As promised, here is another post about home birth. This time it’s not about the parents and the newborn but about older siblings. More specifically, is it a good idea to have them around during labor and/or birth? And how can you help them adjust to the changes? There isn’t a unique correct answer to this question of course. It depends on you and your family. But here’s how and why we decided to have Loulou Maya be present at Vera Jo’s birth.
How old is/are your older child/ren going to be when the new baby is born?
Loulou Maya just turned 3 ten days before Vera Jo was born. This means that she was old enough to follow books that explain how babies are made, born and what they can and can not do the first months. Would I have a younger child attend the birth? It depends. Some kids are really sensitive and empathetic from a young age and can’t handle seeing their mom in pain, while others don’t exactly get what’s going on and are just curious and want to be around. When it comes to older kids, I feel that since a 3-year old can understand, it only becomes easier once kids are older.
Preparing your child(ren) about the noises you might make, the blood, the placenta coming out, stitches that you might need is crucial. Do a rehearsal of the birth, using dolls. Let your child role-play that they are the midwife or themselves. Also, talk about the possibility of a transfer to the hospital, so that they are not shocked, if this needs to happen.
What resources could you use to help your child prepare for the big day and the months following birth?
I fell in love with “Hello Baby”, an amazing book about home birth. This birth takes place in winter and there are more siblings present, while the baby born is a boy. When reading the book to LM, I used “midwife” instead of “Anna”, that was the name of the midwife in the book, so that she could easily imagine our own midwives. I also mentioned again and again that we are expecting a baby girl and that we won’t need to light a big fire because the baby will be born in the summer and it will be warm anyway. I adapted other details as well, to make the book more relatable. The family in the book has a dog that barks as the midwife parks her car. We don’t have pets but the neighbors do have a dog that barks when people approach their yard. You get the idea. What I loved about the book was the matter of fact approach and the warm illustrations. The placenta and umbilical cord are also shown.
“There’s going to be a baby” is another book we read and enjoyed. I liked this one because it depicts the older sibling worrying that the new baby will mess up the family’s life but it ends in a positive tone and shows the older sibling eagerly waiting to meet the new baby. The book also talks about the many different things a person can become when they grow up, so it can spark discussions about the older child’s interests and ambitions as well.
My favorite book on the topic of birth and new siblings is “Our New Baby: A picture story for parents and children”. I could only find this copy on Amazon (not an affiliate link, I just couldn’t find the English version anywhere else). In Greek it is available under the title “Ο Περ, η Ίντα και το Μικρούτσικο” and it is a wonderful book that talks about conception, pregnancy, birth and how the family dynamics changes after a new baby is born. It does not depict birth and the mom gives birth at the hospital but it depicts in a very realistic way all other stages of baby-making in a simple language that even young kids can follow.
Interacting with other babies
We were lucky enough and one of my best friends here in the Netherlands had a baby just when I got pregnant. Loulou Maya had lots of time to observe the new baby, see how her little friend interacted with his new sister, learn all about how we should touch babies etc. Luckily her friend warmed up to his new sister immediately and he loves her to bits and is very protective of her. Of course he also asked more attention from his parents the first months, but he has never been aggressive towards the baby. Loulou Maya seems to be the same way so far and I like to think it has something to do with the good example her friend set up for her.
If you don’t have friends with babies, then try to connect with other moms with younger babies in your local play groups or children’s library or even the playground. I don’t think any new mom or dad would mind letting your toddler or older kid have a look at their baby, once you explain you are trying to help them adjust to the big change.
Be honest about what life with the new baby will be like
Before Vera Jo was born, we made sure to clarify that she won’t be able to play with her for quite a long time. Well-meaning family and friends would tell Loulou Maya that it will be great now that she will have a sister, because they will be able to play together. Imagine if we left her with that impression, how dissappointed she would be when meeting the screaming, spitting, pooping blob that her sister will be for the first 3 months.
We also made it clear that the little one has priority when it comes to milk, as I am practicing tandem breastfeeding. We explained that the baby can’t eat any solids, so if she is hungry, she gets to eat first. I will make a detail post on tandem soon, but the general idea is making clear that the baby totally relies on mom for nutrition while older siblings can get their own food or ask the other parent for help, while mom feeds the baby. Of course in the case of bottle feeding, the parents can exchange roles and make sure that they both feed the baby and the older siblings as well.
Baby cries can also upset older siblings so it’s good to prepare them before hand, that this is the baby’s way of communication and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the end of the world. Explaining that babies cry not only when they are in pain but also when they are hungry, sleepy or need a clean diaper will help older siblings feel less worried and frustrated when baby cries.
Get the older siblings involved in newborn care
Toddlers love to help out. Let them help change a diaper, bring clean spit-up cloths, chose the baby’s clothes, test their bath water, massage the baby after the bath (with close supervision). That way they feel both involved and responsible. Loulou Maya finds it extremely fascinating when I change Vera Jo’s diapers and always wants to know if she peed or pooped (to each their own, I guess…). She also loves to hold her in her lap and I let her do that, using pillows to make sure the baby’s head is supported. I also sit about 5 millimeters from her. You know, just in case.
Getting help from your community to make sure the older siblings still get attention
I am extremely lucky and get to have my mom around for a whole month after the birth of Vera Jo. This means that Loulou Maya has tons of attention and though it’s not from me all the time and she does occasionally reject her grandma’s offers to play with her, cause she wants to be with mama, it still makes the transition so much smoother. If you are not as lucky, don’t hesitate to ask friends or other family members to come over and just play with the older kid(s) for a couple of hours. Making them feel special is crucial in order to avoid feelings of resentment towards the new baby.
We have a line-up of visitors once my mom is gone, including other family members and friends.
After all, to paraphrase my beloved GOT, “Summer vacation is coming”. And I am not sure that 6 weeks with a moody, “slightly” jealous toddler are easier than fighting White Walkers.