Letting children share the birth experience is a wonderful way to begin family bonding. A valuable resource for further reading is: Children at Birth, by Margie and Jay Hathaway, Academy Publications, Box 5224, Sherman Oaks, CA, 91413; also available on video. Here are 8 factors to consider:
1. The age of your child. In our experience, children over three can understand the emotions of labor and respect the dignity of birth. For some children under three the intensity of birth may be more than they can understand or cope with. Younger children do fine at home birth because they are in their familiar environment and can more freely come and go.
2. The temperament of your child. Only you know how much raw emotion your child can take. Will your child be frightened by the normal theatrics of labor – your groans, your red face, your bleeding, and the fact that mommy appears to be unhappy and in distress? How will your child cope with the restrictions of the hospital or other birthplace?
3. Your ability to tune out your child and focus on your birth. You must be allowed to concentrate on delivering a baby and not be distracted by the demands of other children. Will you be able to ignore the distractions of having your child there and focus on your labor? (If your child is attending your birth and is diverting some of your energy away from the work you need to do, by all means have him escorted out of the delivery room.)
4. Provide familiar caregivers for your children (other than your partner) so that each child is someone else’s only responsibility.
5. Tell your children ahead of time what the birthing room rules will be, and what behavior you expect of them. Impress upon them how you want them there, but also how you need them to behave so that “mommy can do her hard work to push our baby out.”
6. You’ll need a plan for where your child will be cared for throughout labor, which could be quite a long time by three-year-old standards. One way to solve this dilemma is to stay home for most of your labor. Once things are moving along you go ahead to the hospital. Then have your child and the child’s caregiver come after you’ve been assessed and are settled.
7. Prepare your children for what they can expect to see, and in terms they can understand: “Mommy may yell or cry, and you may hear some groaning noises that you’ve never heard before (demonstrate some of these noises). It’s okay, the noise just means mommy’s working real hard to push our baby out.”
8. Prepare your children for being bored during periods in labor when nothing seems to be happening. You may want to bring them in only toward the end of labor.