that.

3. An assessment by the parents of their child’s emotional readiness. A child who is ill and feels badly may not tolerate the birth experience well.

4. Preparation for the birth. There are books, videos and teaching aids to help prepare them. Family discussions are wonderful.

5. A support person for the child, and not the Father. He is Mom’s support. Maybe a relative or close friend to look after the child’s needs and help with interpretations and explanations as needed.

6. A labor and delivery staff in a hospital setting (midwives, nurses, doctors) for whom it won’t be upsetting to have a child present. Check on this well in advance.

7. An alternate plan to use if the child is sick, asleep (and will not wake for the birth), bored, changes her mind, or if labor complications develop that either require a change of environment or is too intense for the child or parents to handle with the child there. Talking about this with the child prior to birth is part of sensitive preparation.

8. Realistic expectations of the child. One should not expect a 2-year-old or 4-year-old to be transformed during labor. They still fuss, need to go to the bathroom, need cuddling and want to know where their Legos are. This is where the support person is a blessing!

There is no single correct answer to whether or not children should be present at the birth of a sibling. Parents should examine their motivations, their child’s readiness and desire to participate, and the circumstances at the time.

Note from Susan Oshel, CPM (Charis Director of Midwifery Studies):
This article was reprinted from Midwifery Today, Winter 1993 No. 28.
Penny gave permission to copy and use it in classes.  
Being close to families I’ve personally helped, discussing and sharing these considerations, has helped initiate wonderful experiences with children during births. 

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