Angélica on Saturday morning. More about her birth story will follow soon! In the meantime, I want to thank my fellow Bradley Method® Instructor, Rachel Davis, AAHCC for providing today's blog post.
Rachel Davis, AAHCC is the mother of two joyful children, a son born naturally in the hospital and a daughter born in the water at home. She is also a Bradley Method® instructor and birth doula in downtown Phoenix. To contact Rachel, please visit www.birthandearth.com.
When we were expecting our first child my husband and I felt that the baby was “ours,” a sweet being converting us from Rachel and Mark to Mommy and Daddy. We had a lovely little boy named Jacob and he was the light of our life. When we were pregnant with our second child, the focus was more on the conversion of our son from Jacob to “big brother.” We carefully prepared him for the arrival of his sister (born 33 months apart), using the following tips. My hope is that they may also be helpful for your children!
Consider your child’s developmental age and how they might grasp the concepts of the length of pregnancy and the possibility of loss. We had already had a miscarriage and didn’t plan to announce our pregnancy until the end of the first trimester, but I chose to casually tell Jacob right away because it brought me comfort. We explained that the baby would come, “in the summer when it is really hot outside.”
We used picture books to help explain the changes in Mommy and how the baby is growing. At his tender age, our son didn’t inquire how the baby came to be in Mommy’s belly but we had an explanation ready if the question came up. My little guy was very understanding of my morning sickness and pregnancy discomforts and even acted as a little nurse for me.
My husband and son attended almost all of my prenatal appointments and Jacob became close with our midwives. Sometimes he enjoyed trying to help with the fetoscope and blood pressure cuff, while other times he would play with the train set in the office. He would talk about the midwives at home and was very comfortable with them.
We decided what role we wanted our son to play in the birth of his sibling and discussed our preferences with our care provider. In our case, we wanted our son to be present during the homebirth and we made the decision to hire a separate doula solely for the purpose of assisting Jacob whether he wanted to be with Mommy or be in another room. Some families prefer to have the children waiting away from the birthplace so there are no distractions. Do what is right for your family, but realize that the parents and care providers will probably not be in a position to care for the child during the labor and birth.
Some people like to involve their children in the selection of the baby’s name. For example, Krystyna and Bruss’ daughter helped to select the name of her baby sister. In another example, our nephew pulled his sister’s name out of a hat when his parents couldn’t agree. Some children like to give the baby a nickname during pregnancy, such as “Grape” or “Peanut.”
I involved Jacob in all of our physical baby preparations such as washing clothes and diapers, installing the car seat, gathering the infant toys, etc. As we worked I explained where everything was going to be kept, what was off-limits to him, and shared memories of using each item with him when he was a baby.
We also discussed age-appropriate ways in which our son would participate in baby care activities. We picked out a doll for him so he would have someone to diaper, wear in a sling, and even nurse (yes, he “breastfeeds” his doll!). He practiced holding his baby cousins and we pointed out other kids who were big brothers and big sisters.
During your pregnancy, discuss the details of birth that you feel are important to share with your child. If they will not be present for the birth then they may be comforted by knowing what Mommy and Daddy will be doing. If they will be present for the birth then it would definitely benefit them to know what to expect. Reading or telling birth stories (especially featuring siblings) and sharing birth videos are helpful tools. Why not tell your child’s birth story and show their birth video? Being a Bradley® instructor, I had plenty of birth videos on hand and my son enthusiastically requested to watch one every day of the last trimester. As a matter of fact, our 2.5-year-old son was so well-educated that he once told a stranger, “The baby is in Mommy’s uterus and when it is born it will come out of the vagina!”
Whether they will be present with you or not, it may be helpful to give your child a tour of your intended birthplace. (Use discretion, you know whether your child will find fear or comfort in seeing the hospital or birth center where you’ll be.) Explain at an age-appropriate level what will be happening. If you are planning a homebirth then explain what rooms you are planning to labor in, where the tub will be (if you are renting one), and other info of interest to them. We had a blessingway in our home and my husband and son participated in the blessing and watched as our tub received special words of intention, as that was where we planned to (and did) have the baby.
