Should older siblings attend birth?

When Queensland mum-of-four, Alecia Staines, gave birth to her fourth baby earlier this year, her three children were present. Alecia’s previous births had been fast and uneventful and this was the second time she’d allowed her older children to attend.

“It seemed very logical for the children to be a part of birth, though they really weren’t as interested as some might think. They slept through most of it, and woke when babies were about to be born,” she says.

Alecia took steps to prepare the children ahead of the births and ensured that there was an adult on hand in case her children were bored or alarmed. Her eldest son was even allowed to cut the umbilical cord at his sister’s birth. ”My midwife was very supportive, and my children spoke about it at school for days,” she recalls.

Is witnessing a birth too traumatic for children?

Whether or not children should be allowed to witness the births of their younger siblings is an issue which divides not only parents but experts too. Some hold the view that children should be present to ensure that they feel included in this family event. Others think that witnessing a birth would be far too traumatic for a young child.

Carissa Davis, 30, of Sydney is the eldest of six siblings. When she was 13-years-old, she and two of her sisters was present at the birth of one of their siblings. Far from being traumatised by the event, none of the sisters recall much about it.

“We just remember having our friend over and playing in the spare room, and mum ordering pizza for lunch halfway through,” says Carissa. “It all seemed pretty relaxed but took all day.” Carissa views the experience as a positive one, leaving her with the impression that birth doesn’t need to be a stressful event. “It removed the stigma sometimes associated with giving birth,” she reflects.

But many parents are uncomfortable with the notion of having their children present at a birth, with the primary concern being the impact that the experience could have on a child. Psychologist, Emily Habelrih of Youthrive Integrated Therapy Services agrees that this concern is valid.

“The sight of blood or seeing their mother in physical pain might be extremely overwhelming for a child,” says Emily. “For younger children specifically, it might be more beneficial to have them present for the final moments of labour or the actual birth itself. Being present for the entire labour or birth can be long, gruelling and traumatic for children.”

Plan ahead if your older children are taking part

There are definite advantages of having an older child present as it gives them the opportunity to immediately bond with the new baby. “This can be a powerful and positive experience, which can contribute to securing the family bond. Being given a ‘role’ within the birth might reduce sibling rivalry later down the track,” says Emily.

The decision is a tough and personal one, and the importance of the various factors to be considered would differ from family to family. However, if you opt to allow children to be present, prepare them by ensuring that they know what to expect. “Read books with them, watch videos, and monitor their reactions. If they feel anxious and ill after watching a video, they may not be ready to witness birth in real life,” Emily explains.

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It’s a good idea to have a ‘spare’ adult in attendance to look after the children

As at Alecia’s births, it is a good idea to have an adult in attendance who is there solely to respond to the needs of the children. “Choose someone that the child is comfortable and familiar with. That adult can remove them from the room if they feel uncomfortable, or if the birth does not go to plan,” says Emily.

And as soon as possible after the birth, it is important to allow your child a chance to debrief. “This will give your child the opportunity to express any concerns or anxious thoughts that they may have experienced,” Emily explains.

Emily believes that that the child’s views are of paramount importance when making this decision. “At the end of the day, the choice of whether or not to be present at their sibling’s birth should always be their choice. They should also be reassured that they can change their mind at any time.”

Did you have any of your other children present at your birth?

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