How to Prepare Young Children for Childbirth

September 25th, 2011 by Dionna | 26 Comments
Posted in Children, Eclectic Learning, natural parenting, Pregnancy and Birth, Preschoolers, Toddlers

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This post is the first in a three-part series on preparing for childbirth with young children. Today I offer some ideas on how to talk to your child about what to expect with labor and delivery. The second post will give you “30 Natural Birth Videos and Slideshows to Prepare Children for Labor and Birth (Plus Additional Resources)” to help you normalize labor and delivery for your child. And in the third post, “What to Do with Young Children at Childbirth,” I share ideas on how to plan for a birth with older siblings present. I welcome your feedback and experiences in the comments!

We are planning a homebirth for the upcoming birth of our second child. There are many reasons we decided to have a homebirth, but one of those reasons is so that our preschooler, Kieran, could be involved and comfortable during labor and delivery.

Kieran is a pretty sensitive child, and I have been worried about how he will react to the normal sights and sounds of labor and childbirth. Tom likes to tease me that when I gave birth to Kieran, I sounded like Louis Armstrong. I don’t normally sound like a jazz singer, so I’ve done some research about how to prepare Kieran for what to expect when his new sibling is born. Here are a few ideas that I’ve come across, please share your own ideas in the comments.1

Be Relaxed and Honest About Anatomy

Since Kieran was old enough to notice his body, we have used the correct anatomical terms for his (and our) genitals. We talk about his genitals as matter-of-factly as we talk about his knees – they are body parts. As Kieran has gotten older and has started noticing differences between his body and mine, I also explain in age-appropriate terms how our bodies are different. When he started with the “why” questions, (“why do girls have a vulva?” “why don’t girls have a penis?”), I’ve used them as opportunities to talk about the normal physiological process of growing a baby. Once we were actually pregnant, the physical parts and process were no big deal to Kieran – they were simply part of life.

Don’t be afraid to introduce sexual terminology to young children. Your presentation of the human body will help your child form his or her own sexual identity. Being honest and straightforward also lays a foundation for a trust between you and your child, so that she can feel safe to come to you later about sexual topics. And remember to relax – your stance, your emotional reactions, your tone and expressions – children will notice all of these things when you talk.2

Share Your Child’s Birth Story

Another way we talked about anatomy and normalized pregnancy and childbirth for Kieran was by telling him his birth story. Shortly before Kieran’s third birthday, he became curious about the meaning of what a “birthday” is, so we discussed the day he was born. For weeks, he asked me to tell him his birth story every night before he fell asleep. Those weeks are precious memories for me, and they laid the foundation for him to be comfortable with the birth of a sibling.

Talk About How Babies Grow and Are Born

In age appropriate terms, talk to your child in simple terms about how the baby grows in the uterus and how childbirth works. Don’t feel the need to share everything at once – your child will come up with his own questions during your pregnancy. Let her come to you with questions, she’ll be better able to digest the information at her own pace. Try to think like a preschooler (or a toddler, or whatever age your child is) – if she asks how the baby got in your uterus, she probably does not need a full discussion of sexual intercourse. One expert advises parents to repeat the question and ask the child what she thinks – this can help you clarify what she really wants to know.3 And don’t be surprised if your child asks you the same question over and over – it is simply her way of gaining a deeper understanding of the information.

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Include Children in Midwife Visits

Try to make your midwife or doctor appointments at a time when the whole family can attend. Before you get to the appointment, talk to your children about what will happen at the appointment, and invite him to come up with his own questions for the midwife. At our first midwife appointment, Kieran asked “why are babies dirty when they get born?” He’s very concerned about the blood and vernix that he’s seen in pictures and videos, and he was reassured by the midwife’s simple explanation.

Read Books About Childbirth

Both children’s books and photography books that focus on pregnancy and childbirth can be wonderful tools to normalize birth for children. Here is a list of books that you may wish to consider. You can find a few more at Preparing an Older Sibling for a New Birth, a post Lauren from Hobo Mama wrote when she was preparing her own son, Mikko, for the homebirth of his brother.

  • A Child Is Born: Photographer Nilsson and obstetrician Hamberger explore the miracle of birth through in utero pictures showing conception through birth.
  • I Watched My Brother Being Born: Color photographs and story of one family’s homebirth, as told by the seven year old sibling.
  • Mama, Talk About When Max Was Born: The story of one family’s pregnancy and home waterbirth.
  • My New Baby: A picture book that shows how one family involved the older sibling in welcoming a new baby.
  • Waiting for Baby: A picture book that shows how one family (and older sibling) wait for birth.
  • Welcome with Love: “Jack and his family welcome a baby boy in this tranquil description of a seamless home birth,” as told from the child’s perspective.