If your child will be present for the birth, make plans ahead of time so you and your birth team know what the little one’s role will be. Would you like the child to cut the cord, or even catch the baby? Perhaps your child will be in the tub with you, take photos, or rub Mommy’s back during a contraction? Our son was very intrigued by the placenta and was an enthusiastic observer for the placenta print process.
Of course, be flexible and know that plans may change based on the child’s (or your) needs in the moment, and that is okay. For myself, I found peace of mind in creating a back-up plan for our son. We intended for him to be at the birth but if it didn’t work out then he was going to go to a relative’s house. One family we know had a list of people to watch their two children during labor and birth and at 3:00am they called three people on the list, went to voice mail three times, and finally the fourth person picked up the phone and came over to provide childcare. Have a back-up plan!
Regardless of whether your child will be present with you or not, I love the suggestion of packing a labor bag for the older sibling. (Thanks to fellow Bradley® teacher, Wendy Diaz, for the idea!) We had a bag packed with inexpensive toys, activities, and healthy snacks all individually wrapped and intended to be distributed at intervals throughout the birth. Kids always enjoy opening a package and this can keep them occupied for a good amount of time.
Consider having gifts for your children to exchange with one another. Some children enjoy picking out a present for their new baby sibling. In our case, I bought a special gift for Jacob (Duplo blocks) and hid it until the day after the baby’s birth. As we snuggled together as a family of four, I pulled out the gift and explained that the baby, Leila, had brought this special present for Jacob. It was a small token but it helped things get off to a good start. While on the topic of gifts, another common suggestion is to have a few little things stashed away for times when guests come to meet the new baby and bring a present for the baby but not for the sibling. We had Jacob open many of Leila’s gifts and he now enthusiastically picks out her outfits every morning.
Be prepared for a change in your family’s routine, and clear your schedule to accommodate the needs of a newborn. You may need to take a break from XYZ activity that your older child was involved with. Your children need a well-rested mother more than they need to go places. It isn’t worth the stress on your family to try and operate at the same level you were on before the baby, and in time you will be in a new routine. While you are at it, make plans with friends and family to take your older child on special outings after the baby’s arrival. This is a great opportunity for Coach to step up and take on some additional childcare responsibilities while Mommy is on a babymoon. You’ll appreciate the opportunity to snuggle with your newborn and nap, and your older child will be thrilled to have the spotlight on them for a little while.
Consider the language you use when talking about your children. Talk about, “our new baby,” or, “Jacob’s little sister,” rather than exclusionary terms such as , “Mommy’s baby.” When people compliment your new baby, proudly point out what a great big brother/sister the baby has. Brag about your older child while they are within earshot. On the flip side, know when it is time to change the subject and talk about something else that isn’t baby-related.
Lastly, don’t expect everything will be perfect. Despite your best intentions and efforts, your older child may experience jealousy or negative feelings about the baby. Find healthy avenues for expressing these feelings (discussion, art work, or even hitting a pillow to get the frustration out). Don’t overestimate your child’s developmental capabilities and behavior; your newborn’s safety comes first. In our case, we are teaching our son to ask Mommy or Daddy for permission before he hugs or kisses his baby sister because he doesn’t quite understand how gentle he needs to be. He is also never left alone unsupervised with the baby.
Do you have any favorite tips for preparing children for the birth of a sibling?
Friday's blog post will feature a list of picture books that may be of interest to children.
Preparing Your Family for a New Baby
American Academy of Pediatrics website with advice broken into different age categories.
Children at Birth by Marjie and Jay Hathaway
Book written by the couple who wrote The Bradley Method® curriculum. Specifically intended for as a guide for preparing children who will be attending the birth. This book is out of print but I was able to check it out through the Inter-Library Loan program.
About the author:
Rachel Davis is the mother of two joyful children, a son born naturally in the hospital and a daughter born in the water at home. She is also a Bradley Method® instructor and birth doula in downtown Phoenix. To contact Rachel, please visit www.birthandearth.com.
Rachel's next Bradley Method® series will be offered on Tuesday evenings from January 10, 2012 through April 3, 2012.
The material included on this site is for informational purposes only.
It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult her or his healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation. This blog contains information about our classes available in Chandler, AZ and Payson, AZ and is not the official website of The Bradley Method®. The views contained on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Bradley Method® or the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth®.
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