Becoming a big brother or sister is a significant milestone in a young child’s life. In the midst of trying to learn essentially everything(!) about life, from communicating needs to interacting with others, our big babies are suddenly faced with the task of allowing another child into their territory. This can be especially hard for those who haven’t yet had to share their world with a sibling. With the changes that come after the birth of a sibling often come behavior changes, attachment anxiety, or sibling rivalry. Though these situations can arise regardless, it is usually easiest to overcome when there has been bonding and communication before the new baby is born.
To ensure that this rite of passage is as smooth and joyful as possible for the whole family, I highly recommend in depth preparation during pregnancy for the birth and postpartum period. As a doula I receive so many inquiries about how to prepare children for the birth of a sibling. Many parents also wonder about the possibility of their children attending the birth. Start out by asking yourself some questions about the kind of birth you’re planning…
What role you see your child playing in your labor and birth?
What kind of help you can get to support your plans?
Some parents already have a strong opinion about having their child at their birth and they don’t need to give it much thought. Maybe they want all members of the family to attend, maybe they had a hard time during a previous labor and don’t want extra people in the room, maybe they have a high risk birth situation that is not suitable for a child to experience. For most families though, there are simply many circumstance to consider.
- Experiencing and understanding birth in a healthy way can have a positive effect on children’s lives and on the family dynamic. When children witness their siblings birth it makes sense to them, which can help them come to terms with all of the changes.
- The child receives a first hand science lesson and gets the opportunity to witness something that most people don’t until they are having their own baby. Similar to breastfeeding awareness activism, these children grow up with the knowledge that there are many options in pregnancy and birth.
- Less disruption in the child’s life, they don’t have to be sent to another house to wait until birth is over.
- Parents may worry that children will be scared of the blood, Mom’s loud birthing noises, or think that Mom is in danger. In my experience, this fear can be eliminated by preparing children during pregnancy with gentle birth videos, books, and lots of honest discussion.
- Parents will need to have someone who can be on call to attend the birth as a support person solely for the older child … Often parents worry that having a child at their birth will be distracting for parents in labor, or that Dad may end up caring for the child instead of supporting Mom. These are real concerns and can be avoided by planning to have a support person for the child during the birth. If friends or family member can not be on call for your birth, a Sibling Doula can to help prepare prenatally and also care for the child during labor. If the child does become scared (or more likely bored) their support person can help them play in another room or go for a walk until birth is closer at hand. This gives parents space to focus and makes the experience more enjoyable for the child.
Preparation for Birth and a New Sibling
Regardless of birth preference children seem to do better adjusting to a new sibling when they are informed about pregnancy and what to expect in their future. Different ages will have different needs but mostly let the child’s interest guide the way. I’m often surprised at children’s interest in the anatomy of birth and how they really seems to just get it and then don’t really think it’s a very big deal! I’ve found it helpful for children to relate to their own birth stories or videos as an introduction to the birth process. Once they’re comfortable, then move on to outside sources like gentle birth videos online and kids books about birth or how babies grow inside their mothers. Take care to go slowly, making sure the child has time to process the information and ask questions. Take advantage of learning moments in books and videos to dig deeper into what might happen during the child’s own experience at birth and how life might change as a big brother or sister. Be sure to include lots of information about how the child can help at the birth, in the fourth trimester, and at the different stages of babyhood.
As a Sibling Doula, I use one prenatal appointment to spend time with the child and parents crafting a gift for the new baby. This fun activity makes the older sibling feel like they’re really doing something useful for their baby and they are always so excited to give their gift after the baby is born. It’s also so helpful for both parents and child to spend intentional alone time together. Prenatally, Mom and child can have special dates to soak each other in before the bustle of a new baby. This is an important exercise for the well being of mothers. It gives us space to say farewell to our older child’s baby stage and welcome them into the big sibling role. In the postpartum period it is crucial to keep the needs of the siblings in mind, making sure they get out for fun activities with Dad or on play dates with good friends.
Resources for discussing birth with a child:
- Birth Diaries Birth Story Library – These videos or photo birth stories are rated from mild to graphic. Many are older but still relevant.
- Baby on the Way and What Baby Needs by Dr. William Sears – Focused on family and Attachment Parenting topics like baby wearing and breastfeeding these are meant for older children but can be enjoyed at any age. There are tips for talking to your child about a new baby and Attachment Parenting resources.
- Mothering.com – 6 Birth Videos to Prepare for Siblings Entrance
- Youtube Playlist – Kid Friendly Birth Videos
- Waiting for Baby and My New Baby by Rachel Fuller – Very simple board books, perfect for for toddlers.
- Hello Baby by Jenni Overend – A sweet story about a family having a homebirth.
- There’s a House Inside my Mummy by Giles Andreae and Vanessa Cabban – A fun, rhyming story about about a little boy reflecting on pregnancy and birth with his mom.
- What’s Inside your Tummy Mommy? By Abby Cocovini – A month by month, simple guide to pregnancy showing how big the baby has grown and what milestones they’re reaching. Great for all ages.