Share Childbirth Slideshows and Videos

Once Kieran showed more of an interest in the birth process, I asked him if he’d like to see some pictures of childbirth. We started with slideshows of women in labor with very few pictures of actual delivery. We moved on to very gentle birth videos, and eventually moved to videos that introduced both vocalizations of laboring women as well as more realistic/graphic footage of birth. Be sure to check back in a few days, I’ll share a list of slideshow and video resources that you can use to prepare your child for labor and delivery.

Talk About What to Expect

Along with all of your reading, sharing birth stories, watching videos, etc., be sure to talk about what your birth plans look like. Where will you labor, where will you give birth, what might help you feel good during labor (i.e., calm and quiet, sips of water), how hard you will be working, who will be present (the midwife, any relatives), and any other details that can help your child get a feel for the order of events.

How did you prepare your children for labor and delivery? Please share your wisdom in the comments!

26 Responses to:
"How to Prepare Young Children for Childbirth"

  1. Rachael   RachaelNevins

    Thank you for doing this series. You know, so I don’t have to do any of the research myself.

    At this point, I’m not sure where I’m going to be giving birth. We’re planning to go back to the birthing center where the Critter was born (I love the midwives there, and I’m glad to know that they have admitting privileges at a good hospital, in the unlikely event of a transfer). However, there’s a possibility that the birthing center might close. (What’s the threat? Insurance reimbursements, of course.) But, regardless of whether we go back to the birthing center or stay at home, we can have the Critter with us. We haven’t seen any videos yet, but we do have a copy of A Child Is Born, and I was surprised to see how unfazed the Critter is about the anatomical aspects of childbirth. That full-spread photo of the baby’s head emerging? Not a big deal, as far as he’s concerned. He’s more interested in the umbilical cord, seen in other photos. We’ll see how he responds to videos, where he’ll get some ideas about just how strangely his mommy might behave in labor….

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      The sights of labor have been pretty uneventful for Kieran for the most part. He does get a bit concerned if he sees a lot of blood, but I think he’s past that now too. It was the sounds that made me start researching – he would get nervous if we found a video where the woman was vocalizing. Now I think he’s ok with that as well!
      Good luck deciding where to birth – we also had a birth center close recently, mainly b/c of funding. :(

  2. Kate

    Our son will only be two and a half when his little sister is born so we decided he would be happier at home with his Nona (my MIL) than at the birthing center. Because of that we hadn’t planned on trying to talk to him about labor/birth but at a recent appointment my midwife made the excellent point that he would probably be around when I was in the earlier stages of labor at home. She suggested occasionally “playing” labor complete with vocalizations to sort of get him used to it so he won’t get upset.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      That’s a great idea Kate! And hey – you never know when your labor will go super fast and you end up with a surprise homebirth. ;)

  3. Kelli

    I’m so glad I’m pregnant at the same time as you and have a child that’s almost exactly your kid’s age bc I am soooo benefitting from your research. Thanks for sharing it…we won’t talk about how inadequate it makes me feel that I can’t manage to gather 30 homebirthing videos and post them on a blog myself and also take care of a preschooler, but I digress.
    Thank. You.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Hahahaha – for me it’s known as “pregnancy insomnia” ;) Plus Kieran LOVES watching birth videos, so he patiently sat with me through many viewings of the videos!

  4. Summer

    Did some research on the books. Apparently the book “A child is born” if of babies right before they are aborted. Not sure I like that….Didn’t know if you were aware. But thanks so much for the discussion. I am about to have my 3rd and am working through the best way to include my older girls in this process.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Really?!?! Where did you read that?? That would be so, so sad – and it is definitely my favorite book as far as showing what the babies look like, etc. I’m unclear as to why a woman who was about to have an abortion would allow someone to put a camera inside of her to take a picture of her baby . . . I’d really love to see your source for that :(

      • Rachael   RachaelNevins

        I have the fourth edition. From page 236: “Endoscopy and ultrasound technology have been used to capture many of the in utero pictures in this book. Other pictures were taken in conjunction with the in vitro fertilization process, with ectopic pregnancies, and with miscarriages. There are, however, no photographs of embryos or fetuses aborted either by medical or surgical means.”

