Children at Birth

facilities now offer the opportunity for children to be present for the birth of their sibling. The decision to include your other child should be discussed first with your partner. During the pregnancy, as you discuss the new baby, you can also begin to offer the opportunity for your child to learn more about the changes in your body and about the actual birth. If he shows an interest in being present at the birth, you may want to prepare him in greater detail. Make sure that the information is appropriate.

Discuss anatomy and show pictures of fetal development corresponding to your week of gestation. You should become more comfortable with your child seeing your undressed pregnant body.

As you get closer to the end of pregnancy, discuss labor and birth. Show photos, slides, and films, and discuss the presence of blood and fluids. Reinforce that these are normal and expected, since most children associate blood with injuries and death. Some films also show the delivery of the placenta. Do not be surprised if the child describes the placenta as gross or disgusting. You can ask the child if he would like to help the father cut the umbilical cord. Reassure him that this procedure is not painful to the baby. Ask him to draw pictures. These offer insight into his level of understanding of the information and also provide clues about his concerns.

Prepare your child for the sights and sounds associated with hard labor and giving birth. Practice breathing and pushing, making sure to demonstrate positions and simulate moans, grunts, and groans.
Have your child attend your prenatal visits. He will become familiar with the staff and become comfortable with examinations. It will also be exciting for him to hear his sibling’s heartbeat. Some offices have birthing dolls that can be used for demonstration. If you are delivering in a birth center, show your child the birthing rooms and have him assist you in your choice for the birth. If you are delivering in a hospital, take a tom of the facility and meet the staff. This will allow him to be comfortable in the hospital environment.

Choose a support person for the child that he likes and knows well. It is important that the child feel comfortable talking to or expressing his feelings to this person. Occasionally, children need to remove themselves from the birthing room because of boredom or concerns. The support person needs to understand that she must accompany the child, even if this means missing the birth. This person should also attend sibling preparation classes with the child so she knows what information the child is given.

Allow the child to make the final decision about attending the birth. Give him the freedom to be present in the room as much or as little as he chooses, and to even decide that he does not want to attend. Discuss the possibility of changes in the birth plan. These would include transfer from an out-of-hospital birth center to a hospital, interventions such as delivery with forceps or a vacuum extractor, or even a cesarean section. Occasionally, a woman goes into labor while the child is asleep or in school, or the labor progresses much faster than expected. Preparing children for the unpredictability of labor will help to prevent disappointments.

During labor, provide diversions such as books, crafts, and video games. Young children may want to bring a favorite stuffed animal or doll, or a blanket and pillow for naptime. Pack plenty of drinks and snacks. If the labor is long, make sure the child eats regular meals. Give the child several tasks to perform during labor, such as offering you drinks, wiping your face with cool washcloths, or selecting the cassette tapes or compact discs. An older child may want to be responsible for taking photographs or videotaping.

Participation in the birth of a sibling can be a rewarding experience for a child. It can start the bonding process and make him feel a special part of the birth. But, if you or your child have any reservations, alter the plans to make this a positive experience for everyone. Rather than have your child present for the actual birth, you may want to have the child arrive soon after. Celebrate the birth and make this a memorable experience for everyone.

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