Guest Blogger, Tiffany Jensen at Child Within Birth Services
Imagine you are 4 years old. Your mother is pregnant. There is the constant talk of the new baby that will be joining the family. Maybe mom is buying baby supplies during every trip to Target. Everything around the house is changing. You keep hearing that the baby is going to come out of your mother’s belly. You’re not sure how that is going to happen, but your imagination runs wild with the possibilities. You also hear that your mother is going to go to the hospital to have the baby. That sounds scary. People go to the hospital when they are sick. Maybe you even remember that your grandma died when she went to the hospital. Your imagination runs wild again……
What if we allowed that child to be present during the birth? Could it help teach them that childbirth is a natural and normal part of life? Could be involved in the birth of a sibling help them to feel empowered as a big brother or sister instead of feeling resentful or jealous?
The opportunity for a child to be present during birth is an exciting one. We also know that childbirth is unpredictable, requires flexibility, and involves sights, sounds, and feelings that children (and most adults!) don’t experience every day, therefore, intentional and thoughtful preparation is key.
In my work as a child life specialist, I often prepared siblings to visit their brother or sister in the intensive care unit. In more recent years, I’ve combined my passion for child life with my love of childbirth by becoming a birth and postpartum doula. The similarities between child life work and doula care are numerous. Today, I am sharing 8 ways to prepare a child to be present for the birth of a sibling.
- Read books. Choose books that offer simple, but honest explanations about pregnancy and birth in general. What’s in There and It’s Not the Stork by Robie Harris offer detailed and straight forward information about the human body and (deep breaths) how babies come to be. Baby on the Way and What Baby Needs by William Sears, Martha Sears, and Christie Watts Kelly are other choices that help explain ways that your child can be helpful and included both during pregnancy and after the baby arrives.
- Watch videos. Youtube is your friend here! Search for childbirth videos and you will find no shortage of births of every type. Start by viewing professional-quality videos with lots of beautiful music and imagery to familiarize your child with childbirth in general. Following that, it’s a good idea to include some videos that include the sounds that mothers make during labor. This article is a thorough compilation of slide shows and videos of birth that are available for free, with links, in varying degrees of intensity. There’s a Baby is a DVD available at pennysimkin.com and is specifically made for including children during childbirth.
- Consider the sights, sounds, and feelings your child may experience and plan for them. Encourage your child to get down on the floor and roar like a lion. Tell them that sometimes mothers sound like that when they are in labor. Explain that your body makes lots of extra blood while you’re pregnant and that after the birth all the extra blood has to come out. Remind them that it does not mean that you are hurt like when you get a boo-boo and bleed. It is just your body letting go of all the extra blood that the baby needed to grow strong and healthy. Use anatomically correct terminology such as uterus, cervix, and vagina when you are talking with them. Using correct words not only helps them gain mastery in their understanding of the human body; it also plays a role in maintaining long-term body safety and autonomy.
- Take a tour of the hospital. Most hospitals offer tours of the labor and delivery unit and many offer sibling classes as well. Seeing where they will be will help them feel prepared.
- Have them make a picture. If your child likes art and coloring, encourage them to make a picture for the baby. They can also make you a picture with affirming words that you can hang in the room during labor. Hanging affirmations while laboring is often associated with the ability to relax and can help the labor progress. Words such as breathe, strong, and brave are good examples.
- Arrange for one on one support. This one is important. Arrange to have a familiar friend, family member, or a sibling doula be with your child during labor and birth. They will be your child’s main point person for questions, bathroom breaks, entertainment, and the ability to leave the room if they feel overwhelmed or bored. It is important that your child always has the choice to decide if they would like to stay for the birth or not. You and your own labor support person will need to fully focus on your labor and having an extra support person will allow them to tend to all of your child’s needs.
- Pack a bag. Make a list with your child about what they would like to bring to the hospital. Snacks, books on tape with headphones, and well-contained coloring and crafts are all good choices.
- Encourage baby doll play. Have baby dolls available to play with throughout your pregnancy. Not only is it a great way to teach how they can help with the baby, but you may also discover some of the questions or misconceptions they have about birth while they are playing, giving you the opportunity to address them.
Throughout all of these tips, let your child’s questions guide the depth of information you provide. Sometimes children ask questions that we think need a very complex answer. Often, if we answer those questions honestly, but simply we find that they are satisfied with basic information, as long as it is truthful. They will continue to ask if they need more information and you can unfold the details organically, as their needs arise.
Tiffany Jensen, BS, CCLS, CLD