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Thank you Rachael – I’d taken my copy back to the library so couldn’t check.

  5. Thank you! Welcome with Love was also published as Hello Baby. Its the book I’ve reviewed recently (and will post soon)! I appreciate some additional books to check out from our library and may have to request some of them from our Interlibrary Loan system since they don’t have all of these.

    I very much look forward to the rest of this series! I have felt so lost trying to prepare my minimally-verbal toddler.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I hope it helps you Jorje! I’m nervous about the video post – I think both Kieran and I are much more tolerant of the realities of labor/birth than many parents/kids might be. I might end up shocking quite a few people ;)

      • Well it sounds like you really eased him into the idea, which seems like a good way to go. I imagine I need to do the same. I’m nervous about having a hospital birth with Sasha (2yo) and Tyler (13yo) both present. I’m thankful I’ll have Elmo and my doula, Jenni. I may decide to have more family come up to the waiting room in case I need the girls out (or if they need out!)… but right now I’m feeling pretty estranged from my family.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        That stinks – do you have a friend – or one of the girls’ friends’ moms – who can act as a “childcare doula”? Just be on call (or on hand) to take care of them during labor?

  6. We signed up for a class developed by Penny Simkin to help kids get ready for birth. We’ve also been reading a lot of books on the subject, but she hasn’t been asking many questions about the process. The plan is for Moira to stay with friends while I’m in labor, but since my first labor was fast, there’s a chance she might not have time to leave. I look forward to the video links.

  7. Shannon

    There’s another good book, very simple, called We’re Planning a Home Birth. Simple cartoons but a good starter.

  8. Rachel Ramey

    I have three children, all born at home, and the two older girls were each in the house (‘though not in the room – more because of timing than anything else) when their little sisters were born.

    One of the most significant things we did was to tell them that it can hurt having a baby – but it’s a good, normal hurting. It means that mama might yell, though, and they don’t need to be afraid. That’s normal, and everything is okay. They both took this pretty matter-of-factly and, ‘though my oldest told me that she had to put her hands over her ears because I was too loud, she didn’t seem to be phased emotionally.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Rachel that is such a good point, and something Kieran has been very concerned about. It’s one reason why I wanted to find him videos of women in labor, so it would be normalized for him (as much as possible). I’m hoping that when the time comes, he will be more comfortable with my own moans and groans!

  9. Claire   lactatinggirl

    I love the idea of sharing your child’s birth story with them. I’m going to attempt this with Peanut after going through a quick re-read of my typed out version. Hopefully she’ll understand it. She already tells me that she was a baby and she came out of my “gina,” so I think she’ll be good.

    P.S. Hurry up and post the next post about this! :-P

  10. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama   ithoughtiknewma

    It sounds like Kieran is going to be as prepared as possible. Thanks for sharing all of these tips and resources and for linking up at Green & Natural Mamas Thursday!

  11. What a great post! It does make me a little sad that my kids will never experience (with me at least) the idea that labor and birth is a natural process. I had all 3 via c/s and they still talk about how that is how a woman has a baby, even though the older two know there are other options. I don’t want them thinking a c/s is bad either (I so hate that debate), but I wish they had a broader experience with the birth process.

    Love all your resources! I had a book lent to me by my MIL. I will have to see if I can find the name, because it was lovely, if dated. ;)

  12. Mommagina

    Thanks so much for posting this series. I am planning my first homebirth in early December, and have a 4 yr old who will be present. We have talked about how the baby comes out and that it can hurt so momma might get loud, but it’s okay. We have also watched a few birthing videos so he will know what the event will look like. He seems to be very accepting of everything so far.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Congratulations! You’re not too far behind me, and our kiddos are about the same age :) I hope you (and your LO) have a beautiful birthing experience.

  13. I recently realized that I never methodically prepared my 4yo for this birth (which could be any day now, technically). How silly did I feel when someone in my DDC suggested this series–DUH! I did want to mention a few terms I used with my older son to prepare him for the now-4yo’s homebirth that others may find helpful. “Working noises” to describe/explain the loud, strange grunts/primal sounds they’ll hear. “Food blood” to explain why there can be so much blood–we have used it a lot already to explain placental function and how baby does/does not “eat” the food I eat. (It also sets up the explanation for dealing with the umbilical cord and 3rd stage at the birth.) A wise friend shared those with me almost 5 years ago now–though she may have gotten them from Penny Simkin’s writings.

    Now…off to the videos post. ;)

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