'It's magical': the truth about having older children at their sibling's birth

Four-year-old Dante Hampton joined his mum for brother Gabriel's birth.
Four-year-old Dante Hampton joined his mum for brother Gabriel's birth.  Photo: Life and Lense Photography

Tyare Hampton's four-year-old son, Dante, proudly tells everyone he meets that his little brother came out of his mummy's vagina.

The birth of his brother, Gabriel, a year ago was Dante's second birth experience, having seen his sister, Emily born when he was just 21-months-old.

Ms Hampton, 35, from Sydney, said, unlike his sister, Emily, Dante was adamant he wanted to be at the birth of Gabriel, even if it was the middle of the night.

Dante with new brother Gabriel.
Dante with new brother Gabriel. Photo: Life and Lense Photography

As a midwife, Ms Hampton spent a lot of time preparing him for the birth.

"We did a lot of prep, watching birth videos and talking about what would happen. I wanted to have him mentally prepared. I am a loud labourer. I didn't want him to be worried if he didn't know exactly what was happening," she explains.

"He loved watching the videos and would ask me to put them on. He preferred the noisy ones where you could hear what was happening."

Ms Hampton also made sure he had his own support person at the birth so if it all got too much for him, he could leave the room.

Once the labour was established, Ms Hampton's mother woke Dante and he sat in her lap watching and giving his mother kisses.

"He was fairly calm and every now and then he would smile and touch my hand," Ms Hampton remembers.

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"After Gabriel was born, he sat stroking his head and announced it was a boy.

"After the birth he was given gloves and helped cut the cord, another wish he'd expressed prior to the birth, with the midwife's help. He was very proud and had a big smile on his face."

He then helped to inspect the placenta, which he announced as a bit icky and a bit squishy.

"He wasn't fazed by the birth and didn't leave our side afterwards," Ms Hampton says.

Dante couldn't wait to tell everyone at day care and in shopping centres how babies are born.

"He says, 'mumma does a lot of hard work and then the baby comes out of the vagina'. Sometimes it's at really inappropriate times. He talks about jumping in the pool to help Emily when she gets bigger and has a baby," Ms Hampton says.

Ms Hampton said she believes having children at birth helps shape their ideas of what birth is.

"Birth isn't an emergency. It's just a normal thing we do as women and it's important my kids know and understand that."

However, she stressed it was vital to prepare them for birth and have a support person available for them to ensure they aren't traumatised.

Sarah Menkens, 34, from the Sunshine Coast is preparing to welcome her sixth child in a few weeks' time and is hoping to convince her husband to allow the older children to attend the birth for the first time.

"He has said, 'why would you want them to come, it's gross'. He just doesn't understand why it would be such a special thing to witness," she says.

Ms Menkens' children range in age from 12-years-old to just three and she feels that the older girls, 12 and 10, would be able to emotionally cope with the labour this time.

"I feel it would be particularly valuable for the girls to witness it, seeing they will go through labour one day," Ms Menkens says.

"I want to instil in them it is a natural way of life for a woman and there is nothing scary about it. I hope the experience might empower them as future women giving birth."

Ms Menkens carries with her the joyous experience of seeing three of her siblings born at home from the age of eight.

"I've always remembered the births and that they had always been happy, exciting events," she says. "Not scary or clinical. I think sometimes birth can be seen as just a medical experience, when it shouldn't be seen that way."

Professor of Midwifery at Western Sydney University, Hannah Dahlen, said having siblings at the birth was a lovely way to bond the family and allow them to feel more connected.

However, she said parents know their children best and they should trust their gut instincts.

Professor Dahlen recommended reading books about birth to children, particularly Hello Baby, as well as ensuring they are used to seeing you naked. She also suggested making labour sounds around the children and letting them know that when you are doing hard work you make sounds.

"Always have someone on standby who can easily pick them up and take them off. Don't ever not have a back-up plan and give them a little job like wiping your face or a giving you a drink," she says.

However, she said having continuity of care was the safest way to have children at a birth.

"The place it happens most commonly is in birth centres and at home because the environment is more conducive and birth proceeds much more naturally and without intervention, so they are not as scary," Professor Dahlen says.

"Often the midwife has met the children before so have a relationship with them.

"It is a magical way to demystify and take fear out of birth. There is really no downside if you  make sure child is okay with it and you have a back-up plan."