If you already have children, you may be wondering how involved they should be with your pregnancy in the months to come and how best to prepare them for the birth of a new sibling. They will most likely have many questions, and finding answers can be difficult.
Keep in mind that there are no correct answers to these questions. You must decide what is appropriate for your child. Most believe that sheltering children from intense life events is not necessary, and that children do better when adults talk with them honestly about difficult situations. That also holds true for happy life events, such as birth.
Like adults, children have a tendency to fantasize about things they don’t fully understand. The late Lee Salk, pediatric psychologist and professor of psychology and pediatrics at Cornell University, noted that children’s fantasies are almost universally more alarming than reality. Your child may already have some preconceived notions about childbirth, even if she is very young.
That’s why it’s important to discuss pregnancy and childbirth with your children. If you’re comfortable, offer to let your child accompany you during visits to the doctor or midwife to provide reassurance that you are doing fine and in good hands.
Attending the Birth
When deciding if your children should attend the birth, the location will be a consideration. More and more hospitals are allowing siblings to attend births, especially if it is within an alternative birthing center. Freestanding birthing centers generally welcome kids—and if you are going to , you are free to decide whether your children will be present. Many people choose to birth at home just so that their families can fully participate.
Your child’s age and emotional state will also affect your decision. If you feel that your child will be overwhelmed, you may decide that it is best for her to stay with a friend or relative during the birth. If so, talk to your child in advance about where the birth will be, who will care for him, and when he will be able to see the new baby.
Here are some of the advantages to involving children fully in the birth:
When children witness the birth of a sibling, there may be less rivalry and jealousy afterward, according to anecdotal evidence.
Involving children in birth can strengthen family bonds.
Because we no longer live close to our extended families, we lose a sense of connection. Being present at the birth can help your child to feel more connected to his family. Even very young children can retain memories of a sibling’s birth.
Teenage children can benefit from birth; it can become a real experience that can help to guide their decisions regarding sexual behavior.
Preparing Your Child
Talk to your child about the birth and ask her if she wants to be there for it. You may have to make decisions for toddlers—watch to see how they react during visits to the doctor’s office, or while watching videos that depict birth.
Older children may initially say they do not want to attend the birth, but would like to help out by cooking or cleaning. Respect their wishes, but leave the door open for them to change their minds. Without forcing the issue, see if you can find out why they do not want to be there for the actual birth.
For ideas on how to further prepare kids for witnessing birth, check this list of ideas.
Preparing for Life with a New Sibling
Think carefully about how to help your child get ready for life with a new brother or sister. It may be helpful to borrow a friend’s baby and let your child see how to use a gentle touch when holding her.
Ask for your child’s input on choosing a name for the baby. Your child can also help you to fix up the baby’s room or to shop for a new car seat. Talk about where the baby will sleep and where you will sit to nurse him. It’s wise to set up the crib, car seat and other items ahead of time so that your child can get used to seeing them.
Try to make changes several months before the birth. If your child will be moving into a new room, do it early to avoid creating the impression that it is the baby’s fault.
Encourage your child to talk to the baby, even though she is still in your womb. Your child can sing, read, or tell stories to the baby. Let her feel your abdomen when the baby kicks.
During the Birth
During birth and labor, women tend to vacillate between an inward focus and the need for social interaction. You may feel like interacting with your child more during certain times in your labor, especially nearer the beginning.
Your child’s special support person will be his most consistent source of contact. That person should follow your child’s lead at all times. He or she should be on the lookout for signs of fatigue, sensory overload, or distress and implement a break or some playtime. With the support person, plan some special activities that your child can do during breaks. Baking a birthday cake for the new baby is a popular activity. Your child can also make a welcome home sign for the baby. Choose a few familiar activities, such as games, art projects, or a comforting book to read aloud.
Emergencies are not a part of most births, but they do happen occasionally. There are also moments of drama and tension in birthing situations. You can prepare him ahead of time with books and videos. In addition, talk to her about how things are done in hospitals: people move and speak quickly sometimes, for example. Be matter-of-fact about this and explain that everything will work out fine.