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Older Children at Delivery?

Childbirth is a time for rejoicing, but it's also a time of enormous physical sensations and equally powerful emotions, much of which won't be within your control. Think very carefully about whether you want older children in the delivery room when your baby is born.

This is a decision that you and your partner must make after considering your own comfort level and the maturity of your children. There are some 4-year-olds who wouldn't be frightened by the potentially scary visual and auditory sensations of a birth, while some 10-year-olds might be terrified by just a glimpse of their mothers bleeding. It's also important to discuss your wishes with your provider; if your midwife or obstetrician is uncomfortable with the idea, your children may need to wait to visit the baby in the nursery.

Most parents who decide to have their older children at the birth want to give them the gift of experiencing that miraculous moment when a baby comes into the world. They may want to introduce the idea of birth as a natural part of life, or they may hope that their children will be closer to their new sibling as a result of having witnessed the arrival. There is very little research, pro or con, on the effect of childbirth on siblings. What you decide is best for your children must therefore be based on your individual upbringing and family culture.

If you do decide to have children present, keep these general guidelines in mind to make the delivery more kid-friendly:

  • The sounds and sights of birth might be distressing to some children, so take time to prepare them beforehand. Demonstrate some of the sounds you might make while in labor and let them know what's really going on inside your body with the baby. Be sure to use words your children understand and discuss the feelings you and your children might experience. Be prepared, too, for older children who want to know what put your baby inside your body.
  • Visit the birth center or hospital and ask your provider or the nurses to give your children a tour of the birthing room. They can explain in advance about the medical instruments and what might happen during the birth. Ask the nurses to explain what's OK to touch and what isn't.
  • Ask someone other than your partner to attend the birth--perhaps a grandmother or close family friend--who can take your children somewhere else during the delivery if things get too intense or if your children change their minds about participating.
  • Prepare your children for your newborn's appearance because they may be shocked to see that the baby doesn't look like babies on television. It's important for them to know about the umbilical cord and the placenta too.
  • Once the baby is born, ask your children if they would like to hold their new brother or sister, but don't force the issue. Some siblings feel more comfortable if the baby is cleaned up first!

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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