As you plan for your birth in any setting, considering plans for what your older children will be doing during this time is essential. In a home birth situation, this is no less important, though the details may differ.
In our daily work, we talk with lots of pregnant clients about this topic. Many parents think that it’s not really necessary to plan for the other kids in a home birth setting, but the truth is, there are many things to consider.
The first thing to think about is whether you would like your child to have a role in your birth. Do you want your child to be present during your labor? Would you like them to have the option to be in the room during the birth? Do you think you’d like them to just come in after to see the baby, and do fun things like help cut the cord? Or, would you be more comfortable laboring without the distraction of having your other children in the room, or even in the house at all? All of these are really normal and valid paths. Here are a few strategies to consider:
arrange for care outside the home
This plan is similar to what you would do if you were having your baby outside your home – your children would need a place to go. In this scenario, you would arrange for a friend or family member to come to your home and pick up your kids to care for them at another location. This works great for people who prefer to labor in their “den” – in other words, in quiet and solitude, or with one or two support persons. We know stress can be detrimental to labor progress, and for some, having to worry about the wellbeing of their other children at this sensitive time is just too much. Knowing that they are safe and secure, away from the events of the birth, can be the best for some.
This can work a couple of ways. We have seen some parents have their child’s support person come and hang out on the couch through the sleeping hours, and then take the children to the new location upon waking. We’ve also seen the children transferred to the caregiver’s car, drowsy and in their jammies, straight from their beds. Though the vast majority of births are happening at night, it could also be true that you get a great daytime birth, and your child’s support person can just come pick them up for a playdate.
Arrange for a birth Buddy
It may seem like, in a home birth, that your older children can just hang out in the other room (depending on age), or even that they will be sleeping through it all (which they very well might do), but they will still need a person that is designated to keep them company during your labor and birth. The simplest example of why this is necessary is that, in the event that you or your baby would need to change plans at any point and transfer to the hospital, your other children would need someone to stay with them. If they don’t have this person, it would mean that your partner would not be able to accompany you to the hospital.
Besides an extreme example like that, it’s so good for your children to have a buddy that can ease their concerns if they are worried about the noises they are hearing, or get them a snack or a diaper change, without having to pull your partner away from you.
This buddy is also great to have if you plan to have your child witness the birth. In the moment, your child may or may not enjoy this experience, and should have a person who can gently take them out of the room according to need.
Your child’s birth buddy can come in many forms, but the form we most often see is the wonderful grandma. There are also professional sibling doulas that you can hire, and we’ve met some great ones along the way.
Your Child’s Role in Your Birth
For those who wish to have their child present to witness the birth, there are some great ways to make this an awesome experience for all. In our experience, we have found that having them brought in occasionally for check-in with mom works really well, as opposed to having them stay for the whole labor part. This gives a moment for important connection, and then space for the labor to progress without distraction.
For the actual birth, we recommend doing a little bit of prep work with your kids beforehand. Show them photos and videos of normal births, and let them know that you will be working hard, making lots of noises, and that this is not a scary thing. This may the first time they’ve seen you in such a primal state – let them know that this is a powerful time, even though it’s hard, at that this is how babies come. That you will be okay. In those moments of connection during the labor, if you can remember to, let them know that you are okay.
After the birth, there is so much fun to be had! Kids are wonderful newborn exam assistants, and they love to help cut the cords, “check” the baby with us during periodic assessments, prepare food for mom, and more.
In the end, it is completely your choice whether to have your kids present during your labor and birth or happily off playing or sleeping in another location – just remember to put a plan for them on your list of preparations.