Having your older children with you in the delivery room while you give birth is not such a radical idea. Not too many generations ago, babies were born at home with the help of a family doctor or midwife, and childbirth was simply a fact of life for older siblings. In the middle of the last century, the pendulum swung in the other direction as childbirth became more of a medical affair in a hospital and even the dads were expected to wait out in the hallway. These days, birth is once again welcomed as a communal experience and many birthing rooms are big enough to accommodate a crowd – if you want it that way.
Many families who have involved their children in the birth of their younger siblings say that the experience has helped the older children bond more quickly with the baby. Some mothers say that their children were a comforting presence during labor and emerged from the experience feeling like an important part of the family.
Nevertheless, if you are trying to decide whether you should bring your child into the delivery room, you should take many different considerations into account. Primarily, you have to assess the age, maturity, and sensibilities of your child. Will your child be interested in the process, or will she be bored and/or disturbed and want to leave? Does he have a good concept of what he is about to see, or will he be scared if he sees Mommy in pain or bleeding? Is she mature enough to want to be involved as a helper, or is she so young that she will become a distraction?
Many hospitals insist that if you bring a young child into the delivery room, you bring along another adult who will be responsible for them – other than your spouse or birth partner – who can take them out if the whole experience becomes too much. This is a good idea even if it’s not required, because the last thing you want is a child who is upset, scared, or hungry and no one is available to take her elsewhere (and you certainly don’t want to be worrying about who’s going to take care of your child while you’re in the middle of labor).
Moms who have been through the process also recommend giving children a briefing on what to expect during labor, which may include reading illustrated books or watching videos. The less your children are surprised by what they see, the more likely they are to appreciate it as something natural and beautiful.
But remember that one of the main characteristics of labor is that it is unpredictable. Although most labors are shorter for second or third babies, any number of things could happen that could make it a more drawn-out process than you expect. You must have a contingency plan for unexpected complications – such as an emergency c-section – that could throw off the plan and scare your child.
If you’re on the fence about having your child in the delivery room during labor, but still wan them to participate in a meaningful way, one compromise is to have them come in at the end to cut the umbilical cord. It may take some communication and coordination, but if your birth partner stays in touch with the person who is taking care of your child, you can arrange to bring the child in just when you are ready to push. That way they’ll have a chance to experience the most exciting moment without spending too much time waiting through the uncertainties of labor. If you time it just right, you may give your child a lasting memory and a lifelong connection to his or her new sibling.